Police have locked down a village in southern China to ward off fresh anti-corruption protests nearly five years after an uprising there made it an internationally known symbol of grass-roots defiance against the ruling Communist Party.
A resident from Wukan village in Guangdong province said that police swept in late on Friday night to surround sensitive government buildings and take away the village’s democratically elected leader, Lin Zuluan, who had planned protests yesterday against illegal land grabs.
Local police announced on social media yesterday that Lin had been detained on bribery charges and urged villagers to maintain social stability and “not allow a small number of lawbreakers to incite drastic behaviour”.
The village resident said yesterday that paramilitary police were patrolling Wukan’s streets and guarding buildings including the police department, but daily life was carrying on as usual. Another villager said police had established checkpoints and were requiring identification cards for everyone entering or leaving Wukan.
Zhang Jianxing, a young Wukan resident who was one of the most well-known faces of the 2011 uprising, has not been reachable in several days, said one villager.
Lin’s detention and the heavy police presence appeared to have staved off planned protests against land confiscation and collusion between property developers and higher-ups.
In 2011, Wukan residents with similar grievances expelled government officials and police and barricaded the village, prompting a weeks-long standoff that was peacefully resolved when Guangdong’s Communist Party secretary, Wang Yang, agreed to let the village hold a series of elections to directly elect new leaders.
Lin, a protest leader, was named the village’s new party secretary after more than 6,000 villagers cast secret ballots in an election that was hailed abroad as a potential model for grass-roots political reform in China.
Before his detention, Lin had prepared a speech for yesterday that said the villagers of Wukan, frustrated with ongoing high-level corruption, are “prepared to sacrifice more than they did in 2011” in a new round of protests, according to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post newspaper.
Yesterday Lin’s Weibo microblogging account posted what appeared to be a 30-second video, shot in darkness, of his overnight arrest, with the caption “help me, help WK”.
Zhang Ming, a political science professor at Renmin University in Beijing, said that Lin’s bribery charge was “strange” because he did not have the authority as a village chief to sign off on projects that would have presented opportunities to collect kickbacks.
The insurrection five years ago quickly escalated beyond the party’s control. Zhang said: “China today is a much higher-pressure political environment. But anything could happen.”