Two women in China’s northern Hebei province have seriously injured themselves after attempting suicide Monday in protest against a forced land grab, according to a rights monitoring group in China.
Zhao Xiujun and Liu Lan, peasants from Xiangtang township in Luan Xian county, remained in hospital Tuesday for treatment after Zhao slashed her wrist with a knife and Liu drank pesticide.
On Monday, authorities in Luan Xian county built a wall circling 1,200 mu (200 acres) of land owned by local villagers, according to rights group Monitor of People’s Life.
Police confronted scores of villagers who went to protest at the construction site and beat seven of them severely, including Zhao and Liu. The two women decided to attempt suicide as a way of expressing their desperation, according to a village representative.
“The government expropriated our land for 20,000 yuan (U.S. $3,200) per mu (0.16 acres), but they will sell it for 900,000 yuan (U.S. $142,000) per mu. How can we agree on this?” the representative, named Liu, told RFA.
“Each of our villagers only has three mu (0.5 acres) of land in total,” he said.
According to Monitor of People’s Life, local government officials had first seized the land on Oct. 30 after dispatching nearly 300 security personnel and more than a dozen police vehicles to drive away protesting villagers.
‘No land grab’
Xiangtang township chief Zhang Guangyun said in a phone interview Tuesday that authorities had seized the land.
“No, there was no expropriation of land by force,” Zhang said.
When asked about the suicide attempts, Zhang deferred questions to the county government and abruptly hung up the phone.
Calls to the Luan Xian county government were answered by another officer surnamed Zhang. But upon learning that the caller was a reporter he hung up without providing any details.
A villager surnamed Li said construction workers had already begun building a new commercial housing project on the seized land.
“On that tract of land, construction is now ongoing. The county government sent many guards and they will arrest anyone daring to protest,” Li said.
“I just went there and saw guards who told me that if we go against them, they will destroy us.”
“This incident serves as a very bad example of the land seizure situation in China today,” said Liu Feiyue, manager of Monitor of People’s Life.
“The police always stand on the opposite side of the people in need.”
A directive issued by China's cabinet, the State Council, called in April for measures to "correct procedural errors" in rural land use reform.
But cash-strapped local governments often ignore central government directives in their rush to profit from the country's booming property market.
China is facing a shortage of farmland following three decades of rapid urbanization, which has seen around 20 million hectares (49.4 million acres) of land converted to nonagricultural use.
The government earlier this year downgraded its target of 140 million hectares (346 million acres) of farmland to guarantee food security to 120 million hectares (296.5 million acres), official media reported.
China 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.
Original reporting by Xin Yu for Mandarin. Written in English by Ping Chen.