China’s infamous “democracy village” of Wukan is in an uproar yet again after the village’s democratically-elected leader was sentenced to three years in prison for taking bribes.
Back in June, local Communist Party secretary Lin Zuluan was taken away by police and later shown “confessing” to engaging in bribery while in office. Villagers soon began protesting in the street in defense of their popular village chief, arguing that the charges against Lin were false and that his “confession” had been forced.
Lin’s 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. Coincidentally, after Lin was sentenced, Shanwei city officials announced that they had returned some disputed land to Wukan.
In June, villagers marched through the streets of Wukan with white banners while waving bright red Chinese national flags and chanting “give back our secretary” and “give back our land.” Riot policemen were deployed to the village center to intimidate protesters, but no violence occurred.
Not so this time around. Images and videos have spread online showing armed police with riot gear firing tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters.
One clip in particular has gone viral featuring Chinese police with riot shields and helmets retreating under a hail of bricks and stones from angry villagers.
Dramatic video of standoff in Wukan widely shared on WeChat today. pic.twitter.com/fsDW7IJS9v
— Patrick Boehler 包蟠睿 (@mrbaopanrui) September 13, 2016
Here are some more clips of police and protesters facing off:
Shocking images and videos showing injured protesters have also been spread online:
According to state media, after an early morning raid on Tuesday, Chinese police have arrested 13 people for inciting and taking part in the protests. However, a video from Wukan appears to show many more than 13 villagers in police custody.
Meanwhile, Chinese authorities have warned web users against spreading rumors about the situation in Wukan, saying that everything has now returned to normal. According to Free Weibo, “Wukan” is currently the second-most censored term on Weibo.
The village itself is also completely on lockdown. SCMP reports that Wukan is suffering from food shortages as villagers are too scared to go outside. The BBC reports that Chinese police are offering 100,000 RMB rewards for the capture of five suspects, though the notice fails to say what crime the five are charged with. Foreign journalists are also reporting that they can’t get near Wukan:
Wukan is in lockdown. Our BBC team can't get anywhere near it. Now being escorted by 10 plain clothes police. https://t.co/Za8qFwOvby
— Maria Byrne (@byrnemaria) September 14, 2016
— Stephen McDonell (@StephenMcDonell) September 13, 2016
The coastal fishing village of Wukan in southern Guangdong province became 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 in ending its dispute with the “democracy village.”
[Images and videos via Apple Daily / Why.Yang]