Clashes as Armed Police Take Over China’s Rebel Village in Dawn Raid

Radio Free Asia, 13 September 2016

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RFA Uyghur Service — Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong on Tuesday fired tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets in a massive dawn raid cracking down on weeks of protests in the rebel village of Wukan.

Between 2,000 and 3,000 riot police stormed Wukan, which is administered by nearby Lufeng city, detaining more than 20 people, local residents told RFA.

But villagers, who have been protesting the loss of their farmland and the detention of their leader Lin Zuluan for more than 80 consecutive days, fought back with bricks as riot police beat them up indiscriminately, eyewitnesses told RFA.

“We were woken up very early this morning by a phone call saying that there were a lot of police outside,” a resident who declined to be named told RFA. “We looked out of the window, and there really were a lot of police.”

“We are so fed up now, because the whole village is swarming with police, who have sealed off every intersection,” he said.

“We feel very unsafe and worried about the villagers’ safety,” he said.

The Lufeng police department said in a post on its official microblog account that the operation was aimed at “dealing with illegal protests in Wukan carried out by a minority of people.”

“[The operation] was supported and assisted by the vast majority of local people, and Wukan is currently going through the process of a return to business as usual,” the post said.

Tear gas and rubber bullets

A second Wukan resident said 20 or 30 people had been detained in the raid.

“They started in the middle of the night, at around 3.00 a.m. … and have now detained more than 20 people,” the resident said.

“They fired tear gas and pepper spray,” he said. “Some people were also hit by rubber bullets, which are incredibly painful, and a lot of people were injured and bleeding.”

“There are now police at every intersection,” the person said.

The second resident said the total number of people injured isn’t yet known.

“We can’t get a clear figure,” he said, adding that online rumors claimed that some people had died.

“We didn’t see that with our own eyes, though,” he said.

A third resident confirmed the reports of shots and tear gas being fired.

“They fired tear gas and they fired shots into the air,” the third resident said. “They are still beating up local people now, including women and the elderly, until they bleed, then they are detaining them.”

“It looks like the scene of a massacre … They are all armed police and riot squad, and they are everywhere,” he said. “Wukan is full of police detaining people everywhere they go.”

Bloody injuries

Photos shown to RFA of the raids showed a number of people bleeding from injuries, with more seriously injured people lying on the ground in pools of blood.

Bricks were also littered around on the streets, after local people flung them at police in self-defense, resulting in injuries on both sides, sources said.

An administrator who answered the phone at the Lufeng People’s Hospital confirmed that injured people were being taken there from the clashes in Wukan, but said they were unaware of the scale of the casualties.

“I don’t have the list of casualties, so I can’t tell you exactly how many there are,” the employee said. “But there were some armed police too.”

“I just work in the office, so I don’t know anything more than that, because I’m not a medical practitioner,” the person said.

Exiled former Wukan resident and protest leader Zhuang Liehong, who fled to the United States in the wake of 2011 protests in the village, said the authorities seemed determined to wrest back control of the village after weeks of daily demonstrations.

He said his elderly father was among those detained.

“My father, Zhuang Songkun, who is nearly 70 years old, was among those detained; also Cai Jialin and an elderly woman, who [are both] about the same age as my father,” Zhuang said.

Court sentence

The raid comes after a court in Guangdong’s Foshan city sentenced Lin Zuluan to more than three years’ imprisonment on “bribery” charges.

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.

Zhuang said Lin’s grandson had been forcibly relocated to Dongguan, not far from Foshan, shortly after his grandfather’s detention.

“The government won’t allow him to live in Wukan anymore,” he said, adding: “I think this has a lot to do with the policies of Hu Chunhua,” Zhuang said, in a reference to the ruling Chinese Communist Party secretary for Guangdong province.

Lin, former Wukan party secretary and former leader of the 2011 protests, was handed a 37-month jail term and a U.S. $60,000 fine by the Foshan Intermediate People’s Court last week, after it found him guilty of taking bribes and of other charges.

Wukan residents, who were largely prevented from attending the trial by draconian security measures, rejected the sentence, staging further protests over charges they said were trumped up.

Grassroots election expert and former independent People’s Congress deputy Yao Lifa told RFA that the Wukan protests are likely the longest-running public protests China has ever known.

“To my knowledge, this has never happened before, for such a long time, and on such a scale,” Yao said.

But he said any progress towards genuine democracy in China would still require the full cooperation of the government.

“Changes in the law and reforms have to happen at source, to start with the whole system,” Yao said. “They need to ensure fairness and openness and supervision in the running of elections, as well as genuine opposition and media coverage.”

“Without that, we will continue to see conflicts of all kinds continue to arise across the country,” he said.

‘Put this thing to bed’

Canada-based rights activist Yeung Hung said the authorities are trying to put a swift end to the protests in just a couple of days.

“They want to put this thing to bed … so the people who were detained today are likely to wind up with jail sentences, or at least with administrative sentences handed down by police,” he said.

But he said Wukan residents might not take the latest government actions lying down.

“My fear is that if they government continues to escalate the situation, then the people of Wukan, who haven’t yet backed off even half a pace, could get neighboring villages to help them,” Yeung said.

“Then the authorities, faced with a situation beyond their control, could call in even more military force and suppress it with even greater force,” he said.

Lin, 72, was made the new head of the village in 2012 as former protest leaders were elected to positions on the village committee following weeks of protests, and after a standoff at the barricades made world headlines after the death of a protester in police custody in 2011.

The provincial government, unusually, took the side of the villagers, overruling officials in Lufeng and firing former party secretary Xue Chang from his post on corruption charges.

The elections that followed were widely reported in China’s tightly controlled media as a model of grassroots democracy.

But a committee charged with getting the villagers’ farmland back made scant progress, and two of its members were themselves jailed on “bribery” charges last year, in a move their relatives said was a form of political retaliation.

Lin’s detention in June came as villagers persuaded him to relaunch the land protest campaign.

Reported by Wong Siu-san and Wong Lok-to for RFA’s Cantonese Service, and by Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.