Police in a southern Chinese city sentenced 18 protesters to criminal detention and gave administrative penalties to 26, for “disturbing social order in crowds,” “causing troubles” and other similar charges, authorities announced at a press conference Thursday.
The city of Maoming, in Guangzhou Province, has seen days of heavy protests and violent retaliation by the authorities, much of it captured on smartphone cameras and uploaded to the Internet. Tens of thousands demand the cancellation of plans to build a paraxylene (called PX) plant in the city. Paraxylene is used to produce polyester, but its vapors can be dangerous to human health.
The Maoming Public Security Bureau insisted that no deaths occurred during the recent clash, and blamed foreign media for reporting rumors of “15 deaths and 300 injuries.”
“It’s totally a rumor for confusing people,” the police representative said at the press conference.
Maoming police did not mention how many protesters were injured, though they apologized for “injuring onlookers by accident.”
“There was indeed some bumping,” the official added.
This was seen as an attempt to severely downplay what protesters regard as wanton brutality by police. Videos taken by eyewitnesses show large groups of armed police chasing and beating unarmed protesters with batons and long sticks.
One scene shows a kneeling woman, begging a group of policeman to stop beating a man lying supine on the ground. The police continue to bash him with their thin metal batons.
Other videos show riot police firing what appear to be tear gas canisters into the crowds.
Heated discussions have ensued on a Chinese website, condemning the authorities for “lying,” describing the suppression as a “massacre,” and calling the police “worse than thugs.”
If the press conference was intended to appease protesters, it did not seem to have achieved its purpose.
Photos, video, and written accounts continue to pour forth describing continued protests, and police sending in more forces to shut them down.
“Huge crowds are on the ground, and helicopters are flying low in the sky,” wrote Han Zhipeng, a political adviser, on Sina Weibo on Thursday. “Maoming people came again to protest against the PX project in front of the city government building this afternoon.”
Photos on April 3 show riot police with batons, shields, and helmets forming a human wall. Netizens say they just arrived from Zhanjiang, a city 65 miles west of Maoming.
Media access to the protest zone has been difficult for both Chinese and foreign media, with the city government blockading streets. Internet censors, meanwhile, actively scrub the Web of video and photos of the protests and police violence. Chinese have taken to uploading such videos to YouTube, where they are out of reach of Chinese censors.