Guangdong: Rural Protesters Sentenced on Trumped-up Charges

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Government Must Protect Constitutional Rights and Human Rights

(Chinese Human Rights Defenders, April 11, 2007) – On April 10, the Sanshan District Court in Nanhai County, Guangdong Province, convicted seven villagers, Liu Dehuo (刘德伙), Cui Yongfa (崔永发), Shao Xiaobing, female (邵笑冰,女), Chen Ningbiao(陈宁标), Chen Zhibiao (陈智标), Shao Xixia (绍细虾), Guo Jianhua (郭建华), who were detained for protesting forced land annexation. The court sentenced Liu Dehuo, Chen Ningbiao and Chen Zhibiao to four years in jail, while Cui Yongfa, Shao Xixia, and Guo Jianhua were each handed sentences of three years and six months. Shao Xiaobing received a sentence of two years and six months. The defendants protested the verdicts and announced to the packed courtroom that they plan to appeal to a higher court.

Chinese Human Rights Defenders called for the immediate and unconditional release of the seven villagers and others detained in connection to the same protests in Sanshan District. A signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Chinese government has committed to respecting the rights of peaceful demonstration, free expression and assembly, and access to a fair trial, rights that the PRC Constitution also protects.

“Throwing these villagers in prison for rejecting officials selling their land for profit, without being adequately compensated, also says how little the government is doing for the farmers’ basic right to make a living. Without adequate compensations, these farmers have almost nothing to go on starting a business or finding employment,” says Renée Xia, international coordinator of Chinese Human Rights Defenders.

The “extortion” or blackmailing charges distort the reality of official retaliation against organizers of rural resistance to ruthless land grabbing for profitable development projects. The arrests of the seven activists took place in July 2005, one month after the so-called blackmailing took place. In two separate incidents, one involved a bus driver whose vehicle crashed into a local home, and the other involved the owner of an oil storage warehouse that was being constructed on the farmers’ land without the farmers’ consent nor legal permit, the disputes were settled out of court. Both sides agreed to the settlements while policemen were present. “Extortion” is thus a baseless charge, trumped up for legitimizing punishment for public dissent.

The trial on December 9, 2006, was procedurally flawed, violating defendants’ rights to legal council and fail trial. Except for one defendant, the others were put on trial without defense lawyers. Two lawyers, Zhang Jiankang, of Xi’an, and Wang Zhuanzhang, representing two of the seven, were harassed by local police and eventually barred from attending the trial. Only Shao Xiaobing’s lawyer was able to defend her in court; Cui Yongfa’s wife, Huang Liuxiao, acted as his legal representative.

Chinese Human Rights Defenders is concerned that more villagers may be sent to prison, as the villagers continue to defend their rights. They built a shack in the field to guard the land by watching for any attempt at further construction. In January 2007, the police detained more villagers, and of those, five or six may still be held in custody, including Liang Weitang (梁伟棠), Li Canjiao (李灿教), Luo Yongchun (罗永淳),and Liang Huantian (梁焕甜). We have not been able to confirm their whereabouts.

Chinese Human Rights Defenders calls on the Chinese government to:

• Strongly condemn the jailing, demanding the immediate release of Nanhai villagers and an end to all human rights abuses committed by local authorities in Guangdong, including arbitrary detention and arrests, harassment of lawyers, and flawed court procedures that deprived defendants of their right to legal counsel and fair trial.

• Launch an independent investigation of local authorities’ abuses of power in violently appropriating farmland without fair compensation and selling the land to commercial developers for profits; and to begin aggressively address this pattern of abuse, which is illegal under the new national Property Rights Law (promulgated on March 16, 2007 and taking effect on October 1, 2007).

• Take effective measures to fulfill its legal obligations under the International Covenant on Social, Economic, and Cultural Rights to respect “the right to an adequate standard of living.” (ICSEC, Article 11) All Chinese citizens, urban or rural, have equal claims to protections of basic socio-economic human rights.

“Suppressing rural protesters with legitimate land claims in Guangdong, as in Sichuan, Fujian, Hubei, and other provinces, even it’s in the name of law enforcement, will further destabilize the country,” says Renée Xia.

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