A 63-year-old Shandong villager who was camping near his farm to protect it from being illegally occupied died early Friday morning after his tent was allegedly set on fire, according to media reports. Two other villagers who camped with him were seriously injured.
This is the latest deadly incident in China where disputes over land grabs - often approved by local governments and initiated by real estate developers - have constantly resulted in violent confrontations and deaths.
The name of the villager who was killed in the fire remained undisclosed. It’s not clear if any suspects had been arrested as of Friday.
Villagers in Dujiatuan village, administered by the city of Pingdu, had been taking turns guarding their farms at night, fearing it would be illegally seized by thugs, according to reports.
Four villagers were trapped inside their tent when it was set on fire around 1:30am on Friday, Zhejiang-based Wenzhou Evening News reported.
Villagers said they later found petrol near the charred remains of the tent.
Pingdu police station in Qingdao, which is in charge of the investigation, declined to comment further on the case.
Pingdu had gained notoriety in recent years after several high-profile cases involving rural land grabs made national headlines.
In one land dispute in August, Pingdu police detained seven villagers after they clashed with government workers while resisting the forced demolition of their family home. One of the protesters was Chen Baocheng, a Beijing-based journalist who had gone back to his hometown in Pingdu to defend the family home.
The case received national attention after more than 20 activist lawyers, including Pu Zhiqiang and Si Weijiang, travelled to Chen’s home village of Jingouzi to represent him and his clan members. Chen was formally arrested on suspicion of unlawful detention in September, but no trial date has been set so far.
In another land grab row last August, three villagers from the city's Beijiajiang village were hospitalised after knife-wielding thugs attacked them.