By Zhuang Liehong
On December 26, 2016, the Haifeng Court in Guangdong sentenced nine villagers from Wukan to between two and ten years imprisonment, as a means of punishing them for participating in protests. My father Zhuang Songkun (庄松坤) was among them. Through this article I hope readers outside China will gain an understanding of these arrests and the circumstances of the trial, and that the situation in Wukan will receive greater international attention.
From 2009 villagers in Wukan engaged in collective petitions and protests against collusion between government officials and businessmen, who were expropriating collectively-owned village land for personal profit. After years of being ignored by the government, mass protests broke out at the end of 2011. I was one of the organizers of the protests, and was arrested and temporarily jailed in 2011. Another protest leader, Xue Jinbo (薛锦波), was tortured to death in prison. Given the enormous international attention the protests attracted at the time, the then-Guangdong Party Secretary, Wang Yang (汪洋), made a number of positive overtures. He affirmed that the demands of Wukan villagers were legitimate and lawful, and promised that they would be resolved. In 2012, under the international spotlight, an election was held in Wukan to democratically form the village committee.
But retaliation was swift. From 2013 to 2016 the authorities arrested and sentenced respectively Zhang Dejia (张德家) and three rights defense leaders (Hong Ruichao 洪锐潮, Yang Semao 杨色茂, and Lin Zulian 林祖銮). As one of the seven elected village committee members, I fled China to the United States on January 27, 2014, to escape persecution and apply for political asylum.
Large-scale demonstrations erupted again in Wukan last year in protest against the authorities’ persecution of the head of the Wukan village committee, Lin Zulian. From June 19 to September 12, a total of 85 days, around 4,000 villagers took to the street every day in protest marches.
At about 3 a.m. on September 13, a large number of armed police moved on the village, raiding houses and arresting two dozen or so villagers that the government considered to be the most high-profile, including my father, Zhuang Songkun.
Come dawn, thousands of fully-armed People’s Armed Police locked down village street intersections, dividing the crowd and then crushing the protest. They fired countless rounds of rubber bullets, and volleyed canisters of tear gas and shock grenades into the unarmed villagers. Then they began surrounding and violently beating villagers, without regard to whether they were old, women, or children. Faced with this violent, armed suppression, villagers resorted to throwing rocks and bricks. Hundreds of villagers were injured during the conflict.
A few days later my mother received a “notice of criminal detention,” pertaining to my father. Twice my family sent cash and clothing to him, but they weren’t allowed to see him. Other detainees reported similar treatment. The nine have been detained in Haifeng County Detention Center (汕尾市海丰县看守所).
On December 14, a member of the village committee led government agents to my family home, telling my mother that my father would be tried between December 16 and 18, and that only two relatives could attend. My family had not yet received any notice that he was being indicted, neither was he, or any of the others, allowed to secure counsel.
On the morning of December 17 the government ferried the dozen-or-so family members of the nine defendants in a bus to the Haifeng County People’s Court for the trial. The entire day was spent with the judge reading aloud laws and statutes and enumerating the crimes of the nine villagers. Court sessions were frequently adjourned and then begun again.
All nine villagers pleaded not guilty, and the court said it would announce a verdict at a later date.
On December 25, family members were told that court would be in session the following day.
On December 26 at 8:00 a.m., relatives of the defendants were once again bused to the Haifeng People’s Court. Arriving sometime after 9:00 a.m, they were brought into court around 10:00 a.m. As they were led inside, they were told to sit in the second and third rows, separated from each other by government personnel on each side. The first few rows were filled with government people.
Before the court session, a harsh voice could be heard from an anteroom bawling the names of the nine villagers. At 10:10 a.m. the villagers were separately escorted by two police into the court. My mother could catch only the faint outline of my father’s head, given how far back she was sitting. When she craned her neck to the side and leaned in to try see him more clearly, immediately one of the government staff sitting beside her stopped her with his hand and ordered her not to move or say a word.
None of the nine defendants were allowed to speak through the proceedings.
