China jails nine over protests in Guangdong ‘democracy’ village

Nine residents of ‘democracy village’ to serve up to 10 years over unrest sparked by imprisonment of an elected leader and simmering land disputes

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 December, 2016, 2:00pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 January, 2017, 11:12am

Nine Guangdong villagers have been jail for up to 10 years for taking part in protests in September in a community once seen as a symbol of grass-roots democracy in China.

Villagers in Wukan, 170km northeast of Hong Kong, expressed frustration over the sentencing, which critics said was a warning to others not to stage similar demonstrations.

The nine jailed villagers did not organise the protests, but were among the more ­vocal participants, one resident in his 20s said, refusing to be identified for fear of persecution.

“They just tended to speak up more during the protests. People all spoke a lot,” the villager said.

“Ten years is too much. We are not criminals,” he said. “And the land dispute remains unsolved.”

China upholds corruption conviction of Wukan village chief

The People’s Court in Haifeng county said on its website late on Monday night that it had sentenced nine Wukan residents for between two and 10 years for ­disrupting public order, staging ­illegal demonstrations, disturbing traffic and intentionally spreading false information.

But it did not detail the sentencing for each defendant, and it was not known whether they would appeal.

The village first made international headlines when a 2011 uprising over land grabs forced authorities to back down and allow new elections for the village government, resulting in one of the protesters, Lin Zuluan, becoming village chief.

But the land disputes were not resolved and tensions between villagers and higher levels of government persisted.

The community erupted in renewed protests in June after Lin was arrested on graft charges, which the residents disputed.

Even bigger demonstrations broke out in September when Lin was jailed for 37 months and fined 200,000 yuan (HK$223,000). Lin pleaded guilty to the charges but a source close to his family later said the admission was forced.

Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to quell the September unrest over Lin’s sentence, before hunting down villagers believed to have played a leading role in the protests.

Symbol of China’s rural democracy: five years of struggle in Wukan land grab protests

Three months later, the community is still under official pressure not to demonstrate again, according to the villager in his 20s, who works elsewhere.

“There are government people going knocking on doors and talking about the land disputes,” he said. “I went back to the village two weeks ago and they came around to my house less than an hour after I got home. And I get calls from them all the time.”

Beijing-based rights lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan said the ruling followed a tradition of mainland courts putting rights activists behind bars to silence others.

“In all major protests, the authorities will lock up and sentence a few they think have played leading roles,” Liu said. “They would think that jailing the nine would silence all protests in Wukan.

“As long as the land disputes are unresolved, there could be another uprising in the future.”