Human Rights in China (HRIC) has learned that Liu Zhengyou and four other representatives of landless peasants from Zigong City, Sichuan Province, were assaulted and detained while appealing to the city’s new mayor for redress on April 20.
Sources in China told HRIC that more than 2,000 residents of Hongqi Xiang, Weiping Xiang and other villages of Zigong Municipality were attempting to petition Zigong Mayor Wang Hailin when they were set upon by 700 police officers and other officials. Peasant activists Liu Zhengyou, Mao Xiulan and others were badly injured and taken to the hospital for treatment, after which Liu and four others were detained.
The peasants have been engaged in a long-running dispute with the Zigong municipal government after authorities took possession of more than 15,000 mu of fertile farmland to establish a high-tech development zone in 1993. Rather than adequately compensating the peasants for the land, the authorities only provided each peasant with a resettlement allowance of 8,000 yuan and a monthly subsistence allowance of 54 to 90 yuan per person. The peasants have been petitioning continuously since then, but the official response has never progressed beyond detaining the petitioners. To date, more than 80 protesting peasants have reportedly been detained, with more than 20 held for periods of administrative detention, and more than 20 seriously injured in clashes with the authorities. More than ten people have become permanently disabled by their injuries, and one committed suicide in despair over the situation.
HRIC’s sources say that at the beginning of 2005, a number of local officials involved in suppressing the peasant protests were transferred or promoted out of the Zigong Municipality. For example, former mayor Luo Linshu was promoted to the secretariat of the Sichuan Provincial Labor Union, while former vice-mayor Shi Jun was promoted to mayor of Guangyuan City. The peasants saw the shift of leadership as an opportunity to air their grievances before a new cast of officials, and arranged for a rally of some 2,000 residents of Honqi Xiang and Weiping Xiang at the Zigong City public square on April 20 in order to present a petition to congress members and the newly appointed mayor Wang Hailin. The authorities responded by issuing a prohibition against any petitioning activities while the local People’s Congress was in session. In the meantime, the authorities decided to station public security police and other law enforcement officials on a 24-hour watch to prevent any peasant representatives from entering the square.
According to HRIC’s sources, around 8:00 on the morning of April 20, Liu Zhengyou and more than 100 other peasant representatives managed to access the square, carrying banners printed with protest slogans and leaflets detailing their complaints. The local authorities immediately deployed more than 400 police officers and officials to the scene and began confiscating the peasants’ materials, while detaining Liu Zhengyou and other peasant representatives. When the remaining peasants watching outside the square began to vociferously protest the police action, Liu was released temporarily. But then the authorities deployed another 300 police officers and officials to the scene, and forced Liu Zhengyou, Chen Shoulin, Chen Xiaoling, Mao Xiulan and Deng Shufen into police vehicles. During the altercation, Liu Zhengyou was reportedly injured in his midsection, neck and foot, and was admitted to the Zigong No. 2 Hospital for treatment. A female peasant representative, Mao Xiulan, was likewise admitted for treatment to a severe head injury.
“The Zigong peasant controversy is one of many examples of peasant rights being abused,” said HRIC president Liu Qing. “The central government needs to intervene in these cases of abuse by local authorities, which are contributing to unrest throughout China’s rural areas. This is a problem that should be of concern not only to the Chinese government, but also to the international community. A China in chaos poses a threat not only to the Chinese people, but potentially to world stability as well.”