HONG KONG—Authorities in the southern Chinese port city of Shanwei have launched a major information offensive following violent clashes between police and villagers in which at least three people are known to have been shot dead.
Around a dozen families of those who died or who are still missing from the violence of Dec. 6 in Dongzhou Township are being closely monitored by local officials, residents told RFA.
“There are village officials sitting watching the homes of those who lost relatives, keeping an eye on their comings and goings,” one Dongzhou resident told RFA’s Mandarin service.
Two villagers said their phones were being tapped by police, who had begun a wave of arrests of those they saw as key instigators of the protest. “I can’t talk on the phone—it’s being monitored,” one woman told Mandarin service reporter Ding Xiao.
Cybercafes had been closed since Dec. 7, making it hard for Dongzhou residents to access news reports other than official media and police broadcasts. Police are still patrolling the area and checking all adult males coming in and out.
“Our computers have been shut off. Our cybercafé has been closed down,” one man said.
Tensions remained high in Dongzhou on Monday after official media broke their four-day silence at the weekend, reporting that three people had died and blaming the violence on villagers.
Dozens are missing and feared dead after last week’s crackdown, known as the “Dec. 6 Incident.”
Our computers have been shut off; our cybercafé has been closed down.
China’s official Xinhua news agency admitted that three people had died during the violence, shot by police “in alarm.”
It said the villagers had attacked first with knives and home-made explosives, blaming the clashes on “over 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.”
Calling the clashes “a serious law-breaking incident,” the official Guangzhou Daily newspaper said that the police officer in charge at the time of the shootings had been arrested.
“Under exceptionally urgent circumstances, the chief commanding officer at the scene mishandled the situation, causing accidental deaths and injuries,” the paper said. “The procuratorial organ of Shanwei City has brought this person under criminal detention according to law.”
The authorities have also stepped up broadcasts from vehicles on the streets, from morning to evening, residents said. The broadcasts said three died and eight were injured in the clashes, dismissing reports of a higher death toll as “rumors.”
That night, there were injured people who were dragged aboard police vehicles and were shot to death. The police then took the bodies to the crematorium near the beach, but because there was no signature on the death certificate for cremation they threw the bodies into the sea instead. This definitely happened. This is not a rumor.
Villagers disputed the official version of events.
“It’s far more than that,” one woman told Cantonese service reporter Grace Kei Lai-see. “According to our information, at least 11 people have been killed.”
Another man said protesters were not simply killed in the heat of the moment, as official reports claimed.
“That night, there were injured people who were dragged aboard police vehicles and were shot to death,” said one man. “The police then took the bodies to the crematorium near the beach, but because there was no signature on the death certificate for cremation they threw the bodies into the sea instead. This definitely happened. This is not a rumor. If there were rumors going around, I wouldn’t tell them to you.”
It became dark when the chaotic mob began to throw explosives at the police. Police were forced to open fire in alarm.
“The bodies were discovered when they began to float in the seawater. They keep saying on the broadcasts the that ‘counterrevolutionary leaders’ are terrorists. That the police were forced into firing, about petrol bombs, they used teargas to dispel protesters, that they acted in self-defense,” he said.
“Well, if they were acting within the law, why can’t they give up the bodies so they can be cremated? This is the right of the families which cannot be taken away from them.”
Villagers said nine arrests had been made, including the three men named as “instigators” by the authorities.
“It said on the television news that nine villagers have been arrested. That includes the three that they named. It said how and where they were apprehended,” one villager said.
Officials contacted by RFA Monday declined to add anything to the official version of events reported by Xinhua.
A duty officer at the Shanwei municipal government propaganda department said all the relevant information had already been reported in the newspapers.
“This has all been very clearly and extensively reported in the newspapers. If you read that you’ll be fine,” he said.
A Foreign Affairs Ministry official in Beijing said she didn’t know the details of the situation. “I don’t know much about this. Perhaps you could leave your details, and we’ll get in touch with you if we get information on this matter.”
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. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.