03/30/2006, 00.00
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Activists, lawyers denounce new vote rigging in Taishi

Residents of the small village in Guangdong are pressing ahead with protests in their "struggle for democracy". Candidates defeated in local elections claim the polls were rigged. They are being defended by 30 of China's most famous lawyers.

Taishi (AsiaNews/SCMP) – Democratic candidates defeated in elections of the People's Congress in the village of Taishi have engaged a team of lawyers to sue the electoral commission, accused of rigging in the polling booths.

Chen Yongmiao, Wang Yi and Fan Yafeng have accepted to take on the case together with another 35 lawyers, including Gao Zhisheng, Guo Yan, Tang Jinling, Xu Zhiyon [a former representative of the People's Congress in Hubei], Yao Lifa, Lu Banglie and Yang Maodong. These are among the most renowned human rights activists and lawyers in the country, who have followed the case of Taishi from the beginning, highlighting it as a "test-case of democratization in China".

The small village of 2,000 residents, near the city of Yuwotou, in southern Guangdong, rose to fame in China and the rest of the world when protests erupted at the end of April because Chen Jinsheng, a high-ranking Community Party leader was re-elected as village head - a post similar to that of mayor - despite charges made against him by residents of embezzlement and misuse of funds. On 28 July, the residents - through a petition to the local government - claimed there had been electoral fraud, accused Chen of embezzlement of public funds and called for his removal. On 29 July, a peaceful protest started with hunger strikes and street blockades.

In the three ensuing months, local authorities resorted to the intervention of public security forces that used water canons against the crowd and arrested demonstrators. Hitmen were hired to target activists, lawyers and foreign journalists. The authorities rejected the petition, then announced it had been accepted, and soon later said the protest was over.

The activists called to defend the defeated candidates are the same people who acted to ensure the residents of Taishi had constant support and protection, expressed through international denunciation and a brilliant use of the court system.

Yao Lifa said: ""We want to sue the election committee for fraud committed in this election too, and we want everybody in the country who cares about democratic rights to stand up and sign a petition to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress to set up a committee to investigate the matter."

But there is a sticking point: Chinese legislation does not provide for appeals in electoral matters. "We know the courts will not accept our case but we still have to try ... we want to prod them into perfecting the law," he said.

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