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Growing Tensions in Rebel Village in China

Villagers including schoolchildren take part in a protest march, demanding the release of their village chief Lin Zulian, in Wukan, in China's Guangdong province, June 21, 2016. (REUTERS/James Pomfret )
Villagers including schoolchildren take part in a protest march, demanding the release of their village chief Lin Zulian, in Wukan, in China's Guangdong province, June 21, 2016. (REUTERS/James Pomfret )
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Officials in southern China this week publicly embarrassed the chief of the village of Wukan before he was to face charges of corruption.

At a news conference, the officials showed a video of a confession by Lin Zulian. He is the popular, democratically-elected chief of the fishing village. Lin appears to be reading a statement although his confession was said not to be forced.

Lin Zuluan, chief in Wukan village, is shown in 2014.
Lin Zuluan, chief in Wukan village, is shown in 2014.

Lin said, “Given my thin understanding and ignorance of the law, I’ve received huge kickbacks from various infrastructure projects.”

He also said he had received payments from property deals.

The video was shown to villagers on social media and later broadcast to the public. Lin was sitting in a chair in front of two unnamed people in a padded room.

Lin’s wife and other villagers dismissed the confession. She said Lin had been forced to read the statement.

“This is to deceive people,” she said, “he is innocent.”

Sources in Wukan told VOA that Lin’s wife is seeking help from a lawyer. But it is not clear who might agree to help him.

China is said to use confessions to publicly shame people before they face charges in court.

Many people in China, and rights activists, believe officials use these videos when they do not have evidence to prove a person’s guilt. Officials also may have other reasons for targeting the person.

Lin’s grandson was also questioned. He was released shortly before the confession was released. Rights activists have recorded many examples of Chinese officials using family members to force people to make false confessions.

Online commenters voice angers

Villagers in Wukan were not the only people who criticized the actions of Chinese officials in the case.

Almost 200,000 comments were made on a story about the confession on the popular Chinese online site NetEase. Many of the comments criticized the actions of officials. They questioned the charges and the officials’ use of videotape.

One online commentator wrote: “In order to maintain your own supremacy, you (officials) totally ignore law and order and treat it as if it’s nothing and in turn lose all public credibility.”

Another person wrote: “Once they say you are guilty, you are guilty.”

Tensions in the village increase

Villagers had planned to protest at a local government office earlier this week. But the protest was delayed. Officials have continued to arrest members of the village committee. A reporter from Hong Kong was also arrested.

Sources told VOA that schoolchildren in Wukan were kept at school until early Tuesday night. Some believe the children -- even the younger ones -- had to sign a document about Lin’s crimes.

One non-governmental worker in Wukan said, “when (they) were contacted by schoolchildren, some villagers went to pick up their kids from school and realized that some students were asked to sign some kind of papers.”

The person said, “Many of them refused to sign. Some even burst into tears in class.”

Officials have not commented about the reports involving schoolchildren. But officials have said that they will answer any concerns of people in Wukan. They said they will follow the law and will not protect anyone or avoid any investigation.

In 2011, people in Wukan stopped anyone from entering the village, and forced local Communist Party leaders to leave. They were angry about what they said was an attempt by officials to steal land.

The following year, the Communist government permitted the village to hold elections for the village chief and council. Lin was among those elected.

The land dispute has not been resolved. Villagers said Lin’s arrest took place one day before people in Wukan were to gather to talk about the dispute and demand that local officials help them.

The city government of Lufeng oversees Wukan. It has promised to resolve the dispute. But it said villagers will have to ask the courts to decide the issue if its efforts do not succeed.

I’m Jill Robbins.

Correspondents Bill Ide and Joyce Huang reported this story from Beijing. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.

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Words in This Story

Kickbacks –n. a dishonest payment resulting from a business deal

Infrastructure –n. the structures and systems needed for a society to work such as roads, ports, electricity systems, etc.

Padded –adj. covered in a soft material often to avoid causing injury

Shame –v. to disgrace someone to others or publicly

Supremacy –n. the state of having power over someone or something

Credibility –n. the state of being believable