Following reports yesterday of a bloody crackdown in Wukan, Guangdong, Reuters’ James Pomfret relays descriptions from villagers of the violence used against protesters:
“Most people have been scared badly,” said a villager named Chen.
“This time it was a wild crackdown. They went after everyone, chasing them up into their houses, beating people.”
As she spoke, peeking nervously from behind curtains in her home, scores of riot and security police tightened a cordon around Wukan.
[…] Blue teargas cartridges could still be seen strewn in the narrow alleyways, with black burn marks on concrete.
“The whole village hasn’t done anything illegal, we just want old Lin (Zuluan) to come out and to get our land back,” said a villager surnamed Zhang. “But they don’t care if we’re guilty or not guilty. They just beat us.” [Source]
Reuters has also posted a compilation of cell-phone footage from the clash:
In 2011, Wukan villagers began demonstrations against the official seizure of public land. After a protest leader died in detention that December, public anger escalated along with the scale of local demonstrations, and the village was locked down by authorities. The Wukan protesters continued their demonstrations, capturing international attention and sympathy by documenting their story with digital technology, effectively publicizing their grievances. The Wukan movement eventually led to local elections free from the central Party’s normal oversight in 2012. By 2014, many of those elected had been forced out of office as former leaders regained their influence, and villagers expressed disillusionment with Wukan’s democratic experiment.
One elected official, Lin Zuluan, maintained his post as village committee chief until this past June, when he was arrested for accepting bribes and abusing power. Lin’s detention came just ahead of his planned petition to higher authorities over the still unsettled Wukan land disputes. The popular village leader’s detention and arrest sparked a new wave of protest. Last week, Lin was sentenced to 37 months in jail, and protests escalated. 13 people involved in the earlier demonstrations were reportedly detained, and a clash broke out between riot police and protesters.
When I went to Wukan to cover this story in 2011 the government showed sophistication and restraint. Not any more. https://t.co/NsYZHc7lzX
— Jamil Anderlini (@JamilAnderlini) September 14, 2016
While Wukan was again locked down to journalists and visitors this week amid the clash, several unverified videos appeared to corroborate villagers’ accounts of a violent standoff, with riot police firing tear gas and rubber bullets and protesters retaliating with rocks and bricks. Local officials and state media have claimed that life in Wukan is now returning to normal, but a video report filed today by the BBC’s Stephen McDonell shows more recent footage suggesting a heavy security presence and the continuing detention of many villagers including small children.
The South China Morning Post reports that the governor of Guangdong has denied a crackdown in Wukan as paramilitary officers conduct a door-to-door search in the village:
Few residents ventured outdoors on Wednesday as paramilitary officers equipped with shields and helmets marched in formation and stood guard on every corner.
[…] “There was no such crackdown,” Governor Zhu Xiaodan told a press conference on cross-border collaboration attended by Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying in Guangzhou.
[…] Locals on Thursday said the atmosphere was the most tense they had witnessed. Traffic in and out of the area had been stopped, people checked at entry points, new surveillance cameras installed near the village plaza, and door-to-door searches continued for five wanted residents.
The previous reward for tip-offs about their whereabouts was raised from 100,000 yuan (HK$116,000) to 150,000 yuan. One of the wanted suspects is Yang Shaoji, the brother of [jailed former village committee chief] Lin’s wife, Yang Zhen.
[…] Villagers said they had to trek kilometres over fields to buy food secretly as supplies were running low because of the lockdown. [Source]
More on the reward offered by local police for the five suspects from CNN’s James Griffiths and Yuli Yang:
On Wednesday, the Lufeng City Public Security Bureau, which oversees Wukan, offered a 100,000 yuan ($15,000) reward for detaining any one of five “suspected criminals”: Wei Yonghan, Cai Jiaxia, Yang Shaoji, Liu Hanchai and Hong Yongzhong.
“Those who harbor or shelter these five shall be prosecuted in accordance with the law,” police said, adding that those who took part in demonstrations could be “pardoned from legal responsibilities” if they stopped protesting immediately. [Source]
An article from state run tabloid Global Times insists that life in Wukan returned to normal immediately following the 13 arrests on Tuesday, and that it is the foreign media fanning rumors of any ongoing resistance or violence:
More than two months have passed [since Lin Zuluan’s detention], and a majority of Wukan villagers have calmed down and only about a hundred villagers are still creating a disturbance. The reasons behind their moves are complicated. Most of them are Lin’s family members, and some others are so poor that they hope to make some money through inciting trouble. And a few are taking orders from foreign forces.
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. [Source]
The article’s claim that a small number of Wukan villagers are “taking orders from foreign forces” follows a recent trend of alleging that hostile external actors are behind domestic unrest. This tactic was utilized most notably in a recent propaganda campaign that accompanied the first round of trials for lawyers and activists detained in last year’s “Black Friday” crackdown. For more analysis of Global Times’ editorial voice, its role in Beijing’s broader media strategy, or a resource to consult when determining how seriously you should take the state run tabloid, see prior coverage via CDT.
After his first Wukan-inspired illustration featured on CDT yesterday, resident cartoonist Badiucao shared two more drawings commemorating the violent crackdown in Wukan this week:
"Wukan Grandpa" by @badiucao. More from Wukan: https://t.co/Gz5CcyTO2m #wukan #乌坎 pic.twitter.com/baeLA5BOzo
— China Digital Times (@CDT) September 14, 2016
漫画【从 #天安门 到 #乌坎】
Cartoon for #Wukan 【From Tank man to Propane man】@emilyrauhala @aiww @byrnemaria @jgriffiths pic.twitter.com/5QwBxuCMIW
— 巴丢草 Badiucao (@badiucao) September 14, 2016
Badiucao’s cartoons draw inspiration from a photo shared widely yesterday of an row of armed police facing off with an elderly villager who had placed a propane container next to himself as a warning.