HONG KONG—A city-level parliamentary deputy has described his beating at the hands of an unidentified gang in the southern Chinese village of Taishi, where tensions are running high following a campaign to remove the elected village chief amid corruption allegations.
Lü Banglie, a National People’s Congress deputy for Zhijiang city, Hubei province, said he had just entered Taishi village in a taxi with a reporter for the U.K.-based Guardian newspaper and an interpreter when they were intercepted by several motorbikes.
“All of a sudden many people surrounded our car,” Lü told RFA’s Mandarin service. “We tried to put the gear in reverse but the mob would not let us go in reverse either. They were pointing at me as if they knew me.”
All of a sudden many people surrounded our car. We tried to put the gear in reverse but the mob would not let us go in reverse either. They were pointing at me as if they knew me.
Lü, who was trying to accompany Guardian correspondent, was pulled out of the front passenger seat by several men by the hair, he said. “They started hitting me with their fists and kicking me with their feet. They pinned me to the ground and kept beating me. I fainted,” he told RFA reporter Zhang Min.
“Someone splashed cold water on me and I regained consciousness for a second but then passed out again. When I came to, I was in a moving vehicle. My head was hurting very badly. I started throwing up,” he said.
After he had vomited several times, the men offered him food, and then dumped him at the Zhijiang Hotel, contacting the Zhijiang parliament as they left. Two parliamentary officials then took Lü to hospital, suggesting to him that he should blame Taishi villagers for the attack.
“I don’t know who beat me. They were wearing plain clothes. But later I was told by people from the Zhijiang People’s Congress that they were villagers. They even asked me, ‘Don’t you think the farmers down there are violent and barbaric?’ I was still in a daze at the time, but I remember replying, ‘It’s not the peasants who are barbaric. It’s the government.’ They smiled.”
Lü said he was convinced that those who beat him did so on behalf of local government officials, who villagers say have launched a concerted campaign of psychological pressure, threats, and unattributable violence to prevent the recall of village chief Chen Jinsheng since a dispute blew up in July over a U.S.$12 million land deal.
“The government has adopted heavy-handed tactics to deal with those who are only trying to defend their rights according to the law. It chills my heart,” Lü said.
The government has adopted heavy-handed tactics to deal with those who are only trying to defend their rights according to the law. It chills my heart.
As he lay bleeding at the roadside, Benjamin Joffe-Walt and his translator were taken to a township government office where they were interrogated by officials who accused them of violating Chinese rules for foreign correspondents.
Local authorities have effectively sealed off the village, preventing journalists and supporters from getting in, and preventing villagers leaving the area to lodge an official complaint in Beijing, villagers said.
Last week, a reporter for Hong Kong’s English-language South China Morning Post newspaper and a correspondent for Radio France International were stopped by unidentified men on trying to enter Taishi village. They were slapped and jostled when they refused to show identification papers.
Hong Kong-based reporter Leu Siew-ying told RFA’s Cantonese service that the two reporters were threatened with further violence by an unidentified man, who said: “You may decide not to show your identification papers, but then I will leave this place, and then I will have no control over the mood of the villagers.”
Lü called on the central government in Beijing to intervene in the Taishi dispute, widely seen by Chinese scholars and the legal profession as a test of local governments’ commitment to village democracy and rule of law.
Villagers and their lawyers said accounting procedures around the sale of more than 2,000 mu (133 hectares) of village land were not transparent, and that they suspected Chen of embezzling public funds.
In clashes last month, riot police ended a hunger strike and fired water cannon on protesters, many of them elderly, prompting widespread outrage among ordinary Chinese with access to news reports of the incident.
Villagers have also reported a “white terror” campaign by township and district officials, who used personal and family ties, threats, banquets, and a door-to-door signature campaign to derail support for Chen’s recall.
They said many villagers were persuaded to abandon their campaign in return for the release of detained fellow protesters, many of whom were in their seventies and eighties.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Zhang Min, and in Cantonese by Grace Leung. RFA Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. RFA Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie and edited by Sarah Jackson-Han