More than 2,000 protesters attacked the Lichuan city government's headquarters in Hubei for a fourth day yesterday after the mysterious death of a respected official during interrogation by prosecutors in nearby Badong county.
Ran Jianxin, 49 and a director of a sub-district government, was arrested by the county procuratorate on May 26 on suspicion of bribe-taking linked to land requisitions and forced demolitions. It was told to bring him in by the procuratorate of the Enshi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture, which has jurisdiction over both Lichuan city and Badong county. He died 10 days later, on June 4, after allegedly being tortured. His family said they found apparent injuries on his body.
Angry villagers have taken to the streets in protest since Tuesday. The Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said yesterday that at least 1,000 armed anti-riot policemen were deployed to stop angry protesters from entering the government headquarters on Thursday, with more than 20 people arrested.
Fearing further unrest, Lichuan authorities said Li Wei, the city's deputy party boss and head of the local party disciplinary watchdog, who led the investigation of Ran, had been suspended from duty and been placed under investigation.
He is the fifth official placed under investigation after Ran's suspicious death. On Thursday, two investigators from the Badong county procuratorate were arrested, and its chief procurator was forced to resign. On Tuesday, an anti-corruption bureau chief from the county procuratorate was suspended from duty and placed under investigation.
The Lichuan government confirmed that thousands of people had protested outside its headquarters from Tuesday. 'On Thursday afternoon, some people tried to enter the forbidden zone by force; they overturned the iron fences and used plastic bottles, eggs and other things to attack policemen, injuring several policemen,' it said.
An investigation team comprising officials from the Hubei Higher People's Court and the provincial procuratorate, police bureau and party disciplinary committee have arrived in Lichuan to probe Ran's death.
A report in Guangzhou's Southern Metropolis News quoted villagers from at least five villages formerly run by Ran as saying that he was the subject of a graft probe because he refused to forcibly demolish villagers' flats during a government land requisition campaign, which enraged higher authorities including Li.
It cited angry villagers as saying that Ran was the only official who gave them support during government land requisitions and forced demolitions.
In Ran's last letter before he died, he wrote: 'From December to January, the investigation team restricted the personal freedom of all my friends, colleagues and anyone who has contact with me, and doesn't allow them to sleep or even sit down for 20 hours a day, in order to collect evidence [I took bribes].'