By Kenneth Tan, Fan Huang and Jessica Colwell
Photo of a protest in Panhe, Zhejiang which took place earlier this month, via TeaLeafNation.
Journalists from French broadcaster France 24 and the Netherlands Press Association have reported being attacked in Panhe village in Zhejiang province yesterday and today while investigating land grab protests that took place earlier this month.
France 24’s Baptiste Fallevoz and his Chinese fixer Jack Zhang tell Shanghaiist they were driving toward the village when they noticed a black car following them. After trying to evade the car and failing, they decided to just ignore it and continue towards the village.
As they approached Panhe, they passed four or five cars parked on the shoulder with men waiting nearby. They saw the men answer their cell phones, hurry into their cars, and join the black car behind them. When Zhang gradually slowed down for a truck crossing in front of them, they were suddenly hit from behind.
About 20-30 plainclothes thugs then surrounded their car and pulled Zhang out, trying to grab his video camera from him (he was not filming at the time). When they got the camera, they threw it on the ground and smashed it in front of him. They then continued to attempt to attack Zhang, hitting him on the head with the camera until he started bleeding.
After the commotion, a policeman drove by and helped the two journalists get to the local public security bureau. When they reported what had happened to them to the police, the two were told that they were attacked by villagers because of a rivalry between the eastern and western parts of the village. Update: They were compensated with 45,000RMB for personal damages and damages to their equipment.
Fallevoz remained unhurt throughout the incident. Both he and Zhang were being put on a flight back to
Wenzhou Shanghai tonight.
A circular emailed by the Foreign Correspondents Club of China this morning to its members tells a similar account by another journalist:
Remko Tanis, from Netherlands Press Association was beaten up yesterday morning (Feb. 15th) by a group of thugs and men who appeared to be plainclothes policemen in the village of Panhe, Zhejiang province, while covering the recent uprising against local party officials. The group also confiscated his notebook and documents about land disputes that were handed to him by villagers from Panhe and two other neighboring places with similar grievances. Although he did not have the chance to take pictures, the memory card of his camera was also confiscated. “Getting in touch with the people in Panhe is risky”, Tanis says.
He arrived at Panhe around 6h30, while the policemen that are surrounding the village were still sleeping. He managed to meet leaders of the protests and interviewed them for about 90 minutes. Knowing about the presence of a foreign journalist, people from other villages came to give him documents about their own problems. Outside, there was a funeral going on and another one was about to start.
At around 9h45 a group of around 100 policemen and thugs smashed violently into the room where Tanis was conducting interviews and started to beat the villagers and the reporter. During the tumult, the correspondent was grabbed by two people from the local Foreign Affairs Office who pushed him into a car. He asked for his bag, which had been taken by the policemen/thugs, and got it back.
He was driven towards the town of Longang, from where he had left in the morning. On the way, the car encountered a group of about 10 thugs who stopped it. These men pulled everyone, including the officials, out of the car, beat Tanis again and took his bag. The reporter asked who they were and why they were assaulting him, but did not get any answer. Soon another car from the local Foreign Affairs Office showed up; the reporter was forced to get in and taken to a hotel in Longang. There the correspondent got his bag back, but without his notebook and the documents. From there, he was taken by car to Wenzhou, where he checked into a hotel to write and send his story. All afternoon he was harassed by police phone calls. After finishing his work, he left the place.
The current tension in Panhe began with the local village committee’s selling of villagers’ land to various developers, which took place without either the knowledge or consent of local villagers. The scheme, which had been going on for years, finally resulted in a confrontation between Panhe villagers and a Wenzhou copper company in June of last year. Various residents, including women and the elderly, received injuries in the conflict.
With authorities continuing to ignore the grievances reported by villagers, Panhe residents retaliated in October by attacking the property of another local company. A separate confrontation later in the month between villagers and local police and government officials saw the authorities being temporarily driven out of Panhe.
Inspired by the peaceful demonstrations in Wukan, the villagers in Panhe held three open demonstrations involving approximately 200 of the village’s 5000 residents this month. At present, the villagers have yet to receive any compensation for their sold off land, while two villagers have remained in police custody since June.