02/10/2006, 00.00
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Hebei: local party chief found guilty in Shengyou violence

The trial of hooligans hired by local authorities is over; their attack against a protest rally in Shengyou village saw six people killed and 100 wounded. The party chief's 26 co-defendants have been sentenced, four to death. A relative of a victim beaten to death is outraged: "How come the people who were only doing what they were told [to do] got death sentences? It is ridiculous."

Handan (AsiaNews/SCMP) – The Intermediate People's Court in Handan gave He Feng, ex party secretary in Dingzhou (Hebei province), a life sentence for hiring a gang of hooligans to stop a protest rally by residents of Shengyou village. The other 26 co-defendants received varying sentences, but four got the death penalty and five, life in prison. However, it was not clear what prison terms were handed to the remaining 17.

The events that led to the trial took place in 2003 when villagers in Shengyou tried to prevent Hebei Guohua, a power company in which a son of former Prime Minister Li Peng is involved, from building a plant on 26 hectares (about 65 acres) of local land. Residents rejected the company's offer—US$ 4,500 per hectare (US$ 1,800 per acre)—which they said did not even meet the national price standards.

In June of that year, a village delegation accused local officials of taking money in order to push people to sell and called on authorities in Beijing to set up a public enquiry into the affair.

Hooligans armed with rods, hooks, and electric prods then attacked a local rally. Six farmers were killed and about 100 people were seriously wounded.

Although the hooligans were brought to trial, relatives of only five of the six murder victims were allowed to attend, but could not take notes or tape the proceedings.

"He Feng should be shot because he planned the attack," said a relative of one of the victims. "How come the people who were only doing what they were told [to do] got death sentences?" he asked.  

Villagers did try to attend the trial but were prevented. "Traffic congestion" on a bridge about 6 kilometres from the court house stopped them from reaching their destination.

"It was ridiculous that so many trucks suddenly appeared on the bridge. The local government seemed to be afraid that too many villagers would attend the trial," the relative said.

Clashes in Shengyou were among the most violent in recent memory, but the authorities failed to cover up the whole thing because it was videotaped by a dissident, Niu Zhangzong, who sent the cassette to the Washington Post which posted it on its website.

The editor-in-chief of the Beijing News, which broke the news in mainland China, was sacked.

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