The village head of the Maxi Village of Zhanjiang City, Guangdong Province refused to sign the government's land expropriation document. To avoid arrest he escaped to other areas in the country. In an effort to force him to surrender to authorities and sign the document his wife was taken as a hostage. On Sunday, July 8, 2007, his wife was arrested and charged with the crime of exceeding the number of children allowed by the birth control policy. Within just a few hours of her arrest, the wife was dead. Local citizens believe that she died from torture when the authorities attempted to extort a confession. A riot erupted. Several hundred police officers used force to break up the riot early Monday morning. Dozens of people were injured by the police.
The village head had refused to sign the reconstruction plan because villagers were not satisfied with the proposed compensation from the government for their properties. Without his signature on the document, the government's land expropriation plan was not able to proceed. In an interview on Tuesday with Radio Free Asia (RFA), villager Mr. Lin pointed out that the village head had disappeared two months before in an effort to avoid being pestered and threatened by officials from the Nandiao Street Committee. It was believed that he had escaped to other areas.
On July 8, officials from the local Birth Control Office suddenly accused the village head's 42-year-old wife of violating the birth-control policy. She was summoned for questioning. The villagers believed that the Street Committee was using his wife as a hostage to force the village head to come out of hiding and sign the agreement for land expropriation. Within just a few hours of being arrested by officers from the Birth Control Office, the wife was found dead.
The officers claimed that the wife had died when she lost her footing and fell. Villagers suspected that the wife had been tortured in an effort to extort a confession. Upon learning of her death, the villagers went immediately to the Nandiao Street Committee to retrieve her body and to prevent anyone from destroying the evidence. Over one thousand villagers were present to show support. In the ensuing confusion, a riot broke out. Police used tear-gas to disperse the crowd.
“Over one thousand villagers had tried to prevent authorities from snatching her body,” said a villager. “The police beat us. Many villagers were injured. When we discovered that her body had already been removed from the Street Committee offices, we had to give up.”
The same villager noted that dozens of villagers had been injured when police attempted to disperse them. The police did not make arrests. The police retreated and took the wife's body with them as they released tear-gas. Because the villagers used stones and bricks to attack the Street Committee Office, many of the windows were broken. The same villager also noted that the Guangdong Provincial Government had already sent a vice governor to investigate on Monday. He hopes that the provincial government will handle the case fairly.
An unidentified officer from the Nandiao Street Committee agreed to answer questions from RFA. In the interview, the officer suggested that what had happened was an unfortunate incident. The officer said that the committee understands how the villagers feel, but stressed that the death of the village head's wife during the Birth Control Office's investigation was not due to torture. He said, “Everyone has parents, I understand the villager's anger completely. The wife died from losing her footing and falling when she was bringing documents to the office. It has nothing to do with the land expropriation.”
During an interview with RFA, Mr. Lin quoted from the report prepared by the medical examiner's office. The report stated that the deceased had large bruised areas on her neck and lower body. Mr. Lin refused to accept the explanation given by the Street Committee. He noted that over twenty years ago, both the deceased and her husband had undergone sterilization procedures that would have prevented them from having additional children. It would have been impossible for them to have violated the birth-control policy.
The officer on duty at the Haidong Police Station, which is in charge of this case, gave no comment on the riot or the cause of death for the village head's wife. He asked the RFA reporter to direct further questions to the Zhenjiang Municipal Government.
A RFA reporter called the Propaganda Department of the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) Zhanjiang City Committee many times during office hours on Tuesday. No one answered the phone.
Due to the flourishing real estate market in recent years, land expropriation incidents in many countryside areas have evolved into large-scale clashes and even riots for various reasons.