CRD Urges Release of Dongzhou Villager

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CRD Urges Release of Dongzhou Villager

For immediate release
CRD November 21,2006

New Arrest in Dongzhou where 2005 Killings Remain Unaccounted for

CRD demands the immediate release of Dongzhou villager,Chen Qian, male, 56, who was arrested for displaying anti-corruption banners on November 9. CRD condemns the arrest as a violation of Chen*s freedom of expression.

Dongzhou, in Shanwei City, Guangdong Provice, is the site where riot police used lethal weapons against protesting villagers, killing at least three (and maybe as many as 20, according to villagers), and injuring several dozen on December 6, 2005. Police have since arrested and sentenced 13 activists to between three and seven years’ imprisonment for “disturbing public order.” CRD takes this opportunity to call for an independent investigation of the “12.6” killings, and to demand that any officials implicated be held legally accountable. We also call for guarantees that the due process rights of imprisoned villagers to legal counsel and to appeal will be protected.

Chen Qian became an activist leading villagers in demanding compensation for those whose family members were killed on December 6, and for lost land. Villagers* efforts to seek a peaceful solution have led them nowhere. In late October, thousands of villagers staged a three-day sit-in to protest. However, once again, they were met with official silence and police harassment. Frustrated by their obstructed efforts to seek justice, not surprisingly, they reacted angrily to the arrest last week.

On November 10, about 2,000 villagers went to the local Honghaiwan PSB station to demand the release of Mr. Chen. Officials rejected their demands. In a rage, villagers took eight neighborhood committee officials hostage. For several days, local officials made no effort to negotiate with villagers. Then, on November 16, more than 1,000 policemen, fully armed in riot gear, surrounded the village, demanding the release of the hostages. Authorities held the village under siege, cutting off phone lines and Internet connections. After several days of intense confrontation, on November 19, police used tear gas and firearms to push their way into the building and remove the hostages, leaving several villagers injured. Three villagers and one foreign correspondent were arrested. They were later released. But Chen Qian remains detained, and police continued to seal the village, interrogating and intimidating villagers.

CRD does not endorse hostage-taking, but we recognize the Dongzhou villagers* despair. Their rights have been gravely violated. They see little hope for justice or reasonable solutions based on consultation and dialogue. They took hostages as an act of protest because all their other means of peaceful protest – free expression, association and assembly – and legal efforts have been either denied or blocked.

In a pattern unfolding in many parts of rural China, such as Zigong in Sichuan and Putian in Fujian, Dongzhou villagers were forcibly evicted from their farmland and/or housing without proper compensation; their efforts to seek administrative compensation or legal redress were barred and they were retaliated against by local authorities. Their leaders went to jail, while their families and supporters were left with sky-rocketing legal fees or languish in the black-box operations of the politically manipulated judicial system. What is now playing over and over in different regions of the country makes a mockery of China’s claim that it seeks “rule of law” to address social discontent, release tension, and prevent social unrest. Local officials who act as though they are above the law, interfere with legal procedures at their will, and use unchecked force to silence critics or protesters, have no credibility when they demand that the powerless, disgruntled villagers seek justice through the legal system, which is often controlled by the very officials who violated the villagers’ rights.

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