11/11/2010, 00.00
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Local authorities must stop forced expropriation of rural land

Stark warning from Beijing, but experts point out that such calls often do not work. The cultivated land is barely enough for domestic self-sufficiency. Analysts : to obtain social justice, they must listen to the protests of the people. Han Dongfang tells an "exemplary" story.

Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Beijing has warned local authorities to stop the forced evictions of the country people from their lands, often with meagre compensation, to turn them into industrial plants and housing estates.

For some time the central government asked local authorities to respect the economic rights of citizens, the primary cause of over 87 thousand mass protests that explode each year. The tough stance taken by the State Council yesterday shows that the warning is often unsuccessful. The central government's website reported that Premier Wen Jiabao pointed out there are "issues that require urgent attention," because local governments continue to expropriate land to expand the small provincial towns.

In areas like the eastern Jiangsu and Shandong, the authorities have even tried to force farmers to leave land and homes and move into large popular settlements for more space for new industries and neighbourhoods.

For years, Beijing has been saying that at least 120 million hectares of agricultural land, considered the minimum for agricultural self-sufficiency in the country, must be preserved. The Minister of Land and Resources said that the limit is drawing near, with 121.7 million hectares of agricultural land at the end of 2009. Studies suggest that by 2040 the urban population will grow by over 400 million, with about 15 million new residents in the cities per year.

Analysts say Beijing can not control local authorities also because do not give adequate weight to the protests or the rural people, who are often harassed by police to prevent them petitioning the central authorities.

The well-known trade unionist and human rights defender Han Dongfang wrote about the case of Sha Wozi Ranch in Inner Mongolia on the China Labour Bulletin . A state farm with thousands of employees, each of whom had their own piece of land on which they raised cattle. In 2000, executives began to sell the land, in lots of 480 mu (32 hectares) at about 5 thousand Yuan per lot.

At the first protest in 2004, the farmers claimed that "officials have taken our land, without seeking or taking any steps [legal]", others claimed the right to retirement after a lifetime of work. At first, officials supported the protests. Then two officers, a secretary and four mid-level officials were removed and the control of the area was transferred to the authorities of the city of Xilinhot.

The protests were not successful. Sales continued. The land has not been cultivated by new buyers. The wind has swept away crops and pastures, turning the once arable land into a desert.

A woman who filed a petition was arrested for having "forged the signatures." Over 150 workers have gone on to say that the signatures were authentic, but the woman was sentenced in June 2007 to 7 months of reeducation-through-labor, another name for forced labour. In 2008, before the Olympics in Beijing, she was arrested again for fear of protests could do, and she was held in prison for four months under even harder circumstances, in total isolation.

Released, she sued to have her arrest declared illegal. At first her appeal was "lost" for months. Then the court rejected the application and her appeal was dismissed.

"The courts - she says to Han - can not decide ... They have no authority ... They ignore any evidence." "The courts depend on the local government."

Afraid for her safety, she says, she now lives in hiding, and continues her protest on the Internet.


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