Police Beat Villagers, Torture Community Leaders

June 23, 2007 Updated: June 23, 2007

Nine community leaders from Changpo Village, Xincui Township, Lingshui County in China's Hainan Province were brutally suppressed for exposing local government corruption. They are currently pursuing an appeal in Beijing but must also remain in hiding from the Lingshui County police who continue to hunt them down.

Human rights representative Huang Zhengfei said that authorities are trying to silence this community who has struggled to expose these local government officials for the past ten years. On May 16, an order from the Lingshui County government sent several thousand police officers to violently beat Changpo villagers, causing many injuries, some very severe. Officials have continued to harass villagers daily since this initial beating and community representatives have had their homes smashed. On their way to report their case in Beijing, two community leaders were apprehended by police, arrested, and tortured to disability.

Huang and others from the community arrived in Beijing one week ago and have filed their case with both the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee for Discipline Inspection, as well as the State Council Ombudsman's Office. “[Officials] all told us they would mail the materials back to Hainan Province where it would be handled locally,” explained Huang, “But we cannot go back, as the government has already convicted us of a crime. We would be arrested as soon as we returned. We explained this situation to the central government, but they refuse to pay attention to us.”

Bureaucrat Protection and Land Embezzlement

The Changpo Village Committee is made up of 14 cooperatives with a combined population of 3,219 and sharing, at one time, 10,000 mu (approximately 1,666.67 acres) of land.

According to Huang, since the director of the Changpo Village Committee and branch secretary Zheng Xianchuan took the post in 1988, he has joined forces with his cousin, Zheng Xianzhong—now the Vice-Head of the county's CCP Organization Department—as well as the township's Party Secretary who has since become the county's Agricultural Bureau Chief. Going beyond the limits of their authority, the group has leased out the land belonging to the collective and has continued to embezzle properties once shared among villagers. They have successively leased out 8,831 mu (approximately 1,471.83 acres) of collective land—consisting of land allotted for private farming, and land for planting fodder for long term use—keeping the rent money for themselves.

“Zheng Xianchuan enjoys protection from higher ranking officials, and he has hired local ruffians as hatchet men,” said Huang. “He has monopolized this place and become a very wealthy man, as well as a despotic village official. He is running amok in our neighborhood.”

Appeal and Law Suit In Vain

In an attempt to reclaim their land and the rent that should have been distributed to them, local villagers have continually appealed to various local and regional officials including: the Xincun Township government, the Lingshui County Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, the Lingshui Bureau for Complains, Prosecuting Bureau and Complaint Center, the Hainan Provincial government and relevant departments in the CCP Central Committee. Yet no government agency has been able to resolve the matter.

In an effort to reclaim their land management rights, villagers representing seven of the economic cooperatives filed a law suit at the Lingshui County Court at the end of 2005, but received no reply. On January 10, 2006, the Lingshui County Land Environment and Resource Bureau sent a brief explanation to Changpo Village, informing residents that this land had already been classified as state owned property.

Villagers refused to accept this explanation demanding that the Lingshui County government verify their rightful land ownership by the end of 2006. The villagers pointed to regulations that clearly stated the right of short-term land management originally belonging to the cooperative before this illegal government takeover. In return, Xincun Township government offered villagers a mere average of 148.8 yuan (approximately US$19.53) per person as compensation for their land.

Police Attack Villagers and Reporters

On May 9, Changpo Villagers and students went to the county government and requested that the county to mediate the land dispute. The county responded by sending numerous officers to stop them.

On May 12, villagers went to nearby Haihepo to stop a watermelon farm owner from transporting his melons to other areas. They requested a land contract from the farmer to confirm appropriation of the land he used. The farmer was unable to produce the document, and the county government refused to get involved in the dispute.

On May 16, Yang Zongzhen, the county's Deputy Director, sent more than 100 police vehicles, several large trucks and thousands of armed officers to the watermelon field. Using electric batons and rifles, the policemen battered villagers. Among the more than a dozen villagers who sustained serious injury, Zhan Yalai and Chen Yulian were severely assaulted.

Yang had more than a dozen villagers arrested and later tortured to the point of disfigurement. One villager, Wang Shihai, had to be taken to the hospital for emergency care, yet Yang ordered that no hospitals, large or small, in the entire county should provide medical care for these injured villagers.

And it wasn't only villagers who endured the police onslaught. A reporter trying to cover the story was photographing the scene but was assaulted by police who smashed his camera.

Human Rights Representives Blocked from Beijing

Since the brutal incident on May 16, the local government has continued to harass villagers, ransacking their homes on a daily basis. Homes of community leaders were damaged and villagers remain in hiding.

The county government colluded with the village Party Secretary, Zheng Xianchuan, to suppress the villagers, accusing them of “disrupting production with an illegal gathering.” In order to prevent villagers from issuing an appeal in Beijing, Yang Zongzhen declared,”Police monitoring all major traffic intersections are to intercept anyone who tries to go to Beijing and leaders of the 14 village cooperatives are to be arrested within a month.”

Cooperative leaders, Yang Qingjia and Zheng Ya have already been arrested on their way to Beijing and have been secretly detained. They were both tortured severely and have become handicapped from their injuries.

Currently, nine cooperative leaders, including Huang Zhenfei, are in Beijing. Yet they must keep hidden to avoid arrest as Lingshui County police continue to hunt them down. “Please help the Changpo villagers,” pleaded Huang, calling on the outside world to speak out against the injustice they have endured. “Rescue us from this darkness, and return the good names to our nine leaders and representatives who have been wrongly accused.”