More than a thousand villagers in Wukan, Guangdong, where tensions are high following the death of a village representative in police custody, paid tribute to the man at an emotional public memorial service in the village yesterday.
Police set up rock barricades on major roads around the village in Lufeng but allowed the formal memorial service in the morning and an informal gathering in the afternoon to proceed uninterrupted.
Relatives and villagers attending the event said they could not accept the authorities' version of the death of 42-year-old Xue Jinbo - a leader of villagers protesting against a government land grab. Officials said that he died of a heart attack while in custody, but Xue's daughter, Xue Jianwan , said: 'My father didn't have any major health problems other than his stomach ... How come he died of a heart attack after two days in custody?'
She said she was shocked when she saw her father's body, his fingers fractured and swelling on his neck and back.
'He used to be a strong man who was always with us,' she said, tears streaming from her eyes. 'I just kept saying 'Wake up father'.'
Xue's son, Xue Jiandi , said police had not returned his body to the family. 'They want to destroy any evidence,' he said.
His sister said: 'The police accused my father of illegal petitioning and inciting social disorder. But he did nothing wrong. My father was taken away by some plain-clothes people, with his hands tied. No one has told us who these plain-clothes people are.'
The villagers continued their memorial service in the afternoon, bowing to photos of Xue.
One villager said they put up barricades to prevent police from arresting villagers.
Another villager, Zhang Jianxing , said the police faced a lot of anger in the community.
'If the government sends only a small number of police officers, their operation will not be effective because we have stepped up our security,' Zhang said. 'But if the government deploys a large group of police, major confrontations will emerge as resentment against the government is serious.'
According to traditional custom, Xue's body should be buried today. But villagers said they the authorities had not handed it over. 'The government just does not care about our custom,' one villager said.
Villagers also put up banners accusing village officials of selling 1,666 hectares of land illegally, and saying they would die to protect their farmland. Another banner displayed pictures of villagers being beaten by security officers.
One villager said the community was in a state of despair.
'Why was Xue beaten to death? The government accuses us of committing a crime and wants to suppress all of us,' he said. 'We have nowhere to express our sadness.'
The security situation in the village appeared calm yesterday. Police set up road blocks at major entrances to the village, but it was still accessible via side roads. Officials blocked a truck transporting rice to the village a few days ago but villagers said they had unloaded the rice and had not run short of food.
Villager Lin Zulian , who was accused by the authorities of inciting disorder and engaging in illegal behaviour, said police had warned him to surrender. 'They even asked my son to ask me to stop being involved in the dispute,' he said.
Lin said security officials stationed at the entrance to the village were still checking the identity documents of villagers, although not as frequently as a few days ago.
But he said the local government was preparing to arrest more villagers, even though 'we have already given the local government face by not taking any radical action of collective petitioning'. 'Three of our villagers ... are still in custody. A big conflict will result if they crack down on us now,' he said.
Lin said villagers would gather today to demand the return of Xue's body but did not plan any collective petitioning in the near future.