Human Rights in China (HRIC) has learned of serious harassment, threats and brutal assaults over the past month against villagers in Liaoning Province who are protesting attempts by local officials to forcibly seize farmland for industrial development.
Sources in China told HRIC that township and village officials wanted to attract investors to build steel factories in Zhaodaban, a village in Fuxin Town in the Fuxin Mongolian Autonomous County, Fuxin City, Liaoning Province. Approximately 100 mu (about 16.5 acres) of land in the village was already fallow and available for development, but the scale of the proposed project required local officials to obtain another 500 mu (about 82.33 acres) of land that is currently under cultivation and supports around 80 households. In June 2007, the Fuxin township government and the Zhaodaban village committee offered to acquire land for a payment of 500 yuan per year per mu for an indefinite period. When a majority of the villagers rejected the offer, the township government reportedly sent out unidentified individuals to threaten and harass them. Even so, by late August, more than 30 households had still refused to sign the agreement.
According to HRIC’s sources, local officials then stepped up their harassment of villagers who refused to give up their land. On the evening of August 22, people wielding iron rods smashed the windows of villager Wang Yuge’s home and ransacked his belongings. Wang’s 13 year-old daughter was so terrified that she had to be admitted to a hospital for treatment. Wang Yuge reported the incident to the vice squad of the Fuxin County police on August 23, but the police said there was insufficient evidence for a criminal case.
Sources say that on the morning of August 25, Zhao Wenliang, secretary of the Fuxin Town Political-Legal Committee, arrived at Zhaodaban Village along with the son of township Party secretary Wang Haiou and some 200 firefighters and 100 other unidentified individuals. The group destroyed 400 mu of corn seedlings that were almost ready for planting, and villagers who attempted to intervene were harshly beaten. Villagers Zhang Yuting and Zhang Youzhi were reportedly beaten senseless and then dumped along a road a few meters away. Police officers who were present at the scene reportedly did nothing to stop the beatings, which were witnessed by hundreds of villagers, and calls by villagers to a public security hotline brought no response. Some villagers had the injured men taken to the county hospital, where they were still receiving treatment at last report.
Sources say that on September 3, township officials went to Zhang Youzhi’s home and offered to settle the dispute by giving him money for medical treatment, on the condition that he sign the land acquisition agreement. Zhang’s family refused the offer.
Following the violent confrontation on August 25 and subsequent threats, most villagers agreed to sign land acquisitions agreements. However, the households of Zhang Yuting, Zhang Yude, Zhang Youzhi, Wang Yusheng, Wang Yuge and one other have still refused to sign. Local officials have since mobilized friends and relatives of the recalcitrant villagers to try to change their minds, and Wang Yusheng was reportedly told that hundreds of thousands of yuan have been offered as a reward for taking his life. The six households have reported the situation to the online complaints system of the Central Committee for Discipline Inspection, but the only reply they have received is that the Committee “requires the Fuxin Mongolian Autonomous County, Fuxin City, Liaoning Province, to solve the problem.”
A representative of the six remaining households outlined their demands to HRIC: they do not want the annual payments of 500 yuan, but want the government to return their land and compensate them for the destroyed seedlings; they want the government to punish the individuals who attacked villagers on August 25, and to pay damages and medical costs to those who were injured; they want an apology from the government, and punishment of those who arranged for the destruction of the villagers’ seedlings.
HRIC deplores the use of physical violence, harassment and threats to force villagers to accept compensation in land acquisition deals imposed on them by the local government. Illegal land grabs by local officials in China have continued to increase in recent years, and are notable for the use of extra-legal forces to intimidate farmers and villagers. HRIC is concerned over reports that the Fuxin County police refused to record and properly investigate the damage to Wang Yuge’s house, or to intervene in the beatings of Zhang Yuting and Zhang Youzhi. HRIC calls on the Fuxin township government to immediately halt these tactics, which violate the villagers’ rights and detrimentally affect their livelihoods. HRIC also supports the efforts of the Zhaodaban villagers to obtain appropriate compensation for their land, and redress for the attacks on their persons and property.