Lengthy sentences feared for outspoken farmers
Farmers arrested for petitioning authorities over official corruption linked to the Three Gorges dam project may face harsh prison terms when they go on trial next week, according to international organisations appealing on their behalf.
Human Rights Watch and Probe International called on diplomats in Beijing and international banks involved in financing the dam to urge the Chinese Government to release the men and conduct a full, impartial and transparent investigation into their corruption allegations.
The four farmers - He Kechang, Ran Chongxin, Jiang Qingshan and Wen Dingchun - were arrested for detailing systematic embezzlement of resettlement funds for the huge project, the organisations said.
The two groups said the four would be tried on charges of disrupting public order, leaking state secrets and maintaining illicit relations with a foreign country, apparently referring to interviews with foreign reporters.
The groups also said copies of interviews He gave to the South China Morning Post and a letter to the newspaper were found when police searched his house.
The four elderly men, all from Gaoyang township in Yunyang county, were arrested last month after repeatedly visiting Beijing with petitions.
They asked authorities to investigate officials suspected of
inflating the number of people
to be resettled as well as the amount of land needed in order to collect more money from the central Government's resettlement budget.
They also accused local officials of paying those forced to move out of their homes far less than the amount stipulated by government regulations.
Some reports said the accused had been beaten in detention to force confessions. A letter from He has been smuggled out detailing ill-treatment.
The men faced sentences of up to five years and the trial could start a fresh round of protests.
'We will not give up our struggle and plan to organise more protests. If the police want to arrest us, let them, we are not afraid,' one man from Yunyang county said yesterday.
Patricia Adams, of Canadian-based Probe International, said: 'Governments and banks around the world have helped finance the Three Gorges Dam. They should speak up to ensure justice for whistleblowers like the men from Gaoyang and for the people they represent.'