Chinese Hold Protest Leader, Land Activist

Activist Chen Weiying studied a map earlier this year of the island in the Zhu River where her village is located.
Activist Chen Weiying studied a map earlier this year of the island in the Zhu River where her village is located. (By Edward Cody -- The Washington Post)
By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, December 24, 2005

BEIJING, Dec. 23 -- Chen Weiying, a peasant protest leader in southern China whose struggle was the subject of a Washington Post article last month, was detained by police and has been in custody since Dec. 1, a peasant rights group reported Friday.

Chen, 43, who has two daughters, was formally charged sometime after her arrest with involvement in an illegal lottery, according to Hou Wenzhuo, director of the Empowerment and Rights Institute. Hou and others from her group advised Chen and fellow farmers during their long battle against land confiscations at Sanshan, a small but swiftly developing community on an island in the Zhu River on the outskirts of the city of Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province.

Governments at various levels in China organize officially sponsored lotteries. But it is illegal to organize or participate in privately sponsored lotteries. The government charges did not specify what exactly Chen is alleged to have done; an official of the Public Security Bureau in Sanshan, reached by telephone, declined to discuss the case.

Hou said the accusation was a pretext for detaining Chen because of her anti-government agitation in the last six months. The struggle in Sanshan, where local authorities are confiscating farmland to build a warehouse zone, came at a time when unrest and riots have erupted with increasing frequency across China, particularly in economically booming Guangdong province, as industrial development relentlessly encroaches on agriculture.

Chen and her neighbors in Sanshan have been facing land confiscations since 1992, when a portion of their island had been requisitioned for development. By the middle of 1993, about a third of the farmland had been filled in, leveled and built up, mostly on the western tip of the island. The development included schools, a hospital, factories, docking facilities and apartment buildings.

Villagers continued farming, but in October 2004 the district government told the farmers that the rest of their land also would be developed.

The farmers staged a sit-down protest in a local field in May to block earth-moving equipment from starting new construction.

Chen and her husband participated in that demonstration and a series of others between May and July. She said she was detained briefly by police, grabbed and beaten with batons in the course of the protests. Chen had said she was put under surveillance by plainclothes police for a number of months after her initial detention.

"Chen Weiying's arrest is another attempt to crush the series of farmers rights campaigns, particularly land rights campaigns, in Guangdong province," Hou's group said in a statement.

"The Guangdong provincial government has undertaken many repressive actions, often involving violence on activists, in the past year. The arrest of Chen Weiying is particularly troublesome because she was an effective democratic grass-roots leader," the statement said, adding that the institute "recognizes her role as a land rights and farmer rights activist, and more importantly as a unique woman human rights defender who helped encourage farmers and women to assert their rights."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company