HONG KONG—Several hundred villagers went to the main crossroads in the southern Chinese village of Dongzhou on Wednesday to remember those who died when armed police opened fire on protesters exactly one year ago.
“People put photographs of the dead people by the side of the road and made offerings to them. There were about 1,000 people there,” one villager told RFA’s Cantonese service.
Tensions were still running high with extra police patrolling the village following last month’s hostage standoff, residents of the village near the southern port city of Shanwei said.
“There were a lot of police over by the crossroads but they didn’t come over to us,” another villager said.
On Dec. 6, 2005, paramilitary forces shot and killed at least three people protesting what they said was inadequate compensation for land used to build a power station.
Official media reported that three people had died, saying that police fired “in alarm” after being pelted with home-made explosives.
But villagers say more than 20 people were killed when police opened fire on unarmed protesters who only fought back after the first shots were fired.
“We went to make offerings at the place where the people died,” a resident of Dongzhou told RFA’s Mandarin service.
People put photographs of the dead people by the side of the road and made offerings to them. There were about a thousand people there.
“There were about 300 or 400 people there [in the morning]. There were also photos of those who died,” he told reporter Ding Xiao.
“There were a couple of people there watching us. They disappeared very quickly, though, when we asked them to take part in the commemorative activities,” he said.
Last month, tensions escalated once more when villagers took eight officials hostage, calling for the release of activist Chen Qian.
Villagers said Chen was still being held by the authorities.
"He's being held in Haifeng police station," a Dongzhou resident told Grace Kei Lai-see. "His family went down there to try to see him but they were refused."
Another said Chen had been beaten up badly by police. "When he was arrested in Dongzhou, he was seriously beaten by the police. At that time he was being held at a school, and the students from the school heard the sound. It was really nasty."
Thirteen villagers were sentenced to jail terms of between four and seven years for ‘disturbing public order’ following the clashes a year ago.
One official newspaper at the time said the police commander in charge at the time had been disciplined, but no details have ever been made public about any official investigations into the incident.
Civil rights Web site manager Li Jian said that until the social causes underlying disputes over the use of land were addressed, clashes like that on Dec. 6 were bound to continue.
“The trouble now is that if the government agrees to respect the rights and interests of one lot of villagers who have lost land, then they will all come out and demand it. And where are they going to get the money from?”
Since the Dongzhou incident, Guangdong provincial Communist Party boss Zhang Dejiang has tried to slow the pace at which rural property development deals are pushed through by local officials.
Zhang has forbidden deals to go ahead in which "correct" bureaucratic procedures have not been followed, in which no formal agreement has been reached with villagers regarding compensation, and in which the compensation funds have not yet been handed out to villagers.
He repeated the tougher guidelines at a recent provincial Party meeting, threatening to sack officials who flouted them.
Original reporting in Cantonese by Grace Kei Lai-see and in Mandarin by Ding Xiao. RFA Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. RFA Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.