Shanwei villagers seethe at ill-treatment in land grab

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 March, 2006, 12:00am

On the surface, peace seems to have returned to the sleepy fishing village of Dongzhou, where police killed at least three protesters and injured scores more late last year.

A banner strung across the front of the village committee building proclaims: 'Let us unite to maintain a stable society.' Workers busily repair a nearby bridge and villagers go about their daily business - all painting a picture of orderly, contented country life.

But appearances can be deceiving. Beneath the surface, the village in Shanwei city , Guangdong, is seething, the tension palpable.

Villagers have not forgotten the events of December 6, or forgiven the police who fired on protesters voicing their opposition to a government land grab to clear the way for a coal-fired power station in Red Bay, near Baisha Lake.

They are wary of strangers because they know that newcomers on the streets are likely to be government agents, there to watch their every move in the wake of the civil unrest and shootings.

'We are very scared,' one villager said. 'No one dares speak to strangers because there are so many spies and people pretending to be journalists here, appointed by the Shanwei government.'

Another villager said plain-clothes police tore down all anti-Shanwei government posters as soon as they were put up, and followed relatives of victims and activists to prevent them from making contact with outsiders.

'Arrested people have been severely beaten, and some have even spat up blood afterwards,' the villager said.

The Shanwei municipal government's seizure of the land, used by generations of villagers, was one thing; its perceived theft was something else. It was the villagers' protest over inadequate compensation that prompted the Shanwei government to mobilise thousands of armed police against them.

As expected, the shooting produced differing accounts and death tolls.

While the authorities claimed three had died, villagers said nearly 20 were killed, with all but three bodies being cremated by local officials.

An official statement released by Xinhua on December 16 said police opened fire on protesters after villagers, incited by their representatives, threw homemade petrol bombs at them.

Villagers said local officials had done all they could to isolate them from the outside world, including banning applications for travel visas to Hong Kong and Macau despite the police curfew being lifted in mid-January.

Jiang Miao, the mother of Lin Yitui, one of the three dead men named by police, said the authorities had told her she was not allowed to visit her brothers and sisters in Hong Kong.

'Not just me either, but all villagers in Dongzhou have been banned from travelling overseas. These bad officials are still coming to my house every day to warn me not go out to protest over my son's death,' she said.

However, the ban has not stopped some villagers from protesting over the shooting, with dozens of women and children kneeling on the ground outside a busy market every morning since the middle of last month.

'Dongzhou yearns for central government help to address this gross injustice,' reads one four-metre-long banner near the market on the main road between Dongzhou and Shanwei.

As well as the banner, notices on the ground identify the kneeling protesters as the mothers, wives and children of the injured and arrested. 'We need your help,' they cry out, while other female villagers stand behind them, holding up umbrellas to shelter them from the sun.

Many of the hundreds of bystanders openly give them money or food, even though they know plain-clothes police officers are watching.

The wife of one detained man said: 'We will continue our struggle until the central government gives us justice.'