Zhejiang Environmentalist Beaten After River Dare

china-chen-yuqian-feb2013.jpg Chen Yuqian's daughter posted photos online showing injuries of his face after he was beaten on Feb. 24, 2013.
Photo courtesy of Chen Yuqian's microblog

An environmental activist from the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang who dared a local official to take a swim in a polluted river has since been attacked by a group of unidentified men, he said in an interview on Tuesday.

Chen Yuqian, one of several Zhejiang residents in recent days to tweet challenges offering officials cash rewards for swimming in local waters, said he had visited the hospital for a checkup on Tuesday following the Sunday attack.

"I am still very dizzy," Chen said. "I wrote about this on my microblog account because there was no response to my reporting it to the authorities."

"Then they came round and attacked me in revenge."

Chen, 59, said more than 40 unidentified people had showed up at his home and smashed it up, beating him up in the process.

"The police made no move to arrest them while they were beating me up," he said.

Chen challenged a local environmental official to swim in a river near his home in Pailian village last week, in a bid to bring the pollution levels to his attention.

His daughter Chen Xiufang posted photos online showing Chen with injuries to his face.

Dumping industrial waste

Chen and his family have campaigned for a number of years against water pollution in their hometown, accusing Pailian officials of working with two local paper mills to illegally dump industrial waste into waterways, polluting drinking water supplies.

An official told the South China Morning Post newspaper that there was "no illegal water pollution" in the river.

However, sources told the paper that one of the mill owners was also the village chief of Pailian.

Ruian river dare

The flurry of online dares has highlighted the worsening water pollution crisis in China.

Last week, Hangzhou businessman Jin Zengmin tweeted that a rubber shoe factory had been dumping wastewater into the river in Ruian city while officials turned a blind eye, and that the area had an exceptionally high cancer rate.

Jin had offered Ruian's environmental protection chief Bao Zhengmin and other officials 200,000 yuan (U.S. $32,000) to swim for 20 minutes in the river.

But officials told RFA they had found no evidence to suggest that a nearby rubber shoe factory was polluting local waterways, and blamed villagers' trash for the state of the river.

Environmental crisis

More than three decades of rapid economic growth have sent China’s waterways into a severe environmental crisis, officials say, with a number of high-profile industrial accidents along major rivers in recent years.

Around one-fifth of China's waterways are so polluted that they are too toxic for humans to have contact with the water, while at least 40 percent of rivers are seriously polluted, water resources vice-minister Hu Siyi said last year.

The latest data from Beijing this month revealed that around 90 percent of groundwater in China is polluted, much of it severely, with activists blaming local governments for protecting polluting enterprises.

In a recent survey of water quality in 118 cities across China, 64 percent of cities had "severely polluted" groundwater, Xinhua news agency quoted experts from the ministry of water resources as saying.

Activists say local people suffer from increased rates of various diseases linked to such pollution, and the lack of clean water can affect farming communities' ability to make a living at all.

Because of close ties between business and local governments, China's comprehensive set of environmental protection legislation is rarely enforced at local level, according to environmental campaigners.

Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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