The infamous “democracy village” of Wukan is in an uproar once again after the village’s democratically-elected leader was taken away by police and later shown “confessing” to engaging bribery while in office.
On June 18th, local Communist Party secretary Lin Zuluan was detained by local policemen on suspicion of corruption. The arrest followed a draft letter directed to villagers that surfaced on the internet two days before. In it, Lin urged villagers to start demonstrations in order to force the local government to solve unresolved land disputes. Directly-elected by the villagers of Wukan, the 72-year-old leader aired his grievances about the village’s dire situation on land, noting that the “inaction of local governments over the past five years” has continued to cause problems.
Lin was taken into custody, where he admitted to taking bribes over the past five years. The “confession”, taped and recorded by the Shanwei municipal government, which administers the village, was later screened at a government press conference.
“Due to my ignorance of law, I took huge kickbacks in contracting and procurement projects. This is a crime — the biggest crime I’ve committed,” Lin is recorded as saying.
Lin was also later replaced by deputy village party secretary Zhang Shuijin, who urged villagers to not protest.
Lin’s wife, Yang Zheng, was also dragged into the affair. According to the SCMP, on the night that her husband was escorted away, she was put on the line with Lin by an official claiming to be from the Shanwei prosecutor’s office. Initially, the plan was for Lin to persuade Yang to dissuade villagers from protesting, though that plan went out the window as Lin told Yang to “do what you think is right as long as its legal.” He also advised her to “not go easy on them (the police)” should they try to “arrest” her.
The video of Lin’s confession was widely distributed to the public. Yet, many villagers were not convinced about the authenticity of his confession and do not agree with the charges brought against their former village chief. Yang Zheng has also argued that her husband is innocent:
Lin was directly elected as village party secretary [in 2011] and in the five years since then has refused any payment for doing the job.
He has even subsidized the running of the village committee himself, by using an allowance sent to him by our son to cover funding shortfalls.
I believe he has never done such things. It’s a lie. He is clean and innocent. I feel sad about it and I believe he has been wronged.
They should not force him to make a confession and make false accusations against him.
Despite government attempts to discourage Wukan’s village community from protesting, over 2,000 villagers took to the streets on Tuesday, demanding local authorities release Lin. 60-year-old villager, Wei Yonghan, who had been summoned by police authorities before, led the procession, though Lin’s wife did not participate.
White banners were laid on the streets, with villagers writing their names onto them as a sign of support for Lin’s innocence. They were later hoisted and carried by the protesters while waving bright red Chinese national flags chanting “give back our secretary” and “give back our land.” One villager, who wishes to remain anonymous, has said that “Lin took the blame for us” and that “he is innocent.” Others decried the manner in which their village leader was arrested and aimed to “seek justice for him”. Even students participated in the parade. Wearing their uniforms, some had left their school early to join the adult protesters despite the extension of class hours by school authorities.
Nevertheless, government pressure has been slowly increasing to contain the protests with riot policemen deployed in the village center. According to SCMP, deputy village director Cai Lichou and Lin’s grandson, Lin Liyi, were detained by the local police. Someone also threw a brick into the window of Lin’s office, though it is uncertain whether or not anything was stolen.
Meanwhile, the event has been under serious media scrutiny to the extent that the Shanwei government has accused media outside of the mainland of “inciting, plotting and directing” the village protests. Deputy chief Qian Hanpei of Donghai scolded journalists who tried to interview him while “shoving their equipment away” and “striking them with an umbrella.” Meanwhile, mainland media outlets have been prohibited from reporting on Wukan.
Party mouthpiece, the Global Times has aired its views on the protests itself, saying that drastic action would not bring about any resolution of their grievances and only “lawful demands” should be met, since “disputes over property rights cannot be solved merely through democratic means.” This editorial has been ridiculed by many online commentators, who pointed at the editorial’s irony on “lawful demands”:
“The Global Times saying to resolve problems according to the law… you must be joking!” commented one netizen.
“Again, a misguided crowd has been played off by small individuals to commit illegal activities. Seems like this sentence works really well on (blaming) the common people,” wrote another.
The coastal fishing village of Wukan in Guangdong province was the center of global attention five years ago when protests by villagers against the local government’s forced land seizures led to the expulsion of village party officials and confrontations against riot police. Its resolution — reached by a compromise between the provincial government and protest leaders — gave Wukan’s villagers the right to elect their own leaders and village representatives. This time, the government seems to be taking a different approach.
You can view footage of the taped confession below with English subtitles via HKFP:
By Arnie Yung
[Images via Apple Daily / Ming Pao]