Wong Lok-to | Radio Free Asia
Nearly one month after riot police fired tear-gas and rubber bullets in a crackdown on months of protests in the rebel village of Wukan, the village remains under tight security, with no more protests in sight, residents told RFA.
Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong are keeping Wukan, a fishing village administered by Lufeng city, under a stranglehold, with security checks and patrols on the streets and many people still behind bars, they said.
An employee who answered the phone at a restaurant in the village told RFA that while many local businesses have reopened following clashes with police last month, patrols are still frequent.
“A lot more vehicles are coming in and out of the village now … I think they have pretty much taken away all the checkpoints now,” the employee said.
Asked if the once-daily protest marches, calling for the release of jailed former village chief Lin Zuluan, had now stopped, the employee replied: “Yes.”
She said local residents are still concerned about further crackdowns, however.
“Of course we worry about that, because it affects business,” she said. “We lost about half of our [monthly] revenue because of it.”
A second local resident, who works at a different restaurant, declined to comment at all.
“I don’t know about any of this stuff,” the resident said.
Most Wukan villagers released
Canada-based rights activist Yeung Hung said many local residents had already been released, but that police are still holding people who traveled to the village from elsewhere else at the height of the protests.
“There are a few people who are from outside Wukan, who haven’t been released yet,” he said.
“Vehicles are basically able to get in and out of Wukan now, but the police will still check on them and they have to explain why they are going there,” Yeung said.
“There are still large numbers of police in the village, too,” he said.
Former Wukan resident Zhuang Liehong, who fled to the U.S. around the time that two leaders of the 2011 land protests were jailed for “bribery,” said he had been contacted by Chinese police to warn him not to speak out about events back home.
Zhuang said his father, detained by police as a form of leverage on him, hasn’t yet been released.
He said he still has plans to continue to protest on behalf of the village, but declined to give details.
“I don’t want to make [my plans] public so soon, not for the time being,” Zhuang told RFA on Thursday.
Meanwhile, constitutional law expert and former local People’s Congress deputy Yao Lifa said he expects protests will flare up again at some point in Wukan.
“The current situation hasn’t been resolved, and new tensions have been created,” Yao said.
“There are many ways of standing up for one’s rights, and the use of protests and demonstrations has already caught on with the people of Wukan,” he said.
Powerful vested interests
He called on the local authorities to return land sold out from under villagers’ noses by former village chief Xue Chang, who was fired for corruption after an earlier round of protests and clashes in 2011, sparking fresh elections that saw Lin Zuluan take the helm.
But even Lin and his newly-elected village committee found it hard to secure the return of the land amid powerful vested interests, political changes higher up, and a tangle of complex legal issues.
Last month’s raid by police on Wukan came after a court in Guangdong’s Foshan city sentenced Lin to more than three years’ imprisonment on “bribery” charges that local residents said were trumped up.
Lin was denied permission to see lawyers hired by his family, while many believe that his televised “confession” to the charges was made under duress.
Wukan, a fishing village of just 13,000 people, grabbed world headlines in 2011 following pitched battles between police and local residents that came after a long-running land dispute and the death of an activist in detention.
The provincial government unexpectedly sided with the village, overriding officials in nearby Lufeng, in a move that observers said was likely linked to attempts by then provincial leader Wang Yang to gain promotion.
The removal of Xue Chang and subsequent village elections were held up as a model of grassroots democracy in China at the time.
But since provincial leader Hu Chunhua took over in Guangdong in 2012, several former protest leaders from Wukan have been jailed on alleged “bribery” charges.
Pan-democratic lawmakers in Hong Kong recently protested in support of Wukan outside an official reception in the city marking the 67th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
League of Social Democrats lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung told a rally in Hong Kong on Oct. 1 that there was little to celebrate about National Day.
“The villagers of Wukan were protesting the wholesale takeover and sale of their land by corrupt officials, but they were recently subjected to a cruel crackdown,” he said.
“It became clear that there was going to be no universal suffrage [in Wukan], and that the so-called crackdown on corruption there was nothing more than the result of a factional power struggle,” Leung said.
Copyright © 1998-2016, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036