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Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD)
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Promoting human rights and empowering grassroots activism in China
Authorities meet mass civil disobedience of protesting villagers in power plant dispute with arrests, nine may face criminal charges
Government must protect economic rights by reforming system that breeds corruption and brutality
(Chinese Human Rights Defenders, July 14, 2007) – Following a mass act of civil disobedience, villagers in Data Township, Yibin County, Sichuan Province, clashed with police at the end of June. Police and officials came to enforce an order for them to pay for power from a plant they had built themselves four decades ago. Over two weeks later, at least nine villagers are still being detained by the Yibin County Public Security Bureau, and may face criminal charges. Several others have been released since the police raided the villagers, arrested scores of people, and drove many into hiding.
In June, the villagers participated in an act of mass civil disobedience: refusing to pay hefty electricity bills to protest against the take over of their community-built power plant by local government. (See Appendix for the list of those who are still detained.) The villagers have been engaged in a prolonged dispute with the Yibin County government which now owns the local electricity provider. Several representatives leading the efforts have been imprisoned, with at least two still serving prison sentences.
“This is one of many cases where authorities use law enforcement and criminal procedure to suppress grassroots mobilization in defense of basic social-economic rights in rural areas,” said a Sichuan activist who is monitoring the situation in Yibin.
Starting on June 27th, villagers have tried desperately to seek help from the Tianwang Human Rights Information Center, a group based in Chengdu, Sichuan. Villagers said that more than 400 policemen and officials had moved into the area. Armed police stood guard while employees of the state controlled power plant went house to house demanding the payment of electricity bills or cutting power to homes. Police began arresting villagers who actively resisted, without producing any arrest warrants or detention orders. Many villagers have fled and gone into hiding. Several were subsequently found and arrested. More than 200 households now have no power, affecting thousands of people’s livelihoods.
The villagers built the hydroelectric power plant with collective funds from the Production Brigades of the People’s Communes in the 1960s. The County officials wrested control over the plant from the villagers in the 1990s. The government forced the farmers to “sell” the hydroelectric plant but the villagers said they were never compensated and their electricity bills subsequently soared. In 2002, failed negotiations resulted in protests involving over 1,000 villagers. Several leaders were arrested. In 2003, Xu Yuanzheng (徐元正) and Liu Beixing （刘北星）were sentenced to four and three years in prison respectively. A welcome gathering on Liu Beixing’s release in 2006 was broken up by hundreds of armed police and resulted in another clash. The clash ended with the detention of 16 villagers including Xu Yuanren (徐元仁), male, 68, and Luo Daofu (罗道富), male, 63.
In mid-June 2006, Xu and Luo were secretly detained and, on August 10, charged with “organizing mass disturbance of social order” and then given two-year sentences. While in detention, they told lawyers, they were tortured. They were forced to drink urine and were stabbed in the ears with bamboo sticks. They are being held in the Yibin County Prison.
Over years of negotiations, the villagers have demanded: (1) the release of detained village leaders, (2) a share of the ownership of the Data Shoals power plant by the villagers, and (3) 10 million yuan in compensation for losses suffered because of the confiscation of the Data Shoals power plant by the state. However, the farmers are willing to compromise over the electricity costs and compensation. Local authorities only wanted to compromise over the issue of electricity costs and flatly refused to discuss ownership rights over the power plant or release of those now in custody.
As in many similar cases, local officials hold too much power without mechanisms of democratic accountability. Their corruption and greed is unchecked, resulting in violations of social and economic rights. As a state party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, China must honor its obligations to protect these rights by taking effective measures to reform its political system to address widespread corruption and its impact on social and economic rights.
Chinese Human Rights Defenders calls for
The immediate release of all detained villagers, as they are being held for seeking to defend their rights after all efforts to resolve the conflict through negotiations were rebuffed.
Guarantee of protection from torture and other inhumane treatment in the detention centers, and immediate access to lawyers or legal aid.
An impartial investigation into the local government’s take-over of the power plant, including its effects on the local people’s livelihoods. Higher levels of government should ensure that negotiations to resolve the conflict are resumed and that local government is willing to compromise to reach a reasonable solution.
CHRD further insists that the Chinese government respect its obligations under the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders to guarantee that human rights defenders may carry out their legitimate work in an environment of safety and freedom from harassment and violence.
Detained Villagers in Data Township, Yibin County, Sichuan Province since June 27
1. Liu, Shenggui 刘升贵, male, 44, of Banzhu Village, Taiping Production Team, arrested at home, in detention since June 27.
2. Wang, Haining 王海宁, male, 73, of Aiguo Village, Dachong Production Team, arrested in Gude Township, in detention since June 27.
3. Xu, Kesong 徐克松, male, 54, of Banzhu Village, Changning Production Team, arrested at home, on July 3.
4. Liu, Zhangtian 刘章田, male, 50, of Data Township, Tan Village, arrested at home, in detention since June 27.
5. Zhang, Zhugao 张竹高, male, 69, of Shiba Village, Guanghui Production Team, arrested in Gude Township on July 5, still in detention.
6. Zhang, Binglin 张炳林, male, age unknown, of Shiba Village, Nuli Production Team, arrested at home on July 4, still in detention.
Three villagers’ whereabouts are still unknown after they were detained on June 29 at their homes:
Jiang, Tangsong 江堂松, male, 39, of Shiba Village, Yonggan Production Team.
Jiang, Demin 江德民, male, of Shiba Village, Yuhua Production Team.
Jiang, Hai 江海, Male, of Shiba Village, Yuhua Production Team.
(Source: Tianwang Human Rights Information Center)
For more information on the Data villagers’ struggle in Yibin, Sichuan, visit the CHRD online archives (in Chinese): https://www.nchrd.org/Article/Class18/Class66/Index.html
Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) is a non-political, non-government network of grassroots and international activists promoting human rights protection and empowering grassroots activism in China. CHRD’s objective is to build NGO capacities, monitor rights development, and assist victims of abuse. CHRD advocates non-violent and rule of law approaches. CHRD conducts investigation and research, provides information, organizes training, supports a program of small grants, and offers legal assistance.
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