Authorities in the Uyghur region of Xinjiang in China's northwest are refusing to honor 30-year land-use contracts in a village near Artush city, forcing poor farmers away from their livelihoods to make way for a major property development, RFA's Uyghur service reports.
The trouble began after a Chinese company from Beijing signed an agreement with the city government of Artush to displace the local farmers and build a hotel and tourist site in the area. A group of farmers' houses were torn down. Other farmers are resisting attempts to move them, trying to avoid selling their land.
Local farmers describe the government's moves as illegal and unjust. "What do they own rights to? Do they own rights to their jackets or hats? Or do they own rights to their houses or land?" one farmer said in an interview.
"The government gave this land to us for 30 years. A farmer who violates the agreement will be penalized. Is it right to forcefully take the land given by the government for 30 years?" the farmer said. "The land you are giving us is unworked land and will take 10 years to make suitable for grape planting. When are you going to take this land away too?"
But local officials have rejected the landowners' requests for a meeting with the company. The total area of disputed land is about 700 mu (46 hectares), which includes the farmers' houses, fruit and vegetable gardens, and croplands in Shurukh village, which is home to around 180 Uyghur households.
Villagers said officials told them after briefly inspecting the property that they would receive 72,000 yuan in compensation and one mu of land each.
"After hearing that they were given 72,000 yuan (U.S. $8,700), the farmers asked about it. Then the local officials said that they used 60,000 yuan (U.S. $7,250) on various things like pumping the water and building the roads. They said, 'We gave you 12,000 yuan (U.S. $1,450) — ; isn't it enough?'" the farmer said.
During the inspection, police beat the son of a local farmer named Hawaz because he was videotaping his garden right before his house was to be torn down.
"He was beaten — ; pushed and beaten when he was trying to record," the farmer said. "He threw the camera to the other side of garden. And they jumped over and got the camera. Then they smashed it."
However, a party official in charge of investigating disciplinary complaints said the 72,000 yuan figure was incorrect. "The claim of an award of 72,000 yuan is not true," Party Discipline Inspection official Yarmamat (eds: one name correct) told RFA.
"Some of the ministers and other related officials from several administrations came here. They did a calculation for the farmers. Then they told the farmers that the value of the one mu of land sold was equal to 72,000 yuan [and so] the farmers said, 'We do not want new land for our old land. We want 72,000 yuan.'"
However, he agreed that the substitute land was of lower quality than the land at Shurukh. Moreover, the villagers said they would lose easy access to the local city markets to sell their fruit produce for much-needed income because the new land plots were more remote.
However, a U.S.-based Uyghur legal expert said the local officials were still in breach of the 30-year land agreements signed with the farmers.
"First of all, forcing farmers to sell their land means there is no respect for the farmers' fundamental property rights," doctoral legal student Alim Seytoff said of the Shurukh case. "This is an act of depriving the farmers of their land. Furthermore, such an act has violated their human rights."
He said the Chinese government should first obtain consent from the landowner to use a piece of land for development. "In this case, the landowners are the Uyghur farmers, and the government needs to obtain these peoples' consent. Besides, the farmers must [be able to] sell their land based on its market value or their own price," said Seytoff, who is also president of the Uyghur American Association.