01/10/2006, 00.00
CHINA
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Prison for anti-pollution protesters: they create social "disorder"

Recurrent environmental disasters are happening in China, with tons of noxious substances ending up in rivers. And yet nine farmers who in April protested against polluting factories have been convicted.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Farmers who protested against factories which polluted their villages have been condemned to prison. Meanwhile, ecological disasters are multiplying in Chinese rivers, with accidental spills of tons of diesel oil and sulphuric acid.

Yesterday the court of Zhejiang province convicted nine farmers of Huaxi village who protested against pollution caused by 12 neighbouring chemical plants. In 2001, the residents of Huaxi and Dongyang were evicted from their lands without warning, so that the factories could be constructed. After years of enduring polluted crops and people falling ill, more than 30,000 residents protested, chasing local officials away and setting up blockades to prevent the supply of materials to the factories. In the early hours of 10 April 2005, more than 1,500 policemen descended on the village and knocked down the barricades.

The nine farmers were found guilty of having taken part in the protests and were handed down sentences of up to five years in prison – four received this sentence. Coverage of the trial was censored. Some lawyers of the nine, famous professionals from Beijing, complained that they had been pressured to give up the case. The defendants refuted the charge of causing disorder and said they had been subjected to torture in prison. In December, the provincial government of Zhejiang punished eight officials of Dongyang and Huaxi for failing to "preserve social harmony".

Meanwhile, news abounds of serious cases of pollution caused by factories built near important water flows and residential areas. On 5 January, the frost cracked an oil pipeline in Gongyi city, Henan province, and six tonnes of diesel oil ended up in the Yiluo River, a tributary of the Yellow River. A 60km slick of polluted water has been formed and now there is concern for water supplies of Jining city in Shandong and for residential areas along the Yellow River. The slick should reach the Bohai sea on 13 January.

On 6 January, more than 600 tons of sulphuric acid from the Huaqiang Fertiliser factory in Chongding city leaked into the Qijiang River, a tributary of the Yangtze River, creating a purple slick 300m long. For two days, the 30,000 residents of Chongding were without water.

On 8 January, a ship carrying 260 tons of sulphuric acid toppled over in the Yangtze River. Operations are under way to recover the acid containers and to avoid their getting lost in the water. There is a conductor of drinking water barely 800m from the site of the accident.

On 4 January, a leak of cadmium from a factory in Zhuzhou city polluted more than 100m of waters in the Xiangjiang River, a tributary of the Yangtze, exceeding the safety level 80 times over. Yesterday, in Changsha, the capital of Hunan, the concentration of the substance was still twice the allowed level. Official sources said more than 26.6 billion yuan (around three billion US dollars) and five years will be required to clean the Songhua River, polluted in November 2005 by tons of benzene.

The frequency of such accidents shows, according to experts, that the possibility of such risks was not considered in China's economic boom and now it is complex and no easy matter to reallocate productive plants.

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