Suicide of Land Protester Sparks Security Crackdown in China's Zhejiang

china-fang-zenglian-suicide-1-2018crop.jpg Police confront Fang Zengliang (R) after he drank pesticide in protest in Zhejiang's Yongkang city, Jan. 3, 2018.
Photo courtesy of an RFA listener

Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang have seized the remains of a protester who committed suicide earlier this week, amid bitter protests over the seizure of local farmland by the government.

Fang Zengliang, 61, died in Zhejiang's Yongkang city after drinking pesticide on Wednesday in protest at the loss of his farmland to a government land grab, prompting the authorities to mobilize large numbers of riot police to quell further protests.

A fellow protester, an unnamed 50-year-old woman, also took pesticide at the scene, and is currently being treated in hospital, sources told RFA.

The protests flared as the local government sent in security personnel in large numbers to requisition land for the rerouting of State Highway 330, which runs through Zhejiang.

"Two people took pesticide, one died and the other is receiving treatment, during an obstruction of a key infrastructure project by a minority of villagers," the Yongkang municipal government said in a brief statement on Thursday.

"Investigations into the incident are ongoing," it said.

A source close to the protests said Fang's family now has no idea where his body is.

"The daughter of the dead man is my classmate," she said. "She wasn't there at the time and now they don't know where his body is."

"The other lady who drank pesticide is in the intensive care unit; she wasn't the dead man's wife. His wife is in a poor state, both mentally and physically, and she has also been admitted to hospital, though she's not in danger," the source said.

A doctor who answered the phone at the intensive care unit at the Yongkang No. 1 People's Hospital confirmed that the second protester is still alive.

But she declined to give further details.

"We can't give interviews right now, so you'll have to contact the hospital office," she said, before ending the phone call.

Anger over project

Villagers near Yongkang are angry that a planned corridor of land for the State Highway 330 re-routing project was initially 42 meters (138 feet) wide, and has since been extended to more than 80 meters (263 feet), swallowing up a number of graves belonging to village families.

For the past three years, villagers have been congregating to stop the bulldozers moving in, and many have never signed any kind of agreement allowing the move to go ahead, but the government continues to send out riot police to enforce the excavation work, sources said.

Repeated calls to the offices of State Highway 330's Yongkang section rang unanswered during office hours on Friday.

A local resident surnamed Lu said the use of force seems to be the government's go-to strategy when faced with opposition to its plans.

"They simply use force to suppress opposition to a lot of things," Lu said. "Especially the bigger incidents; they just get internally suppressed by the government, and no news is allowed to get out about them."

A member of Yongkang's Chengxi New District management team told RFA that the dispute has caused a huge headache for local leaders.

"Our entire leadership has been mobilized to deal with the aftermath," she said. "There are people posted to the hospital just to keep watch on the situation, as well as officials sent to try to reassure [the family and other villagers]."

"All the leaders are involved, talking to people and giving their condolences," she said.

Attempted suicides are growing increasingly common among disgruntled petitioners, many of whom are forced evictees, and most of whom pursue complaints against local officials for years or even decades with no result.

Petitioners, who flood China's official complaints departments with more than 20,000 complaints daily across the country, frequently report being held in "black jails," beaten, or otherwise harassed, if they persist in a complaint beyond its initial rejection at a local level.

Demolition gang

Meanwhile, residents of the southwestern megacity of Chongqing said they had been violently and forcibly evicted by a sudden visit from a demolition gang on Tuesday, evictee Li Guoxian told RFA.

Li, a resident of Chongguang village in Chongqing's Yubei district, said the family had been living in temporary structures on the site of their previously demolished brick home for the past six years.

"About 40 or 50 unidentified men burst into our home suddenly at around 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday wearing tin helmets," she said. "They wrapped my mother up in an army coat and took her away."

"Then, the diggers moved in, and destroyed our home and all of our belongings, razed it to the ground," Li said.

Land acquisition for development, often resulting in profitable property deals for local officials, sparks thousands of protests by local communities across China every year, many of which escalate into clashes with police.

But the authorities are quick to suppress news and social reports of such clashes, and anyone who posts details of such "mass incidents" risks detention for spreading rumors.

Reported by Wong Siu-san and Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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