Wong Lok-to | Radio Free Asia
Thousands of residents of a rebel village in China’s southern province of Guangdong took to the streets on Tuesday ahead of the trial of their former leader on graft charges.
Shouting “Give us back our Party Secretary! Release Party Secretary Lin!” the protesters surged onto the streets of Wukan village near Guangdong’s Lufeng city in protest at the formal arrest and imminent trial of Lin Zuluan, who was appointed leader in 2012 after heading a successful campaign of peaceful protests over lost farmland.
Lin was held on suspicion of “accepting bribes” since June, according to an online statement by the Shanwei municipal government, which oversees Wukan but was sidelined by provincial authorities in the resolution of 2011 clashes in the village.
Prosecutors have accused Lin of pocketing a large sum of money through contracting village infrastructure projects, and he has “confessed” on local television.
But local people remember earlier clashes in 2011, when Lin directed a series of nonviolent protests over the mass selloff of land by his predecessor Xue Chang, during which protester Xue Jinbo died in police custody, igniting mass displays of public mourning that further kindled public anger.
Protests were restarted earlier this year after a committee charged with buying back the land stalled amid a network of vested interests in local government.
“It’s been more than two months now, and people are still coming out in protest every day,” a Wukan resident surnamed Liu told RFA. “There are still protests every day, starting at 5.00 p.m.”
“We come out and shout slogans. This has been going on for 77 or 78 days now,” Liu said.
Warned to stop
Local authorities issued a police notice on Monday warning residents to stop their protests and threatening to pursue those responsible with a criminal investigation.
Liu said police are visiting the homes of protesters to put pressure on them to stop their demonstrations.
“The Lufeng police put out a statement telling people not to get involved in the Wukan dispute … and that anyone who did would be sent to the police,” Liu said.
But he said most protesters have vowed not to give up their protests until Lin is released.
Grassroots election expert and former independent People’s Congress deputy Yao Lifa told RFA that Lin’s family was recently informed that his trial would start on Thursday at the Chancheng District People’s Court in Guangdong’s Foshan city.
“They don’t want any media attention at Lin’s trial, nor do they want it to become a focus for nongovernment groups,” Yao said.
Online reports indicate that some visitor permits will be granted for the trial, however.
An employee who answered the phone at the Chancheng district court on Tuesday declined to comment.
“You need to call the filing chamber about this,” the employee said.
Calls to the number provided rang unanswered during office hours on Tuesday.
Calls to the Lufeng municipal government offices and police department also rang unanswered during office hours on Tuesday.
Lawyers denied access
Two rights lawyers hired by Lin’s family to represent him have been denied access to their client, and were warned off taking the case by local authorities, who appointed their own lawyers instead.
In 2011, Wukan‘s villagers manned barricades to stop police from entering their homes and detaining any more people as the standoff hit world headlines.
Their cause was eventually taken up by the Guangdong provincial authorities, who overruled local officials in Lufeng, removing Xue Chang from his post on corruption charges and ordering a one-person, one-vote election for his replacement that was also widely publicized.
But while Lin was made head of the village committee and several of the 2011 protest leaders were elected as a result, very little was done to retrieve Wukan’s lost farmland, villagers said.
Then, in July 2014, former protest leaders Hong Ruichao and Yang Semao, who had both served on the newly elected village committee, were jailed for four and two years respectively for “accepting bribes.”
Relatives said the charges against them were trumped-up by local officials in an act of political revenge.
Earlier this year, villagers persuaded Lin to mastermind a new land petition campaign, but he was detained before he could launch it, setting renewed street protests in motion.
Copyright © 1998-2016, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036.