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Security Forces Beat Impoverished Villagers Seeking Redress for Man-Made Disaster

October 8, 2008

Human Rights in China (HRIC) has learned that on October 8, 2008, around 1:00 P.M., hundreds of peasants organized a peaceful sit-in and blocked traffic at a major road in Sanjiang town (三江镇), Guangdong province. Witnesses reported that more than five hundred police officers, military police (武警), and riot police were deployed to disperse the crowd. Witnesses also said that police detained protesters and used batons to beat them, leaving some seriously injured and unconscious. Several observers who used their mobile phones to record the incident were also taken away by police.

Villagers staged the sit-in after Typhoon Hagupit (黑格比) destroyed a river dam in Shenlei Village (深呂村). The resultant flooding destroyed farmland, fish ponds, shrimp ponds, and other property on which village farmers depended for their livelihood. Villagers reported that a few months ago, local officials removed and sold all of the fountain palm trees which had been planted next to the dam, leaving the dam unprotected against extreme weather. Local peasants attributed the collapse of the dam to the removal of the trees and had previously approached the local government to request assistance after the flood. So far, they have received nothing.

"This is not only a case of police brutality," said Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China. "This involves a bigger issue of official theft of public property—cutting down and selling the palm trees—resulting in a man-made disaster that wiped out the peasants' livelihood."

This kind of violation by local officials is a pervasive phenomenon in China. HRIC urges the Central government to take action to prevent these illegal acts and protect the people's property rights enshrined in the Constitution.

Villagers reported that their phones were blocked and the village is now under tight security, and is guarded by plainclothes policemen.