Thousands of residents rallied in Wukan village, Guangdong, yesterday to protest against the authorities' branding of previous petitions as illegal. They vowed not to budge in their fight against corrupt officials.
The sit-in followed a statement by a Lufeng county government spokesman on Saturday that blamed violence that erupted in the village on September 21 on the organisation of illegal meetings that were exploited by 'a few people harbouring hidden agendas'.
The protest on September 21, triggered by the requisition of farmland, turned violent, with thousands of Wukan residents overturning police cars and government vehicles.
Two months later, several thousand villagers again took to the streets in a largely peaceful protest accusing the local authorities of failing to follow through on promises, with some carrying a banner reading 'Opposing Dictatorship'.
The spokesman said villagers were not allowed to organise illegal activities or use criminal or violent means to hinder the government's efforts to tackle the issue.
Villagers also expressed disappointment yesterday at the recent naming of the unpopular Zhu Maoquan as the village's Communist Party secretary.
Hundreds went to the party's headquarters in the village to vent their anger over the past few days, one resident said.
A village representative said another villager, Zhuang Liehong , 26, had been detained by the State Security Bureau when he attended a wedding banquet in Shenzhen last week.
'As one of our core members, Zhuang is responsible for contacting journalists from foreign media organisations and knows a lot of secrets about our planning and actions,' the villager said, claiming that a senior Shanwei city official told him over the weekend that Zhuang would be jailed for at least 10 years for 'colluding with foreign forces and jeopardising state security'.
The representative said he believed an official had told him about Zhuang's case as a warning that he might face a similar fate if he refused to co-operate with the government and stop villagers from protesting again.
The county government spokesman said village leaders could face serious charges.
Its statement said that it would severely punish the leaders of the protests and warned that 'overseas forces wanted to sow divisions between the government and villagers' and take advantage of the negative publicity caused by villagers' actions to jeopardise the national interests.
The head of the Donghai township government was besieged by hundreds of villagers when he visited Wukan on Monday morning, the village representative said.
Some villagers, including Zhuang's relatives, suggested that the official be held hostage in exchange for Zhuang's release.
He was not allowed to leave until Monday afternoon.
To prevent public security officers from detaining their leaders, young villagers began evening patrols over the weekend, a Wukan resident said.