Model village in China in state of tension

Shortly after village chief Lin called for a protest against illegal land grabs, he was arrested and said to have taken bribes.
Shortly after village chief Lin called for a protest against illegal land grabs, he was arrested and said to have taken bribes.PHOTO: REUTERS

Anger over arrest of popular leaders and graft-tainted ones put in their place

HONG KONG • A Chinese village once hailed as a model for grassroots democracy was reported to be tense yesterday, with plainclothes officers and police in riot gear patrolling the streets following the arrest of the village chief.

The coastal fishing village of Wukan in southern Guangdong province was the scene of a massive uprising in 2011, when people barricaded the area from security forces for several months to demand justice against corruption and land grabs.

The defiant civil movement drew international media attention and eventually persuaded provincial Communist Party leaders to sack the former village chief and allow elections, which a group of protest leaders won by a landslide.

Late on Friday, the Lufeng city government posted an open letter saying Wukan's directly elected and popular village chief Lin Zuluan had been arrested for abusing his position to take bribes. There were no other details.

Dozens of police cars arrived on Friday night to arrest Mr Lin, China's respected Caixin magazine quoted villagers as saying.

"Lin was arrested because he was planning on protesting on Sunday with villagers from the county," said one villager.

Mr Lin could not be reached on his mobile phone. Another villager, who declined to be identified, said outraged villagers tried to surround the local police station in protest.

POLICE EVERYWHERE

Everyone is very angry but we can't do much right now, there are police everywhere.

It's very tense.

A VILLAGER, on the situation in the coastal fishing village of Wukan in southern Guangdong province.

Hundreds of riot police and other security personnel swarmed into the village, however, and several arrests were made.

"Everyone is very angry but we can't do much right now. There are police everywhere. It's very tense," the villager said.

The Lufeng city government, which has jurisdiction over Wukan, warned villagers against taking any retaliatory action.

The Lufeng government could not be immediately reached for comment.

Pictures posted by villagers showed battalions of police with shields and helmets blocking roads in the village.

Days earlier, village chief Lin had written an open letter pledging to launch a fresh mass protest to demand justice over illegal land sales and unauthorised construction on village land - issues that have festered since 2011.

"They are all liars who say one thing and do another," read a public notice in Wukan, calling for action against the land grabs, that was posted online. "They are incompetent as officials and should be kicked off. We cannot trust them anymore. We shall solve the problems ourselves."

Several prominent villagers have also been taken into police custody, according to village sources.

Many of the village's democratically elected governing committee from 2012 has now been forced from office, with some of the corrupt old guard reinstated to their former positions.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2016, with the headline 'Model village in China in state of tension'. Print Edition | Subscribe