Villagers Detained, Hostages Released in South China Land Clash

September, 2005. Villagers and armed police face off at another Guangdong land dispute at Taishi village. Photo: AFP

HONG KONG--Villagers who surrounded a local government building in southern China have freed two local officials they were holding hostage in a dispute over the amount they were paid for farmland sold to developers, Xichong village sources said.

Local authorities were still holding 18 local activists, but protesters feared what would happen if they continued holding the cadres, they said. “At 11:00 a.m., two hostages were released. We are afraid that if we keep them more than 24 hours, we will be in trouble,” one villager told RFA by telephone.

A relative of one of locals held by police said: “The notice we got says it is a detention notice, and it says that anyone who violates PRC [Chinese] criminal law breaks the law. They are currently being held at the Shunde (Shun Tak) detention center. We got this notice by mail at 7:00 pm. Local police told us that all 18 people were guilty and will be indicted and sentenced, but don’t know for how long.”

A villager who was temporarily detained during the clash told RFA's Cantonese service that he and other five villagers were released, but confirmed that more than a dozen villagers were still detained.

Plainclothes arrests

"Those arrested them were plainclothes police and didn't show any identification. They were asked about the land dispute during questioning. The police said our actions were illegal. I believe they arrested us because we are trying to stand up for our rights."

The police said our actions were illegal. I believe they arrested us because we are trying to stand up for our rights.

A duty officer at the local government declined to comment when contacted by RFA.

Another villager said local television was reporting that the authorities began planning in March to round up local activists. “They began to document villagers activities back in March,” the villager said.

Xichong village is near Shunde, in southern province of Guangdong, where skyrocketing property prices have led to large numbers of disputes over land development deals by local government.

On Thursday, local sources said up to 1,000 villagers had surrounded a local government building and taken two hostages in southern China, demanding market-based payment for land they were forced to sell to developers.

“We are holding the wife of the former village committee secretary and the son of the head of the Shareholders’ Association,” one villager said in a telephone interview at the time. “I am here with about 1,000 other villagers. There are a lot of plainclothes [police] nearby. It’s not convenient for me to say too much.”

The same villager, who asked not to be named, told RFA’s Mandarin service a group of villagers had been summoned Nov. 29 to the local Lunjiao Land Development Co. to discuss their year-long campaign to obtain more money in exchange for just over 1,000 mu (165 acres) of farmland. How much money the villagers have already received in exchange for the land wasn’t immediately clear.

These villagers were detained shortly after arriving at the company office, the source said. “They detained 27 people. They used the meeting as a pretext. Around 11:30 this morning, village representatives were taken away by the police in the middle of the meeting.”

On Friday, one villager said he hoped the dispute would end peacefully, but added: “If they don’t free our leaders, we will shut down to protest. We will stop running business until our people freed and officials from Xichong should be held responsible for all the losses”.

Demands rejected

Sources said that among the 27 detained villagers, five were newly elected village cadres.

The wife of village cadre Wu Peifa said her husband and the others “did not do anything to violate the law. They did not do anything wrong. Why were they taken away? Now villagers have descended upon the village committee. They are demanding the release of our people.”

On Nov. 23, hundreds of villagers surrounded a plastics factory-built on what had been farmland-and demanded to see land-sale documents. The crowd later dispersed without incident.

The villagers also demanded more money for the farmland and want factories built on former farmland to cover trash-collection fees and public utility fees for the village. Factory officials rejected their demands, they say.

A villager whose husband is still in custody said: "I got the notification from the local police station saying that my husband is in detention because of illegal activities. But they did not tell me the details or where my husband is detained. I am so worried that I couldn't sleep all night."

Similar tensions are reported frequently in Guangdong province. In December 2005, police opened fire on a crowd of protesters angry at officials' sale of land to build a power station in Dongzhou, near the port city of Shanwei. At least three people died and dozens were injured.

Also in Dongzhou, police staged a pre-dawn raid Nov.18 on a temple where angry villagers had been holding eight local officials hostage for a week over the detention of a local anti-corruption activist.

China experiences thousands of protests and 'mass incidents' every year amid widespread official corruption and a growing gap between rich and poor. Leaders in Beijing have warned that the ruling Communist Party will have to address the causes if it wants to remain in power.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Ding Xiao and in Cantonese by Grace Kei Lai-see. RFA Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. RFA Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han and Luisetta Mudie.


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