BEIJING – Chinese police fired rubber bullets at villagers and arrested 13 people Tuesday in an overnight crackdown to suppress demonstrations in a southern fishing village that became internationally known five years ago for protesting land seizures.
Police stormed into the village of Wukan in the southern province of Guangdong and arrested leaders of ongoing demonstrations in their homes. Videos posted on social media show one person with blood on his arm and chest, and another being treated for an apparent bullet wound on his hand.
Another video shows a line of black police vans streaming into the village, a hamlet of about 13,000 people on the South China Sea near Hong Kong.
Wukan carries symbolic importance due to the success of 2011 protests that broke out over land seizures and corruption. Villagers were able to expel government officials and police, and barricaded the village. The siege was resolved only after the provincial secretary of China’s ruling Communist Party agreed to allow a local election.
The winner of that election was Lin Zuluan, a former protest leader. Lin was planning to lead a new round of protests this year over more land grabs. Instead, authorities detained him and then charged him with taking bribes.
Lin’s supporters say he was wrongfully charged and have staged more than 80 straight days of rallies since he was detained. Those protests continued after his sentence was announced Thursday despite official state warnings to disperse.
An official statement issued Tuesday said 13 villagers in Wukan were arrested, allegedly for inciting a mob and spreading rumors.
The statement levies several allegations at “a small number of lawless persons,” including disturbing school, preventing fishermen from working and hampering shopkeepers. It says officials tried to “educate and persuade” protest leaders, but that guidance was evidently disregarded.
“In order to safeguard the interests of the masses and restore the normal order of production and local people’s lives, local police decided to take action and apprehended them,” the statement said.
Chinese law requires official permission be granted for all protests, a condition that is almost never met. Large-scale protests are usually met with action intended to quell dissent. In recent decades, China has allowed a small number of elections for positions below the township level, though national and provincial party officials continue to be selected internally.
State news media reported Lin was accused of taking bribes totaling 593,000 yuan (about $89,000) to “influence livelihood and economic projects” in Wukan, and he gave a televised statement admitting to the allegations.
The Chinese government often broadcasts purported confessions of people accused of corruption in an apparent attempt to win public support, but instead are condemned by human rights groups as a sham. A former attorney of Lin’s said last week that Lin likely made the confession to protect his family.
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