By Rahul Jacob and Zhou Ping in Hong Kong
14 December 2011
Thousands of people from a southern Chinese village protested on Wednesday against the death in police custody of a popular local leader following a standoff over land acquisition and allegations of corruption.
Xue Jinbo, 43, is believed to have died on the night of December 10. His family saw his body the following evening and reported that it showed signs of brusing – enraging Wukan village in Guangdong province. Local authorities say he died of cardiac arrest.
Police have responded to the demonstration by blockading the village, residents said, and the term “Wukan” was blocked on Chinese microblogging sites.
For the provincial government of Guangdong, which as China’s most industrialised province has faced several protests by workers recently, bringing Wukan under control is proving particularly difficult. Villagers have been demanding the removal and punishment of local officials they claim were involved in a corrupt land deal.
“The police have blocked all the main roads now. We have to go the farthest way round via back roads when we get in and out,” a villager named Zhang told the Financial Times. “Even the rice store is running out. They cut off internet access last night and warned they would cut our electricity today. They haven’t yet.”
In an attempt to quell rumours about the health of four other villagers held by the authorities, officials in Lufeng, a city near Wukan, released photographs of the prisoners and allowed relatives to meet them. The family of Zhang Jiancheng, one of the detainees, met him on Tuesday and said he was in good condition.
On Wednesday, the villagers appealed for justice from the Beijing government. Villagers shouted and raised their fists while many women wept as they paid tribute to the dead local leader Xue.
Banners in the village square read: “Our democratic appeals were described as an illegal gathering” and “Beg the central government to save our Wukan.”
Amnesty International demanded an immediate independent investigation into Xue's death, and said China was failing to protect citizens from forced eviction.
The human rights group said in a statement: “Contrary to international human rights law and standards, Chinese citizens rarely have an opportunity for genuine consultation before eviction, rarely receive adequate information on the nature or purpose of the eviction and often receive little or no compensation.”
Han Dongfang, who heads China Labour Bulletin, an advocacy group for workers in China, said it was much easier for the government to resolve conflicts between workers and management in industrial protests. In this case, he said, “the land issue goes much deeper because of the involvement of corrupt local officials”.