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Guangxi Pollution Protesters Go on Trial

December 4, 2006

Human Rights in China (HRIC) has learned that five people accused of organizing a protest against the construction of a manganese electrolyte plant in Guangxi Province will go on trial on December 5.

Sources in China told HRIC that Huang Jin, the chairman of Daxin County’s Leishe District, was detained on June 27, 2006 along with four others after local villagers staged a sit-in to prevent construction of Daxin Manganese, a plant that was expected to cause serious pollution in the district.

The residents of Lei Township, Daxin County, once enjoyed a pristine environment and clear waters, and made their living from the local fields, orchards and commercial forests. But the area is also a rich source of manganese, an element used in the production of steel, and starting in the late 1960s, Daxin Manganese began developing the area for mining and processing. The mining company dumped waste directly into the Heishui River, the only water source for local residents. The industrial development also caused noise and air pollution, causing further deterioration of villagers’ health and living environment. Villagers say that Daxin Manganese also appropriated land without following the appropriate procedures, thereby depriving villagers of a livelihood without paying the compensation originally promised. Demands by local residents for Daxin Manganese to address pollution and land use issues were ignored.

In August 2005, Daxin Manganese, which had by then become part of Guangxi Dameng Manganese Industrial Co. Ltd., was merged into the partially state-owned CITIC conglomerate, changing its name to CITIC Dameng Mining Industries Ltd. and becoming one of the world’s largest manganese conglomerates. Ignoring the protests of local residents, CITIC Dameng began constructing a manganese electrolyte plant less than 100 meters from village residences. On June 27, some 1,000 villagers staged a sit-in protest on the site of the plant, preventing construction and at the same time reporting pollution and land compensation irregularities to the local authorities. The authorities responded by deploying hundreds of police officers to arrest more than a dozen suspected protest organizers. Some were released later, but Huang Jin, Mo Zhensheng, Mo Zhenning, Tan Heshan and Xu Yugao were eventually charged on July 27 with “gathering a crowd to attack a state organ.”

The detention of Huang Jin and his colleagues violates their right to peaceful expression and to criticize the government that is protected in both international and domestic law. “These charges have a chilling effect on groups attempting to raise serious issues such as environmental pollution,” HRIC Executive Director Sharon Hom said. “The politicized use of criminal charges to target grassroots voices also undercuts the ability of the government to effectively address the critical challenges facing China.”