Protest over land brings jail terms

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 October, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 October, 2004, 12:00am

Authorities appear to be fed up with endless petitions

Seven Hebei province petitioners have been jailed for up to 51/2 years for breaking into government offices during a protest over a land dispute.

Observers say the sentencing shows the authorities' patience has run out amid a rising number of petition cases, particularly in relation to land disputes.

China News Service yesterday reported that the petition was triggered by a move by the Gaocheng municipal government to redefine the size of farmers' plots of arable land in March. A work team sent to Jiazhuang village met strong opposition from villagers, including Zhang Chouwa .

From May to July, several hundred villagers besieged the township government building on three occasions, abusing local government officials as they aired their grievances, the report said.

Some township and municipal officials were reportedly trapped in their offices for about 14 hours on May 21. On that occasion, Zhang stated the villagers' opposition to the farmland redistribution plan and held a one-hour meeting with officials.

He was given the heaviest sentence, while other leading members of the protest group received sentences ranging from one to five years.

Guan Zengli , a veteran Beijing-based petition organiser, said the government was starting to lose patience with the rising number of cases and had started cracking down.

'Besieging and breaking into government organs, disturbing social order and picking quarrels and stirring up trouble - those are the most common excuses used by the mainland government for cracking down on petitioners,' he said.

'Too many government officials are trying to cash in through huge urbanisation plans.' He said in Beijing, nearly half the petition cases were related to land and housing demolition disputes.

In the past year, several petitioners have resorted to public displays of attempted suicide, jumping off buildings in a bid to express their grievances.

'Disturbing social order and picking quarrels and stirring up trouble seem to fit all petitioners, even those who tried to commit suicide,' Mr Guan said.