Five years after protests against the official seizure of public land led to local elections in Wukan, Guangdong, villagers again took to the streets last month to demand the release of elected village chief Lin Zuluan. Lin was detained under accusations of bribery and removed from office, just ahead of launching a planned petition campaign over the unsettled land disputes. Following the detention, state media aired Lin “confessing,” though many villagers were not convinced that he did so of his own accord. Amid demonstrations late last month, security measures in Wukan were ramped up by authorities, journalists told to vacate the area, and two lawyers hired by Lin’s family reportedly harassed and told to withdraw from the case. This week, family members of Lin Zuluan released a statement refusing to recognize two attorneys appointed to Lin by the state. At Hong Kong Free Press, Catherine Lai reports:
A statement posted on social media and signed by Lin’s family members said: “Lin Zuluan’s case doesn’t meet the scope for legal aid. Myself and my family completely have the financial means to hire a lawyer for Lin Zuluan.”
[…] “[We] do not recognise the opinions or defence that the aforementioned lawyers provide in Lin Zuluan’s case before Lin Zuluan himself or his family members hire [a lawyer].”
The government in Shanwei city has hired two lawyers as Lin’s defence counsel, said the family’s letter. Reports of the hiring of the two lawyers originated from a Weibo post, which said that Lin Zuluan hired a lawyer surnamed Wang and a lawyer surnamed Fang as his defence counsel.
Media coverage of the situation in Wukan has been sparse over the past week. A tweet from Hong Kong-based Lianain Films last weekend claimed that the villager’s protests were ongoing, though there was no one left in the village to cover them:
— Lianain Films (@LianainFilms) July 3, 2016
Also on July 3, the South China Morning Post’s Mimi Lau reported on villagers’ fears leading up to the new round of protests, and relayed a statement from Lin’s wife countering official claims of his corruption:
That fear has led to the recent rise of the Wukan night-watchers, mostly young men on motorcycles, who guard important points and alleyways, such as those housing the family of the village’s detained Communist Party chief, Lin Zuluan.
has also seen villagers go into exile or hiding, while others sleep with gongs beside their beds so they can alert other households to danger.
“I sleep with the lights on, it’s been three days since I have slept properly,” a 14-year-old girl from Wukan said.
[…] Lin’s 68-year-old wife, Yang Zhen, said she was confident nothing bad would happen to him, even though the family’s attempts to hire a lawyer for Lin had been repeatedly blocked by Guangdong authorities.
“He has not taken a single dime of salary when serving as party secretary,” Yang said, adding that her husband even used money sent to them by their sons to help fund village committee operations.
Thousands of villagers staged more than two weeks of protests since Lin’s arrest, proclaiming his innocence and calling for his release. [Source]
A report last week by Reuters’ James Pomfret, which focused on the short-lived democratic experiment in Wukan, described Lin’s growing frustration with his attempts to reclaim land in Wukan ahead of his detention:
Lin had become increasingly dismayed with authorities stonewalling attempts to reclaim plots of land knotted up in dodgy deals and for brokering fresh deals behind his back, relatives said.
Lin “couldn’t bear it anymore,” said one of his relatives who declined to be identified. “The Lufeng (city) government sold this land, a new piece of land, without telling anyone.”
[…] In December, Lin wrote several letters to a developer, Hua Hui Real Estate, that he said had acquired a 110,000-sq-metre plot in Wukan without Lin’s knowledge or the approval of the Wukan village committee that oversees land use and is the main administrator of the village. Lin is the committee head.
[…] The company replied to the committee three days later that it had acted “in accordance with law and procedures”, but declined to provide any documents, directing further inquiries to the “relevant government departments”.
After repeated correspondence over several months, there was still no clarification. The company also declined to clarify details of the land deal to Reuters. […] [Source]