Village's chief unbowed in fight for land compensation

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 May, 2007, 12:00am

A village chief from Jilin province who has been beaten and harassed by officials for five years for standing up for villagers' land-use rights has returned to Beijing to petition the central government - in the hope that state leaders will intervene.

One of the tens of thousands of visitors to the State Petition Office every year, Weiwu village chief Xu Jianguo has returned to Beijing for an eighth time to petition against illegal land seizure - a common problem across the mainland.

Mr Xu, 49, said he had played hide-and-seek with officials from the village and Xiaojia township since 2002, when he insisted on taking the villagers' case to Beijing. Weiwu is in Xiaojia, which falls under the city of Songyuan .

'I am just worried about my wife and son. They are under great pressure as local officials have harassed them since I left the village,' he said. 'But it will not stop me from petitioning because I believe that President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao will solve our problem one day.'

Mr Xu said he was obliged to speak up for the villagers when he was elected village chief in 2004.

He said his predecessor had cheated more than 1,500 Weiwu villagers into selling 120 hectares of their land to a neighbouring village but had failed to ensure they were paid compensation. He alleged his village's former party secretary, Zhang Fuguo , had since absconded with 3 million yuan of public funds.

'I have only one goal. I just want to let the central government know that 120 hectares of rice fields belonging to 1,537 villagers in Weiwu have been illegally taken away from them by Zhang Fuguo,' Mr Xu said.

Because he kept going to Beijing to petition, Weiwu village party secretary Lo Jide refused to pay Mr Xu his salary and even unilaterally declared that he had been fired - although a dismissal would require the approval of two-thirds of the villagers.

According to villager Zhang Qingjin , Mr Xu has been beaten up several times by thugs, apparently over his activism for the villagers.

'He was sent to the hospital three times over the past few years,' Ms Zhang said. 'But no one has been arrested so far as local police were all reluctant to act.'

Mr Xu said he had spent over 50,000 yuan of his own money to petition to Beijing but he had no regrets.

Human rights activist Huang Qi said Mr Xu was among the minority of cadres on the mainland who would really speak up for local villagers, with most just content to play the role of 'a political flower vase'.

'It's not a good thing for frontline officials to have mass support in this country,' Mr Huang said. 'If they are in official positions, their first priority is to serve the party, not the people.'