12/28/2005, 00.00
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Beijing "bows to media pressure" and releases Taishi activists

After four months in prison, seven residents and a human rights activist were released; they "committed a crime" which however was "so slight", it's not worthy of mention. "This is a victory over autocracy" and "shows there are liberal elements in the Communist Party".

Guanzhou (AsiaNews/SCMP) – Beijing has "bowed down to pressure from the international and domestic media" and ordered the release of a human rights activist and seven residents of Taishi, a village known as "the test-case of democracy" in China.

Shortly after his release, the activist, Yang Maodong, better known as Guo Feixiong, said: "Releasing me is definitely a central decision, not the province. It also shows that within the ruling party there are liberals. It's not totally rigid and above all, it bows down to pressure."

Yang was released yesterday afternoon by the Panyu People's Procuratorate (the district where Taishi is situated) which dropped charges against him. ""They read me a document saying that I had committed a crime, but it was so slight that they would not prosecute me. They then sent me back to Guangzhou." The activist added: "My release is a victory against autocracy".

Yang was arrested on 13 September and charged with "disturbing social stability by mass gathering", a day after more than 1,000 armed police stormed the Taishi government office and took away dozens of villagers.

The small village with 2,000 residents near Yuwotou city in southern Guangdong has become famous in China and the rest of the world as a test-case for democracy. The protests erupted at the end of April when Chen Jinsheng, a high-ranking Community Party leader was re-elected as village head – a post similar to that of mayor – despite charges levelled 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 months that followed, the local authorities ordered public security forces to intervene. The troops used water canons against the crowds 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 seven residents, some of them in prison since the end of August, were released in the morning and sent home with a warning not to speak to the press or other people involved in the dispute. One of them said: "Before we came out, they made us sign a pledge saying that we would not do it again, and our families also needed to sign a similar document to promise that we would not get into trouble."

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Taishi village, a test for democracy (Overview)
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