Jail term for former chief of China 'democracy' village upheld on appeal

Protesters against the jailing of Lin Zuluan, former head of Wukan village, demonstrate with Lin's portrait outside the China Liaison Office in Hong Kong on Sept 9, 2016.
Protesters against the jailing of Lin Zuluan, former head of Wukan village, demonstrate with Lin's portrait outside the China Liaison Office in Hong Kong on Sept 9, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (Reuters) - A Chinese court on Thursday (Oct 20) upheld a jail term for the former head of a southern Chinese village once seen as a cradle of grassroots democracy.

Lin Zuluan's jail sentence last month sparked renewed protests in the southern village of Wukan but they were shut down as heavily armed police riot squads sealed the area.

The Foshan Intermediate People's Court posted a statement on its website saying the court had upheld Lin's prison term of three years and a month, and a fine of 200,000 yuan (S$41,215).

Lin was one of the last leaders of a high-profile uprising in 2011 in the village to remain in office.

Once dubbed the "Wukan Spring", the rebellion over land grabs by local officials ended in a rare backdown by Communist Party authorities.

Despite the glare of domestic and international media attention, they unusually allowed villagers to hold secret ballots to elect their own village leaders.

Protests had rumbled on since June when Lin was first detained, but villagers told Reuters last month that the early hope of the Wukan Spring had now evaporated amid a new climate of fear and the jailing or exile of several key figures.

Wukan is a four-hour drive north-east of Hong Kong, where a 79-day "Umbrella revolution" in late 2014 demanding Beijing allow full democracy brought chaos to the streets.

Sources close to people inside the fishing port say it has remained under lockdown since last month, with outside communications difficult.

"The previous court determined the sentence according to the facts and circumstances of Lin Zuluan's crime, the attitude of his confession and the level of danger he imposed to the society," the court statement said. "The verdict was accurate and the sentence was suitable."

The statement also said that during his appeal hearing last Wednesday, Lin had said he would accept and obey the court's verdict.

Earlier this month, Lin withdrew his confession of taking bribes and kickbacks over local building projects, Hong Kong media reported. The confession had been televised to widespread disbelief in Wukan.