Chinese Villagers’ Lawful Election Meets Crackdown
A rural Village Committee election that began in late July in Taishi, a small village in Guangdong Province, has resulted in a continuing conflict with local government officials. The villagers have peacefully insisted on their legal rights; the government has sought to deny them.
The incident began on July 29 as a group of villagers in Taishi in Guangdong’s Panyu district submitted a petition to the district government demanding the village committee director Chen Jinsheng be removed. The petition was made in compliance with China’s “Villagers’ Committee Organization Law” passed by the 1998 National People’s Congress.
According to Article 16 of the “Villagers’ Committee Organization Law,” the residents of a village may jointly petition to dismiss any village committee member on condition that the petition has clearly stated reasons and is signed by over 20% of the eligible voters.
Taishi, a village of about 2,070 people, has more than 450 acres of land with 300 acres held in a joint-stock venture by the village committee. It has around 1,400 eligible votes, and the July 29 petition was signed by more than 400 eligible voters—over 30%. Thereafter the signature list continued to grow and a month later was over 800.
On July 31 the villagers held a public forum, which was attended by reporters and legal professors from Guangzhou. At the forum, a villager named Feng Qiusheng carefully explained to the villagers their right to be informed about their village’s financial situation.
At one point an 80-year-old woman Feng Zhen stood up in her bare feet and gave a speech criticizing the village committee director.
According to villagers, as soon as the Nanfang Rural News published a special feature on August 2 about the incident, “strange things” began happening. That night, local government officials searched in the village for the signers of the petition, forcing them to withdraw their signatures. Their actions were discovered; several hundred villagers confronted the officials, who had to leave.
The following night, the alarm of the village committee’s budget office went off. Several hundred villagers rushed to the scene only to discover the village accountant and a companion. They suspected that the officials were trying to take away the village’s financial records. After that, the local officials repeatedly demanded access to the village’s financial records but were refused.
On August 16, government officials started kidnapping the campaign organizers. When the officials were discovered, they sent over 500 riot police armed with shields to confront the villagers. The villagers responded as they had previously agreed—they did not fight back.
Some villagers were arrested. Many villagers were injured, including the 80-year-old Feng Zhen, who suffered a bone fracture as a result of being pushed to the ground by the police.
On Sept. 12, in spite of the villagers’ persistent peaceful protest, including a hunger strike, the local officials sent 63 police vans and nearly 1,000 police to Taishi village and forcibly removed all the financial documents at the budget office while arresting forty-eight villagers.
On Sept. 13, the villagers’ legal consultant, Guo Feixiong, suddenly disappeared.
Taishi did not give up. On September 16 a direct election of the village committee’s seven members was held. The local government nominated seven candidates, all were government officials. The villagers, however, rejected all of them, nominated another seven of their own choice, and successfully elected them.
This incident is still unfolding: All those who have tried to help the villagers have been harassed. The car of a reporter of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong who went to Taishi to cover the news was vandalized.
Guo Feixiong’s whereabouts were not learned until Sept. 26, when a letter he had written on Sept. 15 reached two lawyers in Guangzhou. They immediately tried to see him, but were unable to do so. He is said to be on a hunger strike.
The events in Taishi have caused intense discussion on the Chinese Internet. On Sept. 22 Interfax, a well-known Chinese bulletin board system, announced that forum administrators should delete all articles related to the incident.