The judge then began reading out sentences (now available on the court’s website), and the entire session lasted less than 30 minutes:
- The judgement of the court has determined that: the defendants Wei Yonghan (魏永汉), Hong Yongzhong (洪永忠), Yang Jinzhen (杨锦贞), and Wu Fang (吴芳), disturbed public order with severe circumstances, forcing the cessation of production and business operations, and causing great damage; the defendants Wei Yonghan and Hong Yongzhong were the leaders, the defendants Yang Jinzhen and Wu Fang were active participants, and their actions constitute the crime of gathering a crowd to disturb public order.
- Defendants Wei Yonghan, Hong Yongzhong, Yang Jinzhen, Wu Fang, Cai Jialin (蔡加麟), Zhuang Songkun, Li Chulu (李楚卢) and Chen Suzhuan (陈素转) failed to submit their petitions to the relevant authorities according to the law and gathered an assembly, performing marches and protests, without permission; after the admonishment of relevant government authorities, they refused to comply with an order to disperse, dealing severe damage to social order. They are all directly responsible parties, and their conduct constitutes the crime of illegal assembly, marching, and demonstration.
- Defendants Zhuang Songkun and Cai Jialin gathered a crowd to block traffic with severe circumstances, they were both leaders, and their conduct constitutes the crime of gathering a crowd to disturb traffic order.
- Defendants Wei Yonghan and Li Chulu used violent means to prevent officers of the state to carry out their duties according to the law, actions which constitute the crime of endangering public affairs.
- Defendant Zhang Bingchai (张炳钗) deliberately promulgated information online that he clearly knew was false, severely disturbing social order; his actions constitute the crime of deliberately disseminating false information.
- Defendants Wei Yonghan and Li Chulu violently attacked police officers who were discharging their duties, committing the crime of endangering public affairs, which demands severe punishment.
- Defendants Wei Yonghan, Hong Yongzhong, Yang Jinzhen, Wu Fang, Zhuang Songkun, Cai Jialin and Li Chulu have committed multiple crimes, and should, according to the law, be punished for them concurrently.
- With consideration to the defendants’ crimes, the criminal circumstances, and the damaging repercussions, the court makes the following sentences:
- Wei Yonghan: Ten years, six months;
- Yang Jinzhen: Six years;
- Hong Yongzhong: Six years, six months;
- Wu Fang: Five years;
- Zhuang Songkun: Three years;
- Cai Jialin: Three years;
- Li Chulu: Three years;
- Chen Suzhuan: Three years;
- Zhang Bingchai: Two years.
After the sentences were announced, the judge asked the nine villagers whether they accepted the decisions and whether they would appeal. All nine said they would appeal. Then they were taken out of the courtroom. Again, their names were heard being called out loudly in the anteroom, while their relatives in the audience were taken to the hallway where they were made to stand and wait. The police siren sounded and the nine villagers were taken away. A bus then took the relatives back to Wukan.
From my father’s arrest to his sentence, my family received nothing from the authorities except for a notice of his criminal detention. The situation for the other eight was the same.
The Guangzhou-based human rights lawyer Sui Muqing (隋牧青) pointed out that the trial of the nine villagers violated procedural law in that: 1) based on relatives’ description of the courtroom scene, the trial was obviously not an open trial as it should have been; 2) it seems that none of the defendants had defense lawyers, and it was likely that the defendants were forcibly deprived of their rights to legal counsel.
“Illegal procedure means an unjust trial,” said lawyer Sui Muqing. “I believe that the local authorities abused their power in trying the nine Wukan villagers, and similar to trials of Lin Zulian, Hong Ruichao, and other Wukan villagers, this trial is also a retaliation against the people of Wukan.”
In arresting and trying the villagers, the Chinese government once again demonstrated that it has no regard to the law when it comes to suppressing any form of dissent. It is unacceptable that such barbaric and fraudulent methods were used against the good people of Wukan. I will do everything I can to lead the relatives of the nine villagers to appeal the despicable sentences against them. We will do all we can to resist.
Thirteen more Wukan villagers are currently held at the Lufeng Detention Center (汕尾市陆丰看守所) awaiting trial.
Wukan nowadays is a ravaged place. The villagers have been facing more pressure on their livelihoods because they haven’t been able to recover their land lost to corruption. Since last September, Wukan’s streets and alleys have been patrolled by armed police day and night, and powerful floodlights have been set up around the entire village. Wukan villagers live in a big prison, and they need your attention and support.