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Protesting Peasants Under Siege in Wanli Village

September 9, 2004

Human Rights in China (HRIC) has learned that police and officials have once again brought in convicted criminals to suppress protests by peasants of Wanli Village in Cangshan Town, Fuzhou City, Fujian Province.

The peasants of Wanli Village have been engaged in an extended protest against appropriation and redevelopment of their farmland and involuntary removal to a new location. According to HRIC’s sources, officials have given the villagers a deadline of September 18, after which their homes will be destroyed and they will be forcibly removed from their property.

According to HRIC’s sources, more than 380 people, including local law enforcement officials and convicted criminals recently released from Reeducation Through Labor (RTL) and Reform Through Labor (laogai) camps, joined in a unified operation on the morning of September 8 during which they used bulldozers to break through water pipes and cut off water supply to the village. They then bulldozed the homes of three villagers. Observers believe this was an official wakeup call to remind villagers of the looming September 18 deadline and possibly convince some of them to leave on their own initiative. However, a number of villagers are determined to continue the struggle, and observers expect an escalation in the conflict between peasants and the authorities as the deadline approaches.

The homes destroyed in this operation belonged to three villagers who had expressed a determination to fight the forced removal to the very end. Villager Zhang Zongzhong, aged 70, had lived for more than 30 years in the home built by his father’s hands. Witnesses say that when Zhang saw the bulldozers approaching, he ran upstairs with a bottle of kerosene and matches, apparently determined to destroy himself and the house together, but members of the clearance team grabbed him and took him away before he could do anything. A 51-year old villager, Li Jianwu and his sister Li Huiyu, were also dragged from their home, where they had barricaded themselves. Villager Wang Jiankang and his family, who had also refused to move, found all of their belongings hurled out the door by the removal team. Once the occupants were removed, all three homes were razed to the ground.

Sources say the authorities were especially ruthless in this operation because of their vexation over leaks to the international community over an incident in early August when police and enlisted thugs were sent in to intimidate a group of villagers occupying a disputed factory premises. HRIC contacted Cangshan Township Party Secretary Tong Yaqing on his cell phone during the clearance operation, and Tong admitted that he was directing the clearance, but upon hearing that the caller was from HRIC, he quickly ended the telephone call.

Wanli Village, located at the outskirts of Fuzhou City, consists of fertile farmland cultivated by around 600 households. Apart from good income from crops, villagers have also enjoyed a monthly income of 400 yuan per shareholder from rental of the disputed factory premises. The villagers feel the compensation offered them in the redevelopment plans is grossly inadequate, and more than 400 households have refused the terms. Local authorities have responded with repeated clearance operations, often resulting in injuries to villagers.

“The repeated use of criminal elements to enforce clearance operations is completely unacceptable,” said HRIC president Liu Qing. “It’s time for the central and provincial authorities to step in and resolve this conflict. Otherwise there could well be tragic consequences if violence escalates as the September 18 deadline draws near.”