Farmers 'locked up' to stop land deal complaints

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 December, 2007, 12:00am

Petitioners say they were tortured

Farmers left landless by a government property development in Chengdu , Sichuan province , claim they were locked up for more than two months to stop them complaining to higher authorities.

Farmer Lei Mingfen said she and more than 30 other petitioners had been detained at a military base on Chengdu's Phoenix Mountain from September 26. Local government staff went to Beijing, where the petitioners had gone, and found them and sent them back home.

'We were released on December 1 after signing documents saying we would not petition Beijing again, but we soon realised that we were cheated because officials have failed to keep their word and solve our problems,' said Ms Lei, 44, from Taiping village in Wuhou district.

Another petitioner, 39-year-old Liu Yongqiong , said they had been tortured, threatened and starved while in detention. 'I tried to commit suicide because they didn't allow me to sleep or eat in order to force me to write self-criticism letters and other materials ... That made me almost collapse,' Ms Liu said.

'I also saw that other people were beaten up after refusing to write anything.'

Ms Lei and Ms Liu said that besides local officials, casual workers were hired to persuade the petitioners to stop petitioning Beijing.

Two students confirmed they had been hired to monitor the petitioners at the military base and persuade them to stop complaining.

'It's just a temporary job, but I can't tell you the details,' one of the students said. 'We signed a disciplinary document with our government to keep it a secret.'

A Wuhou district spokeswoman denied the petitioners' claims.

'I think the information you got is not correct. It's not a fact,' she said.

The Taiping petitioners said they had lost more than 120 hectares of farmland, the last tract shared by 4,000 villagers, to a local government property development in 2005.

The authorities also occupied villagers' homes and promised to pay each adult 20,000 yuan and relocate them, but none of them had received the compensation and they were offered only temporary accommodation, they said.

'The officials said they had paid 60,000 yuan to buy social insurance for each of us,' Ms Lei said. 'So we now owe them 40,000 yuan even though we lost everything.'

The Taiping protest is not an isolated case. In August, at least seven residents were injured in a confrontation with armed police in Shanwei , Guangdong province, over the construction of power lines across their fields. Three days earlier, a protester in Harbin , Heilongjiang province , was killed in a clash with police over compensation for land.