On Wednesday, May 19, 2010, police authorities barred Xu Kun (许坤), a village chief in the city of Beihai in southern Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, from meeting with his lawyer, claiming that Xu’s case involves state secrets, according to the lawyer, Zheng Jianwei (郑建伟). Zheng also said that the Beihai Municipal Public Security Bureau refused to give him an official document stating that his request to meet with his client is denied.
Xu, the democratically elected head of Baihutou Village, has been in police custody since Friday, May 14, 2010, on suspicion of “illegally operating a business” (非法经营罪), in connection with a parking lot operated by elderly villagers to generate income for the village. Xu was elected in 2008 and has led a resistance by Baihutou villagers against the city government’s requisition of village land for tourism development.
Xu’s wife told Human Rights in China (HRIC) that Xu was not involved in the business and never took any money from the operation. She also said that she went to both the Beihai Municipal Public Security Bureau and the No. 2 Detention Center to inquire about her husband, and staff at both places told her they had no knowledge of such person. She still had not received an official notice of detention as of May 18.According to informed sources, Xu was at one point held in a guesthouse in Beihai and was subjected to torture and continuous interrogation. In addition, during the days before and after Xu was taken into custody, about 20 elderly villagers involved in the parking lot operation were questioned by the police. Some of them, including a 76-year-old woman, reported that they were forced to sign or put their thumb prints on documents that they, being illiterate, did not understand, and some documents had large blank spaces above their signatures or thumb prints.
“What we are seeing is, again, the authorities using state secrets to deny individuals their due process rights,” said Sharon Hom, Executive Director of HRIC. “This is also a clear example of a serious and unresolved conflict between the Lawyers Law (2007), which provides a lawyer the basic right to meet with his client, and the Criminal Procedure Law (1996), which requires a lawyer to obtain the approval of the investigative organ before meeting with a client in a case involving state secrets.”
Instead of targeting a popularly elected village chief and coercing elderly villagers to help build a case against him, the Beihai authorities should conduct a full and open investigation into a land transfer decision that was made without public hearings or consultations with the area’s inhabitants. HRIC urges the Beihai authorities to resolve the longstanding dispute in a fair and peaceful way.
Xu Kun is a major figure in a four-year dispute between the inhabitants of Baihutou Village and the Beihai municipal government over what the villagers alleged as the authorities’ unlawful expropriation of village land for tourism development – land on which they had depended for their livelihood. The 2,800 village inhabitants, in about 800 families, traditionally made their living from the tourism industry, fishing, and other work.
Based on information from reliable sources, and information detailed in a recent open letter from Baihutou villagers addressed to central government authorities, the story of the Baihutou village land requisition began in 2006.
That year, in response to a city plan to develop tourism in the area, Xu Kun’s predecessor, then village chief Feng Kun (冯坤), signed a document essentially handing over the village land area – about 762 mu or 125.5 acres – to the Beihai municipal government and Beihai Municipal Land Reserve Center (土地储备中心). The document relinquished any right to public hearings and consultations with village inhabitants.
When the deal was exposed afterwards, a group of villagers, including Xu Kun, began petitioning various authorities. Demolition and relocation began in 2007. The villagers who accepted relocation soon found themselves in an area seven kilometers away with no schools or hospitals and few employment opportunities. In 2008, Xu, who had continued to lead villagers to fight the relocation, was elected village chief. The following year, Xu was expelled from the Communist Party and had the official village seal forcibly and physically taken from him, but he remained as village chief. The villagers continued to petition numerous government agencies, from local authorities to the central government, including the National People’s Congress, the State Council, and the Supreme People’s Court, but got nowhere.
By early May, 2010, an estimated 200 villagers in 74 families were still holding out.
An eyewitness told HRIC what he saw on May 8 in the village: Several hundred policemen and auxiliary police (联防队员) came to Baihutou Village (estimates range from 700 to 1,000), blocked the seven to eight entrances to the village, and surrounded Xu’s house. Xu sent his family out of the four-storey family house but barricaded himself and his father inside. Reportedly, Xu told an associate that he was armed with Molotov cocktails and intended to resist to the end. The police retreated from the scene in the early morning of May 9, and Xu left his home soon afterwards. He was picked up by police on Friday, May 14.
Xu’s wife told HRIC: “Our house doesn’t belong to us but to Xu Kun’s parents. We are refusing to go also because the new location is by the river. We have always lived off the sea. No one from the government ever made any effort to help us resolve the matter. And now they’re holding him unjustly. What can we do but fight to our death?”