The former head of a rebel village in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong has retracted a televised "confession" to bribery and lodged an appeal against his three-year jail term.
Lin Zuluan, former ruling Chinese Communist Party secretary for Guangdong's Wukan village, was handed a 37-month jail term and a U.S.$60,000 fine after a court in Foshan city found him guilty of taking bribes and of other charges last month.
Lin, 72, who took office after leading a grassroots land protest campaign over the unauthorized sale of Wukan's farmland by his predecessor in 2011, had appeared on local television admitting to taking bribes, but few in Wukan believed it to be genuine.
His arrest prompted weeks of daily protests by thousands of residents of Wukan, who said the charges against him were a form of political retaliation by officials in nearby Lufeng city.
Lin, who has been denied access to lawyers hired by his family since his detention, lodged an appeal with the Foshan Intermediate People's Court on Wednesday, and three of his relatives were granted passes to attend, sources close to the family told RFA.
While appeals in China are rarely successful, and he will continue to be represented by a police-backed lawyer, the move seems to be a symbolic rejection of the televised "confession" Lin made earlier, and comes amid growing concern over the practice, which is becoming widespread in China's judicial system.
Anhui-based former prosecutor-turned-dissident Shen Liangqing said Lin has definitely been targeted for political revenge following the street protests and pitched battles at the barricades that caught world media attention in 2011.
"He was arrested on trumped-up charges, and then they used the reprehensible method of hostage-taking to force him to confess by using his grandson," Shen said.
"Given the circumstances, it is unsurprising that he has refused to play along and now wishes to appeal."
Back in 2011, the provincial government unexpectedly sided with Wukan, overriding officials in nearby Lufeng, in a move that observers said was likely linked to attempts by then provincial leader Wang Yang to gain promotion.
The removal of Xue Chang and subsequent village elections were held up as a model of grassroots democracy in China at the time.
But since provincial leader Hu Chunhua took over in Guangdong in 2012, several former protest leaders from Wukan have been jailed on alleged "bribery" charges.
Shen said Hu is now jockeying for promotion on his own account, and is likely the author of last month's crackdown by armed riot police in the village.
"I think that Guangdong chief Hu Chunhua is behind the current security crackdown, so as to win himself a promotion," he said. "They won't release Lin Zuluan on appeal: I think the court will uphold the original verdict."
"The  village elections fueled this fantasy that China would be ruled by law, and could be changed by voting," Shen said. "But this was never going to work under a one-party dictatorship."
'They lied to Lin Zuluan'
Former Wukan resident Zhuang Liehong, who fled to the U.S. around the time of the 2011 protests, said he supports Lin's appeal, even though he is unlikely to win.
"It won't work, but I think he's still got to do it," Zhuang said. "It was very clear from the start that there were two main factors behind the confession: they had his grandson, and also they lied to Lin Zuluan, saying he'd only be in jail for a month or more if he pled guilty."
"They said they'd release him on bail, which may have seemed like a small detail to them, but clearly it wasn't to Lin Zuluan," he said.
After Lin was made party secretary and several of the 2011 protest leaders were elected in March 2012 elections, very little was done to retrieve Wukan's lost farmland.
Then, in July 2014, former protest leaders Hong Ruichao and Yang Semao, who had both served on the newly elected village committee, were jailed for four and two years respectively for "accepting bribes."
Zhuang said Yang and Hong were similarly targeted for political revenge on trumped-up charges.
"They used the same methods on [them], sending people to their homes and telling them everything was fine, and that they were doing it for show, and that they would release them soon," he said.
"They lied to them, too."
Last June, villagers persuaded Lin to mastermind a new land petition campaign, but he was detained before he could launch it, setting more than 80 days of consecutive street protests in motion.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.