Heavy Sentence for Elected Fujian Village Director, Leader in Fight against Illegal Land Expropriation

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(Chinese Human Rights Defenders, November 2, 2010) – On October 28, Jinjiang City Intermediate People’s Court in Fujian Province sentenced successful businessman-turned-village director Lü Jiangbo (吕江波) to 11 years in prison. Originally detained on suspicion of “obstructing official business,” Lü was later convicted on five additional charges, ranging from “extortion” to “undermining elections.” Eight other villagers have also been convicted and given various sentences in the same trial. CHRD believes the decision comes as retaliation for Lü’s efforts to organize residents of Keren Village, Jinjiang City, to defend their land rights.

“This is an unusually harsh sentence, and one which telegraphs a clear message to other village leaders across the country,” said Renee Xia, CHRD’s International Director. “Government officials are furious that an elected village director has chosen to side with the villagers rather than cooperate with the authorities. To the government, this organized opposition is intolerable.”

Only a few years ago, state-run publications were heralding Lü as an example of the type of “people of ability” filling leadership roles in rural communities.[i] After leaving Keren Village as a young man, Lü made his fortune selling clothing, earning his first million RMB in 1988 at the age of 22. Ten years later, Lü became involved in the fight for land rights when he and a teacher from Keren co-authored a public letter to then-Premier Zhu Rongji complaining of illegal land seizures in the village. By 2003, Lü had returned to Keren, where he was elected village director. He has served in that role for the past seven years, winning re-election on three occasions.

Located at the edge of Jinjiang City, Keren Village’s farmland continues to be expropriated by the city government as the urban area expands. In early 2010, without following the proper legal procedures, Jinjiang City officials demanded that Keren Village relinquish 1,200 mu (approximately 200 acres) of land for the construction of a college campus. In February 2010, Lü convened a meeting of village representatives and put the government’s plans to a vote. The representatives voted against the development. Construction crews arrived regardless, and after a clash broke out between villagers and the workers, local authorities summoned Lü for questioning. Following 24 hours of interrogation, he was turned over to the Jinjiang City Party Discipline Inspection Commission, who held him in shuanggui (双规), a form of extralegal detention, for 50 days.[ii] Lü was then criminally detained on suspicion of “obstructing official business” and tried in September. He testified during his trial that he was tortured by police to confess while in detention, and displayed scars from the abuse he suffered.

On the morning of the verdict hearing, a force of approximately 200 police and city administration and law enforcement officers blocked all the roads leading out of Keren Village, and beat a number of villagers, including an 88-year old woman, who attempted to travel to Jinjiang to attend the hearing. Outside the courthouse, police seized and briefly detained journalist He Huagao (何华高) of the Information Times newspaper.

In addition to the “crimes” for which Lü was eventually convicted, he was originally charged with “organizing and leading a triad-like organization.” However, officials abandoned this charge, and focused instead on Lü’s position as an elected leader. Lü was convicted along with eight other villagers, who were given sentences ranging from six months (suspended for one year) to three years in prison. All of Lü’s co-defendants are believed to be major actors in resisting the government’s land grab by persistently petitioning the government in recent years. That Lü’s sentence was so disproportionately severe testifies to local officials’ concerns over his influence.

The case against Lü and his eight fellow villagers bears a striking resemblance to an ongoing case against elected village director Xu Kun (许坤) and five other villagers in Baihutou Village, Beihai City, Guangxi Province. Xu has led villagers in resisting the forced requisition of beachfront land in the village, where residents had operated small businesses to supplement their meager income from fishing. Xu and one other villager have been detained without trial since May 2010 for “operating an illegal business.” In June, two other villagers were sentenced to two years in prison for “obstructing official business,” while one was given one and a half years for the same charge.[iii]

“Village elections are supposed to give villagers the chance to elect leaders who will defend their interests and advocate on their behalf,” said Ms. Xia, “But when the people speak out against land expropriation, what happens to the village directors who stand up for them? They are simply silenced.”

For more information

Prominent human rights lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan (刘晓原), who defended Lü in court, has written extensively (in Chinese) about the case on his personal blog. See, for example:

“Lü Jiangbo Sentenced to Eleven Years in First Trial” (吕江波一审获刑十一年), October 29, 2010, http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_49daf0ea0100m6l6.html

“Lü Jiangbo Trial Hearing Concludes; Categorically Denies Involvement in ‘Criminal Underworld’” (吕江波案庭审结束,均不承认是“黑社会”), September 10, 2010, http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_49daf0ea0100l6p7.html

“Lü Jiangbo ‘One Crime Becomes Eight Crimes’ Case, Sent Back for Supplementary Investigation” (吕江波“一罪变八罪”案,被退回补充侦查), July 2, 2010, http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_49daf0ea0100jnhv.html.

Media Contacts

Renee Xia, International Director (English and Mandarin), +852 8191 6937 or +1 301 547 9286

Wang Songlian, Research Coordinator (English and Mandarin), +852 8191 1660

[i] See, for example, Southern Window, “福建晋江一个千万富翁的参政经历,” February 18, 2004, available at http://www.chinaelections.org/NewsInfo.asp?NewsID=65648.

[ii] Shuanggui, which is administered by the Communist Party, was imposed on Lü despite the fact that he is not a Party member.

[iii] Zhang Chunqiong (张春琼) and Gao Shifu (高世福) were detained along with Xu and charged with “operating an illegal business;” Zhang was released on bail on October 12, 2010. The three villagers who were convicted of “obstructing official business” and sentenced in June 2010 are Gao Zhenzhang (高镇章) and Gao Shihui (高世辉), who were sentenced to two years in prison, and Cai Jianyue (蔡建月), who was given one and a half years.

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