Villagers in Chinese land dispute plead for help

Chinese villagers who have barricaded themselves in from a ring of riot police have called on the central government to intervene in a land dispute that has claimed at least one life and prompted several bloody skirmishes.

Residents of Wukan village in Guandong province have blocked the road with trees and cars, established a rota of tree-top lookouts and put in place a warning system in case the authorities try to break the standoff.

They are demanding an investigation into the death in custody of the village butcher and chief negotiator, Xue Jinbo, who had been detained on charges of inciting a riot. They also seek the release of four other jailed villagers and fair compensation for land that they say was seized illegally for development by the local authorities.

Thousands of villagers have taken to the streets in recent days to mourn the death of Xue and press for justice. The local Shanwei city government says Xue died of a heart attack, but his family say his body showed signs that he had been beaten to death.

“The officials call us several times a day and tell us to give up,” said a relative of the dead man. “But we want them to admit that it was not a heart attack. We call on the central government to come and investigate because we don’t trust the local officials.”

Compared to the violence and mass protests of the past week, he said the situation was quiet on Wednesday. Residents had electricity, water and internet access and could travel to and from the village on back roads and paths.

But, while the stand-off continued, most people were afraid to leave.

“They are afraid they might be arrested if they leave,” said the source. “So they are making do with food from their farmland and in their cupboards.”

There were signs that village unity was under pressure. He said some residents had accepted compensation from the authorities and were trying to persuade others to do the same.

Another villager said the authorities were using food as a weapon, by refusing to provide rice unless the residents agreed to stop protesting. But he said the residents held daily protest meetings to remain united and organised.

“We have lookouts up in the trees 24 hours a day. If they see the police, they will raise the alarm and we’ll all come out and throw stones and fight with sticks,” he said.

The villagers are particularly concerned that the police may try to quell the unrest before Friday, when a major conference will be held in Shanwei.

China has seen a wave of protests over land seizures in recent years. In many cases, villagers have attacked local officials and temporarily driven off the police. When the authorities regain control, they often arrest the ringleaders. —

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Jonathan Watts
Jonathan Watts works from Bristol, England. Copywriter, Classics MA and author. Bristol, books, gigs, dogs. Jonathan Watts has over 100 followers on Twitter.

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