Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have thrown a security cordon around the restive village of Wukan amid continuing demonstrations against government sales of local land.
Thousands of villagers protested in Donghai township, near Guangdong's Lufeng city last month, complaining about abuse of power by local officials and calling for fair elections.
Smaller protests have resurfaced in recent days, prompting a huge security clampdown in the area with police setting up sentry posts encircling the area, local residents said on Thursday.
"This is a coordinated action [by police]," said a resident who declined to be named. "They have set up three sentry stations, and each one is manned with more than 10 officers."
"[This has been going on for] about a week," the villager said.
A second Wukan resident said police had detained one of their representatives, Zhuang Liehong, following a recent protest.
"Now they are arresting people," the second villager said. "The police have been at the intersections in the past few days."
"One villager was detained," he added. "It was a few days ago; he was outside the area and they went there and detained him."
"One person has been detained out of our 13 representatives."
A Wukan resident surnamed Zhang said some other villagers had also been detained, however.
"Some of them have been arrested," Zhang said. "There are some that I can't get in touch with."
"They are also checking vehicles [coming into the village,]" Zhang said. "The thugs are checking them, but not the ones leaving."
"They are checking out the circumstances of every vehicle that comes in."
Call for action
Wukan's farming community says it wants action taken over alleged corruption and abuse of power by the village Communist party chief Xue Chang, who has occupied the post for more than 40 years.
They accuse him and other local officials of ballot-rigging so as to ensure grass-roots candidates could never win an election against him.
They said the committee has sold off large tracts of arable land in recent years, but that local residents have never benefited from these secret deals, which eventually led to the pollution of a local harbor, a lifeline for many fishing families.
Villagers have marched in recent protests carrying placards reading "Give me back my human rights" and "Against dictatorship."
They are calling on the government to return their farmland and to implement local village elections.
"We have never had an election here in Wukan," said a third resident in a recent interview. "The officials dictate everything; we have never had a democratic election."
Calls to the Lufeng municipal government offices and the Communist Party municipal propaganda department went unanswered during office hours on Thursday.
Officials who answered the phone at the Donghai township government, which oversees Wukan, refused to comment.
"I am not going to say anything to you," one official said. "You should come here and find out for yourself."
Further protests planned?
Some local activists said they were planning further protests along with neighboring villages in Lufeng city on Dec. 15.
Others denied the claim. "No," said one villager. "There won't be another action. If they come here to sort things out, we will cooperate, but if they come here to oppress us, we will obstruct them."
A resident surnamed Gao from the neighboring village of Gaopu said however that he had heard plans were afoot for several thousand people to take to the streets of Lufeng next Thursday in a fresh protest.
Gao said many local residents felt they had nothing to lose after years of petitioning uselessly and suffering violent attacks from local authorities in the process.
"We have been petitioning so many years, and then we are brought back here," he said. "While under surveillance we are beaten by the security guards."
"When we get back after being released, we turn into living dead. We aren't afraid of being locked up; we just want to get to the bottom of things."
"We are prepared to die to get justice."
Meanwhile, in neighboring Baideng village, a local resident said many local land activists were under close police surveillance.
"Don't call my number again," he said. "I am under surveillance."
According to local sources, police appeared keen to find out exactly who attended the initial demonstration outside the Lufeng municipal government on Nov. 21 that flared into major riots and clashes with police.
Since the incident, Lufeng municipal officials had visited Wukan, but little had been done, local activists said.
"That's what officials do: they come and then they go away again," the second villager said. "They can't actually solve anything."
"They are definitely [pursuing enquiries]," he said of local police. "Something this big happened on their patch; they will always do that."
China already sees thousands of "mass incidents" across the country every year, according to official statistics, many of which are protests or sit-ins linked to forced evictions, allegations of corruption, and disputes over rural land sales.
Land acquisition for development, often resulting in lucrative property deals for local officials, sparks thousands of protests by local communities across China every month, many of which escalate into clashes with police.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service and by Fung Yat-yiu for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.