HONG KONG—Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang succeeded in preventing any first-hand media coverage of an environmental protest in which thousands of villagers clashed with riot police, local residents said.
As villagers began their sit-in last week outside the Tian Neng Battery Factory in Meishan township, many local residents began calling local media hotlines to try to publicize concerns about high levels of lead in their children’s blood.
“This is a very difficult situation. The police have arrested a lot of people, and local residents are very angry. If you came here to interview local people, they would all tell you what’s going on here,” one woman resident of Meishan told RFA’s Mandarin service.
“We were constantly in touch with media organizations about this issue, but not one of them came here to cover the story,” she said.
No Journalists Allowed
“There were no reports about this in the local news. It was a huge story, and there were no journalists present.”
Another Meishan resident confirmed that protesters had tried to get in touch with journalists.
“There were no reports about this in the local news. It was a huge story, and there were no journalists present.
“They didn’t want to come. It was a no-go area. I think they had to get approval from the news department of the government to come here,” the man said.
An official at the Meishan township government declined to answer questions concerning the protest when contacted by RFA reporter Fang Yuan. But she said an official version of events would be available soon.
“We have a propaganda department for disseminating news. They will release this news in the next couple of days, so you can wait until they do,” she said.
Police were still continuing to detain people following the protest, the Meishan man added. “They have been arresting people continually these past few days.” Asked if anyone was injured in the clashes, he said: “A very large number.”
Cars Smashed by Police, Crowd
“As the police were leaving, they smashed cars and motorbikes that were parked at the side of the road,” he added, saying that the crowd had replied by attacking police vehicles in turn. “If they hadn’t smashed our vehicles, the crowd wouldn’t have dared to attack theirs.”
The protests began a few days earlier outside the Tian Neng factory gates, and by Saturday, the crowds had swelled to around 10,000 people, who prevented deliveries from leaving the factory, residents said. An estimated 60 people were taken to hospital with injuries after the clashes.
A woman present at the scene confirmed reports that around 1,000 riot police moved in on the crowd with riot shields and tear gas. “Yes, there were about that number…To begin with, everyone was throwing stones…They are still arresting people now,” she said.
“They were even arresting bystanders who had nothing to do with the protest.”
The villagers were protesting what they said was lead pollution from the factory and high levels of the substance in their children's blood, the official English-language China Daily reported several days after the clashes took place.
They had previously staged a protest in June after 700 children in Meishan were found in May to have concentrations of lead in their blood exceeding normal levels.
Officials Promise to Test for Pollutants
The paper quoted Changxing county health bureau director Hu Yili as saying that waste disposed by Tian Neng, just 600 meters (650 yards) from nine neighboring villages, might be to blame for the poisoning.
The Meishan government had promised it would collect air, earth and water samples to confirm the cause of the pollution, it said.
Scenes of popular unrest are becoming increasingly common as villagers in rural China vent their anger in face of indifferent or bullying authorities, often over corruption, pollution and the seizure of land for real estate development.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Fang Yuan. Produced for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie.