A man in central China's Hunan province is believed to have died of shock on seeing his home demolished by authorities to make way for development linked to a nearby dam project, triggering protests by local villagers who attempted to carry his body to the local government offices.
Angry over the death of 58-year-old Xiao Qi, residents of Tuokou's Sanli village near Hongjiang city were locked in a standoff with police on Monday after authorities dispatched dozens of security forces to stop them from marching on county government offices.
Xiao died around 7:00 p.m. on Sunday after returning to find his home illegally demolished by the authorities, his daughter said.
Friend and fellow Sanli village resident Zhu Fangyan said his relatives believed Xiao had died from shock upon seeing his home torn down.
"He wasn't home, and the government suddenly just demolished his home, using a bulldozer to raze it," she said. "Xiao Qi was too upset, and was too angry, and had a headache all evening. He died at about 7.00 p.m. that day."
The next day, dozens of friends and relatives hoisted Xiao's body on their shoulders and carried him across the river to protest outside the government buildings.
"When we got to the ferry pier, there were about 60 riot police who stopped us going any further," Zhu said. "Then they said they'd pay out 30,000 yuan [U.S. $4,918 in compensation]. His family was furious."
Xiao's daughter said the relatives were in talks with government officials over compensation and were accusing officials of carrying out illegal demolition of people's homes that had led to Xiao's death.
"My dad was tormented to death," she said, hitting out at official calls for an autopsy to determine the cause of Xiao's death.
"A lot of people witnessed it with their own eyes; what need is there for an autopsy?" she said.
An employee who answered the phone at the Tuokou township government on Monday declined to comment on the incident.
Dam evictees' suicides
Tuokou is no stranger to deaths linked to the Hongjiang dam and hydroelectric project, according to rights groups and local people.
Last January, four evictees forcibly relocated to make way for the dam committed suicide, a rights group and media reports in Hong Kong said at the time.
Local residents say they have little choice in the mass relocation, as the government had cut off electricity to their homes.
Hongjiang officials—keen to finish the hydroelectric project as soon as possible—had put huge pressure on the Tuokou residents to move, reports said at the time.
China's central government has typically favored large-scale hydroelectric projects as a clean and cheap way of meeting skyrocketing energy demand.
However, such projects have always been controversial.
The massive Yangtze river Three Gorges dam drew vocal opposition from rights activists because of its forced displacement of more than 1.2 million residents—along with the destruction of homes, farmland, businesses, and cultural landmarks—to make way for the dam and its reservoir.
Meanwhile, a woman from the southeastern province of Fujian has died after drinking pesticide amid a land dispute with local authorities, her relatives said on Monday.
Jiang Xiuzhi took pesticide last Thursday following an angry altercation with the head of the Songxian county water resources bureau, which is in a dispute with local farmers over the leasing of their land, her relatives and officials said.
The official, Xie Rongdai, had taunted Jiang, saying, "If you've any sense you'll die right now so I can see it," Jiang's aunt Ye Lifang said.
Ye said the local water resources bureau had tried to take a piece of land away from the family without any compensation, prompting Jiang to go to complain to the bureau chief.
"But the bureau chief just got into a slanging match with her and really upset her.... He was really yelling," Ye said.
"After that my sister-in-law went ... out and bought pesticide and came back, and he taunted her as having no power, and told her to kill herself right there while he watched."
An official who answered the phone at the water resources bureau said Jiang had been taken to hospital shortly after drinking the pesticide.
"I wasn't at the scene ... but those who were took her straight to hospital," he said, but declined to comment further.
An officer on duty who answered the phone at the county police department also declined to comment. "We're not responsible for this matter," he said.
Violent forced evictions, often resulting in deaths and injuries, are continuing to rise in China, as cash-strapped local governments team up with development companies to grab property in a bid to boost revenue, according to a recent report by rights group Amnesty International.
Amnesty International collected reports of 41 cases of self-immolation from 2009 to 2011 alone due to forced evictions. That compares to fewer than 10 cases reported in the entire previous decade.
Nearly half of all rural residents have had land forcibly taken from them, with the number of cases on the rise, according to a 2011 study by the Landesa Rural Development Institute.
Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese Service and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.