Police, villagers clash after chief's death

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 January, 2011, 12:00am

Hundreds of disgruntled villagers confronted police yesterday over the controversial death of their village chief in the city of Yueqing , Zhejiang province. Witnesses said people threw stones at police officers holding protective shields after they were stopped on their way to mourn the chief.

Thousands of villagers, some carrying chrysanthemums, a flower traditionally used to pay tribute to the dead, gathered at about 10.30am near Wandi village, about 3 kilometres from Zhaiqiao village, witnesses said.

Yet Yueqing police said on their official blog on Sina.com that the gathering had disrupted traffic flow yesterday morning. Some people who threw stones had been taken away and others had left. Police also said they were investigating the intent of the gathering.

Witnesses said that as police tried to disperse the crowd, people threw stones at the officers. At least 10 people were beaten and taken away by police, said one witness. People started to leave by 2pm.

Qian Yunhui , the 53-year-old former chief of Zhaiqiao village in Yueqing, had been petitioning over land compensation since 2003 and had spent 42 months of the past five years in jail because of his actions.

He was run over by a heavy truck a few hundred metres from his home on Christmas Day. The driver was found to be without a driving licence.

Internet users expressed doubts after police said his death was the result of a traffic accident. Wenzhou Public Security Bureau, which has jurisdiction over Yueqing, restated this late on Wednesday after claiming that it had investigated the incident, but it neither answered reporters' questions about the results of an autopsy nor permitted them to speak to detained witnesses.

Several independent teams - led by social-sciences professor Yu Jianrong, columnist Wang Xiaoshan, non-governmental organisation Open Constitution Initiative, a well-known internet activist who calls himself 'Butcher', and lawyer Xiang Hongfeng - have looked into the incident in the past few days. Dozens of internet users also went to the scene to conduct their own investigations.

Xu Zhiyong, a rights lawyer and founder of Open Constitution, released a report on Friday evening saying that the team could not find any evidence that suggested murder.

However, 'Butcher', who will reveal his findings in a few days, said he had not ruled out the possibility that Qian was beaten before the accident; there were also many questions that authorities needed to deal with, such as authorising an independent autopsy and looking at why a roadside surveillance camera was not working at the time of the accident, he said.