China’s infamous “democracy village” of Wukan is in lockdown after protests earlier this week turned violent when Chinese riot police moved in. One of the main things that China is trying to keep out of the village — journalists.
Five Hong Kong reporters were detained and questioned by Chinese police while reporting on yet more shocking events in the small fishing village in southern Guangdong province that has been the scene of numerous prolific land grab disputes over the last five years. Last week, the village’s democratically-elected leader was sentenced to three years in prison for taking bribes. Locals protested against what they believe to be trumped up charges, and the local government cracked down hard with armed police firing tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters.
One of the arrested reporters was from the South China Morning Post. Yesterday, the paper gave an account of what happened:
Our reporter and two other Hong Kong journalists from another publication were invited by a resident to a villager’s house for an interview on Wednesday.
Around 9.30pm, two dozen unidentified men broke into the house and pushed the Post reporter to the ground, accusing him and others of stealing.
The owner of the house was also subdued by the assailants, who did not show any documentation throughout the incident.
The other two Hong Kong journalists later told the Post reporter that one of them was punched in the stomach by the assailants and another one slapped twice in the face.
The reporters were taken to a police station in the nearby city of Lufeng and accused of “illegal reporting” along with two other Hong Kong journalists who were picked up by police while trying to enter the village. The SCMP reporter was later released and escorted back to the border by government officials. The other reporters, from Ming Pao and HK01, were reportedly asked to sign a letter promising that they would “never do illegal interviews in Lufeng again,” before being driven to the border.
However, it seems that local authorities are out for more than just those five journalists. Ming Pao reports loudspeakers in the village were playing a message on Wednesday offering locals 20,000 yuan for evidence leading to the capture of any “foreign forces” still hiding in the village. Local authorities have yet to confirm this information; however state media have wasted no time in blaming foreign media for the problems in Wukan.
Yesterday, the nationalistic Party tabloid the Global Times published an editorial titled “Foreign media fails to trick Wukan villagers on rumor” charging foreigners lusting for conflict with spreading dangerous rumors. The editorial focuses on the rumored death of an 83-year-old villager named Qian Xiuyin that was originally reported by HK01 to have been killed by rubber bullets shot by Chinese police during one of the bloody clashes on Tuesday.
The local police say that Qian is alive and well at a hospital in Lufeng. They also say that she was injured in the arm by a type of home-made bomb, not rubber bullets. However, Qian’s family have not been allowed to see her. Still, the GT editorial says that villagers are not fooled:
Some foreign media sent their reporters to the village to wait for conflicts between police and villagers to happen right after they heard about the Wukan incident. Unfortunately, they waited for nothing in the end. The local government chose to avoid conflicts and confrontations. Even though some foreign media have been unscrupulously inciting, planning, and directing chaos, local police have not resorted to violence to solve the issue. After Lin’s case was filed in court, heard and judged, more and more people have discovered the true motive of those who have been creating trouble.
Obviously, some foreign forces have lost patience over the local government’s composure in China. They don’t want this “fight for human rights” to end that easily. So they exaggerated everything they heard and even faked the grandmother’s death.
Shakespeare once said that rumor is like a flute. Guesswork, suspicion, and speculation are the breath that makes it sound. Those foreign forces are addicted to the flute and have even turned their illusions into the truth. But Wukan villagers have long seen through such tricks. And they are not interested in being fooled.
Quartz reported today that four Chinese citizens have been arrested for spreading “false information” about Wukan, including one Shenzhen resident for re-posting “fake news” about Qian onto Weibo. Chinese media has been prohibited from reporting on Wukan and news about the village is being painstakingly eliminated from Chinese social media. On Wednesday, the BBC wasn’t allowed anywhere near Wukan.
China claims that the situation has returned to normal now in Wukan, yet the SCMP reports that there are food shortages in the village with villagers too scared to go outside. The provincial governor has denied that a crackdown occurred, yet door to door searches are still being carried out to find six suspects with 10,000-yuan bounties on their head. The government says that so far only 13 people have arrested in connection with the protests, yet pictures from Wukan appear to show many more people under police custody.