A Chinese experiment in democracy meets fierce resistance
One villager's fight against corruption results in abuse and arrests.
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Despite the resignation and the vote, however, villagers said a crowd of them found Mr. Yuan and his colleagues still occupying the council offices on July 8. What happened next is unclear: Yuan claims to have been manhandled, knocked to the ground, and beaten; villagers at the scene say he was not touched.Skip to next paragraph
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Three days later, however, seven people including two of Yuan's sons showed up at Fang's house and beat her savagely, according to eyewitnesses who also photographed her injuries after an ambulance had taken her to hospital. One man was detained but later released, and nobody has yet been charged with the assault.
The next day Fang's son and a friend of his were arrested in connection with the alleged attack on Yuan. They were released two weeks later, and no formal charge was filed. A district court has, unusually, accepted their lawsuit against the police for wrongful arrest.
The Olympics factor
On Aug. 13, Fang and her fellow recall committee members mailed complaints about their treatment to a variety of offices, including the Supreme Court Anti-Corruption Office and the Tianjin prosecutor. But they abstained from visiting petition offices because "the government did not want anything to disturb the social order during the Olympics; they wanted a party spirit," explains Mr. Li.
The day after the Olympics closed, however, Fang and other villagers approached district officials to press their case. On their return to Fang's home, police arrested her; three other members of the recall committee; Han Baocai, the 80-year-old who had first raised the issue in contention; and one other villager, said Li, who was detained with them but released a few hours later.
The six others, and another member of the recall committee arrested later, remain in detention. They are being held on suspicion of "disturbing the social order," according to plainclothes police officer Zhang Congying, but neither Mr. Zhang nor the Xiaozhan police chief, Wang Jinting, would say what they had done to incur such suspicion.
Xiaozhan Deputy Communist Party Secretary Liang insists that Fang and her colleagues "were not arrested because of their recall effort. Nobody would be arrested for seeking to recall officials according to the law."
Consequences of direct democracy
Fang's sister, however, sees their detention as a warning to others. "If they arrest Fang Zhaojuan, other people won't dare cause any more trouble," she says. "They do it to suppress ordinary people."
A "barefoot lawyer," who is advising Huiguan's recall committee, but who asked not to be identified since he has already been jailed once for "counterrevolutionary activities," agrees.
"This case is a natural result of the social environment," he argues. "When ordinary people try to use their democratic rights, they will definitely suffer the consequences. The phenomenon of having a law supporting people's rights that they cannot actually enjoy is too common in our country."
The villagers say they are not giving up, however. "We want a fair solution to all the problems ... and a clear response to our vote," says Li. "We insist on it."