Chinese villagers rally to support elected leader

China | Government officials arrested Lin Zuluan on trumped up corruption charges, supporters say
by June Cheng
Posted 6/23/16, 08:45 am

A few thousand villagers in southern China have taken to the streets in the past few days to protest the detention of a local leader allegedly forced to confess to corruption. Surrounded by a heavy police presence, residents marched around the village holding a banner covered in their signatures, waved Chinese flags, and chanted “Village chief Lin is innocent.” The demonstrations remained peaceful.

It’s not the first time residents of Wukan protested to get their way: In 2011, villagers rallied against local officials over a land grab that left residents without proper compensation. Villagers eventually kicked out the entire local government, which led to a compromise on the land matter. Government officials also allowed residents to vote for their local leaders. They elected Lin Zuluan as Community Party secretary. The Chinese government allows the election of some leaders at the village level, but not any higher.

Early on June 18, police detained Lin, who is in his 70s, claiming he abused his power and accepted bribes. His recorded confession aired on CCTV.

“Due to my lack of legal knowledge, I received kickbacks from civil engineering projects, and received huge kickbacks from the village’s collective asset purchases as well,” he said.

But villagers believe the confession was forced and that officials detained Lin because he planned to meet with residents on Tuesday to discuss the illegal land grabs and ways to petition higher authorities.

As villagers began marching to demand Lin’s release, authorities sent out a directive to Chinese media: “Regarding former village committee chief of Wukan, Guangdong, Lin Zuluan being investigated and admitting his guilt, websites are strictly prohibited from releasing or publishing any news, photos, video, or information related to the mass incident in the village,” according to Berkeley-based China Digital Times. Censors quickly wiped mentions of “Wukan” or “villagers” from the social media site Weibo, leaving only articles decrying the villagers’ actions.

Getting a lawyer to defend Lin has been difficult. After his family hired well-known rights lawyer Ge Yongxi as legal counsel, authorities contacted the firm and banned him from representing Lin, according to Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post.

“The firm was banned from accepting any client from Wukan village, which obviously interferes with our normal, legal business,” Ge told the South China Morning Post. “He should not be denied the right of legal counsel, whether he has taken any bribe or not.” A Chinese official also told another lawyer, Ge Wenxiu (no relation), not to touch the case.

“Mass incidents” are common in rural China: Between 2006 and 2010, the number of these events doubled to 180,000, mostly as a result of official corruption, land grabs, environmental issues, or ethnic tensions. The 2011 Wukan protest is unique in that it led to open elections. But an opinion piece by the government-owned Global Times claims recent events reveal democracy is not the solution to land disputes: “If the drastic actions of the Wukan villagers are adopted by other people involved in disputes, China will see mess and disturbance at a grass-roots level.”

June Cheng

June is the East Asia correspondent for WORLD Magazine. Follow June on Twitter @JuneCheng_World.

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