Displaced farmers 'jailed, tortured'

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

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

Lei Mingfen said she and about 30 other petitioners had gone to Beijing to protest about the land deal when they were rounded up by local officials and taken to a military base on Chengdu's Phoenix Mountain on September 26.

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

Another petitioner, Liu Yongqiong, 39, said they were tortured, threatened and starved.

'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,' she said. 'I also saw other people were being beaten after refusing to write anything.'

Ms Lei and Ms Liu said workers were hired to persuade them to stop petitioning Beijing.

Two students confirmed they were hired to monitor the petitioners at the base and persuade them to stop complaining. 'It's just a temporary job, but I can't tell you the details,' one student said. 'We signed a disciplinary document with our government to keep it a secret.'

A Wuhou district spokeswoman denied the petitioners' claims.

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 had received the money 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.'

In August, at least seven residents were injured in a clash with armed police in Shanwei , Guangdong, over the building of power lines across their fields. Days earlier, a protester in Harbin , Heilongjiang, was killed in a clash with police over land compensation.