HONG KONG—Thirteen villagers detained by the authorities after last year’s Dec. 6 clashes in the southern Chinese township of Dongzhou have been sentenced to between three and seven years’ imprisonment by a local court for "illegally manufacturing explosives," "disturbing public order," and "illegally assembling to disrupt transport services."
“The trial began on May 22, and today, the 24th, all of them received their sentences. Lin Hanru got five years, Huang Xijun also got five years, and Huang Xirang got seven years,” a relative of Lin Hanru told RFA’s Mandarin service.
“All the local officials went to hear the result,” she said. “I don’t know what the charges were.”
At least three other villagers were all sentenced to three years’ imprisonment apiece, another villager said.
“There were six or seven people who received sentences of between three and seven years,” the villager said. “Apart from the three village representatives, there was also Wang Xishu and Zhang Xinyi. I’m not sure about the names of the others.”
The penalty for the villagers is too heavy but for the officials the penalty is too light. At least the officials should have been handed prison terms and had their property confiscated.
The official Xinhua news agency said a total of 13 villagers, all from Haifeng county near the southern port city of Shanwei, were convicted of illegally manufacturing explosives, disturbing public order, and illegally assembling to disrupt transport services.
In language that was far more neutral than the tone of its previous reporting on the incident, Xinhua said Huang Xirang, "described as one the riots' chief leaders," was jailed for seven years. It confirmed sentences of "three to six years" for Huang Xijun and four other villagers, while Zhang Qingyu was jailed for three years.
The agency also reported that Shanwei's Vice-Party Secretary Liu Jinsheng, who is in charge of the city's law and order, received a "stern warning" from the Party. The city's vice-mayor and police chief Li Min and director of the city's Bureau of Construction Chen Huinan both received warnings from the Party, it added.
It said six villagers, including Wei Zunzhan and Huang Xiran, received three years jail with four years' suspension, while six others who stood trial were acquitted, the agency said.
It said the accusations against the two Huangs and Zhang included a raid on a stone quarry in the summer of 2005 and an 'attack' on the disputed power station in December.
In an apparent distancing from the Shanwei local government, the centrally controlled agency quoted a Shanwei government statement as blaming the villagers, rather than directly attributing blame to them, as in previous reports.
Local media at the time characterized the clashes, which blew up after riot police dispersed a crowd of protesters angry over a land deal surrounding a local power plant project, as a “serious law-breaking incident.”
But witnesses at the time said police opened fire first on the crowd, which retaliated with home-made explosives.
Three people have been officially confirmed dead by the authorities, but villagers say that more than a dozen of their number were killed by riot police firing live ammunition. Police say that protesters attacked first with home-made explosives and that they reacted “in alarm.”
“The penalty for the villagers is too heavy but for the officials the penalty is too light. At least the officials should have been handed prison terms and had their property confiscated,” another villager told RFA’s Cantonese service.
“We have no money—how could we appeal?” a relative of one of the sentenced villagers told RFA’s Cantonese service, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Xinhua blamed the clashes at the time on “more than 170 armed villagers led by instigators Huang Xijun, Lin Hanru, and Huang Xirang.”
“It became dark when the chaotic mob began to throw explosives at the police. Police were forced to open fire in alarm,” Xinhua said, quoting the Guangdong provincial information office. “In the chaos, three villagers died, eight were injured with three of them fatally injured.”
Some of the villagers who had previously spoken to RFA were unwilling to comment out of fear, or were unreachable on their mobile phones as the phone lines were cut off.
Lin Hanru’s brother hung up when asked if he had seen him.
Other villagers were unwilling to comment. “We don’t have a reaction,” one Dongzhou resident said. “The officials have already had their say.”
Another villager said the Dongzhou villagers had been trying to protect their rights and had ended up in jail. “What happened to the new countryside that [Premier] Wen Jiabao said he wanted to create, the harmonious society?”
An official at the Shanwei municipal Party discipline and inspection commission declined to comment on reports of official cautions. “I don’t know,” she said, before hanging up.
“Rubbish. Don’t talk rubbish,” said a man who answered the phone at the municipal Party criminal and law committee office. “Such a thing never happened,” he said, then hung up.
And an officer at the municipal police department hung up as soon as she heard the name of former police chief Wu Sheng.
Under China’s existing arrangements, all land belongs to the state, but land-use rights and limited leases can be sold and exchanged on the open market.
Rural protesters have frequently reported the use of secret meetings, bullying tactics, and mob violence by governments to enforce unpopular land transactions.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Ding Xiao and Cantonese by Lillian Cheung. RFA Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. RFA Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.