An activist fighting for the rights of villagers in Fujian was recently sentenced to 11 years in prison. Bitter Winter looks back at the events that have led to the arrest of Li Xinlin and six others whose trial has been disguised by the Chinese authorities as the “fight against organized crime.”
In August this year, government-controlled media in China reported extensively about the trial of Li Xinlin and six other activists who fought the authorities against the unjust reclamation of land in the district of Hanjiang in Putian city.
Presented as an exemplary case of “cleaning up crime and eliminating evil” – a nation-wide operation against organized crime – the trial ended with Hanjiang District Court sentencing Li Xinlin to 11 years in prison and fining him 220,000 RMB (approximately 30,000 USD). The other six defendants were sentenced to imprisonment from one to two years.
The troubles in the village of Licuo started when in January 2013, as part of the land reclamation plan, the Hanjiang district government took over mudflat territories and fields from three waterfront villages. The 15,200 hectares (about 10,000,000 m2) of mudflats in one of the villages, Licuo, have been halved as a result. The amount of money per unit area that the authorities offered for the repurposed land was less than a quarter of what the regulations required, and the villagers refused to sign the compensation agreement.
A year later, attempting to seek justice, the villagers, led by Li Xinlin, sent a petition to the Putian City Bureau of Letters and Calls. Since they received no feedback from the authorities, they consequently hired lawyers Yang Zaiming and Zhang Xinsheng to defend their legal rights.
This action has angered the authorities, and on June 5, 2014, the police seized Li Xinlin on charges of ““assembling a crowd to disrupt public order” and detained him in the Putian City First Detention Center for 253 days.
While Li Xinlin was in detention, the local government sent over 30 thugs to beat up the two lawyers hired by the villagers. As a result, one of Yang Zaiming’s ribs was cracked, and Zhang Xinsheng suffered minor injuries.
On June 11, in an attempt to once again force the villagers to sign the compensation agreement, the local government sent more than 300 police officers to Licuo. Officials claimed that some of the buildings in the village have been built without the required permits and were to be demolished if the villagers did not sign the agreement. Despite threats and intimidations, the villagers refused to sign, and police officers took to damaging several houses in the village.
At the end of 2016, Li Xinlin, released from detention, was elected as the village director. Government officials have attempted coercing him into giving up the fight by promising hundreds of thousands RMB and a promotion, which he refused.
On March 22, 2018, local government officials invited Li Xinlin and six villagers, three village government officials among them, for a meeting, but immediately arrested them upon arrival. As it was later presented to the public, the arrest operation was organized as part of the campaign to “clean up crime and eliminate evil,” since Li Xinlin was suspected of “bribery and fraud” and “deliberate destruction of property.”
According to an inside source, the authorities trumped up the charge of “bribery and fraud” based on the fact that in 2014, villagers raised 2.96 million RMB (approximately 420,000 USD) to be used for expenses in the process of their fight against the appropriation of the land, including the fees for the lawyers in Beijing. The remaining money was confiscated after the final ruling of the court.
The charge of the “deliberate destruction of property” has been concocted manipulating the facts surrounding the demolition of an old marketplace in the village of Licuo. During Li Xinlin’s term as the village director, the village committee took a decision to buy the old Honggouli market (its defective sewer system was flooding the streets and causing pollution, and had long been a source of public outcry) and transform it into a park. The decision to demolish the market’s buildings and consequent construction of a recreational park instead was overwhelmingly supported by the village’s inhabitants.
As per a villager who wished to remain anonymous, “When villagers asked for help in solving the problems with the marketplace, the government merely turned a deaf ear on them, while Li Xinlin solved the issue. And now they are making false charges and framing him.”
The villager believes that Li Xinlin was arrested because of the land reclamation incident so that no one would act on behalf of Licuo village. “The charges of assembling a crowd to disrupt public order and deliberate destruction of property don’t hold up. Li Xinlin had nothing to do with it, and we can testify to that.”
According to Li Xinlin, during the detention before his trial, he was locked up in a metal cage placed in a shed filled with foam boards. “They would not allow me to sleep by shining the light directly into my face. This went on for over 20 days. I wanted to end it all and decided to write a letter of my last wishes using my blood, but I realized that it was no use, since I couldn’t give the letter to anyone. If I took my life, the injustice would be left unredressed, and so I pushed on.”
He was tortured for 49 days. Each day, he was given 2 – 3 mouthfuls of rice to eat. “When I was hungry, I just drank water like crazy. When I went to the bathroom, four bullies directed by guards would surround me and beat me up. I used to weigh 85 kilograms, and now I weigh just over 50 kilograms.”
Since its launch in January this year, the operation to “clean up crime and eliminate evil” has been used by the Communist Party authorities to suppress dissidents, civil rights activists, and religious groups classifying them as “criminal extremists” and “crime syndicates.”
Reported by Lin Yijiang