04/13/2007, 00.00
CHINA
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Farmers, protesting the theft of their lands, are jailed for “extortion”

An oil company failed to pay the promised compensation to villagers from Sanshan, Guangdong, and had those who protested sentenced to four years in jail for extortion. The accused condemn the mock trial and say they will appeal.

Foshan (AsiaNews/Agencies) – An oil company robbed their land, and yet the group of farmers from the village of Sanshan was condemned to four years in prison: the company managers succeeded in having them charged with extortion. 

 

The seven men have decided to appeal their sentence, issued by Nanhai district court (near the rich southern province Foshan in Guangdong) on April 10th, but have so far been unable to find lawyers willing to defend them. 

 

The three lawyers, who had accepted their case, were beaten up by “unknown hooligans”.  On e of them, Yang Zaixin had ten stitches to his face following the attack which took place outside his home. 

 

Huang Liuxiao, who defended her husband Cui Yongfa during the first trial, explained that the judges refused to accept the defence’s case: “All of the defendants pleaded not guilty during the trial and will apply to appeal against their convictions”.

 

The seven defendants have been detained by Nanhai police since June last year for extortion and blackmailing the Yingshun Tank Farm, a gas and petrochemical company. According to the indictment, they told the company to give them 50,000 Yuan (five thousand Euro) or they would expose the fact it had taken over 1 hectare of land in Sanshan without approval for use as a construction site.

 

But villagers said the 50,000-yuan deal had been a trap set by Yingshun because it promised in May to compensate 200 villagers for land losses but later filed a report claiming it had been blackmailed by the seven farmers' representatives. The company filed the charges to free itself from payment.

 

Relatives of the accused have described the trial, which began in January as a Farce. Father of the accused Shao Shaobing explains: “the judge had taken the side of the Yingshun Tank Farm when delivering her verdict”. The 82 year old man adds “They even expelled me from the courtroom after I raised my hand to express my view on the judge's unfair comments. There were more than 20 police officers watching me in the small room until the trial finished”.

 

A further four farmers from the area are currently on trial: they are being accused of “obstruction to the construction of an approved project”. 

 

In 2005, local officials decided to sell more than 1,200 hectares in Sanshan to overseas investors for industry development. Riots erupted after villagers found the officials had no intention of paying for their land.

 

The problem of land requisition in China is becoming increasingly difficult to manage.  The central government has issued laws and regulations which impose companies to pay compensation to farmers whose lands are expropriated.  But often these companies with the backing of the local government find ways to avoid payment. 

 

According to data from the Ministry for Internal Affaire, more than half of the 80 thousand social protests that take place each year in China are born of disputes over compensation that has been denied or is inferior to previously agreed by law. 

 

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