Tension after village leader dies in custody

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 December, 2011, 12:00am


The death of a suspected riot leader in police custody has fanned tensions between villagers and police in the already restive Wukan village of Guangdong.

It also raises the likelihood of further unrest as the subject of the residents' ire - illegal land grabs - remains unresolved.

Xue Jinbo was one of five people detained on suspicion of leading an uprising in September that left more than 12 people injured. Xue died on Sunday - his third day in custody.

'The cause of the death was cardiac failure, and other causes have been preliminarily ruled out,' said a statement released by the Lufeng government - which oversees the village - citing doctors.

Many villagers suspect authorities have not been truthful, especially since some of Xue's relatives saw his body at a funeral parlour in Shanwei and told people it had bruises.

'There were dark bruises on both his back and chest. One of his thumbs was fractured and there were strangulation marks around the neck,' said one of the 12 village representatives on a committee formed to negotiate with city and village officials following the villagers' demonstration on September 21 in which they attacked government buildings and overturned police cars.

'We suspect he was tortured to extort a confession. We want Xue's body back and demand an independent autopsy,' the representative, who declined to reveal his name for fear of reprisal, told the South China Morning Post yesterday.

The representative said Xue was 42 and had a history of heart problems.

'The government asked us to form a temporary committee in order to communicate with them. But they soon went back on their word and deemed it illegal,' the representative said. 'Xue was the most active and most capable representative.'

The representative said Xue's death in police custody, and the authorities' allegedly high-handed treatment of Wukan residents, had resulted in the villagers bracing themselves for another round of petitioning or more protests.

The villagers will petition this week for the return of their seized land, for corrupt officials to be punished, and for the village's financial records to be made public.

They originally planned to start petitioning yesterday, but the representative said: 'We are not ready yet; the situation is very bad.'

A villager, who had fled Wukan to a nearby village, said more than 100 riot police were blocking the village's entrance yesterday. Police vehicles were also stationed there.

'The government put up posters demanding that those who had participated in the protests turn themselves in, saying, 'Confessing to police is your only way out',' he said.

The villagers have accused local officials of illegally seizing more than 400 hectares of farmland since 1998.

'The government said one thing, but did something else,' he said, referring to officials' vows to probe the land grabs. 'The whole problem has not been resolved at all.'

Villagers took to the streets again last month, with some carrying a banner reading 'Oppose Dictatorship'. The representative said the villagers were protesting the dictatorship of the village's head and party chief, who had both been in their positions for more than four decades without any village elections.