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Tangshan Peasant Protest Leader Detained in Advance of Wen Visit

July 6, 2004

For Immediate Release

Human Rights in China (HRIC) has learned that Public Security police have detained Zhang Youren, the leader of a group of farmers in Tangshan, Hebei Province, who have been protesting the terms of their forced relocation. The detention comes as the city prepares for a visit by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

According to sources inside China, Public Security police arrived at Zhang’s home around 10 a.m. on July 6 and instructed him to pack his diabetes medication before taking him away – an indication that he would be held in custody for a period of time. After detaining Zhang Youren, police conducted a search of his home. When Zhang’s wife, Wang Yushu, and his son, Zhang Guodong, declined to cooperate fully with the search, police officers reportedly beat Wang and forcibly removed her to the local police station, and in the course of struggling with Zhang Guodong forced his arm through a window, causing an injury that required eight stitches.

Sources close to the matter believe Zhang’s detention is related to a visit to Tangshan by Premier Wen Jiabao scheduled for July 8-10. The relocated farmers, hearing of the visit, had been planning to petition Wen Jiabao for the central government to intervene in their case, and the arrest of their leader, Zhang Youren, is seen as an attempt to forestall any such action. Another peasant leader, Li Tie, anticipating similar treatment, has been spirited out of the city with the help of his friends. However, the treatment of Zhang Youren and his family has aroused even greater discontent among the farmers, who are reportedly more determined than ever to make Wen Jiabao aware of their grievances.

The protesters are among some 40,000 people forced to leave their farms in the 1990s to make way for Henan’s Taolinkou reservoir. They claim that Tangshan municipal party secretary Zhang He misappropriated funds set aside to compensate displaced residents, and after exhausting official avenues of recourse they have resorted to protests. On one occasion more than 100 people were injured in a clash with police, and at least four protesters have been arrested and sentenced to prison terms of three to five years. Zhang Youren has become the most recent focus of official attention and harassment, culminating in his being placed under house arrest on July 1.

“The displaced farmers of Tangshan have every right to petition Wen Jiabao and other government officials over their grievances,” said HRIC president Liu Qing. “The oppressive actions by local officials are not going to make this problem go away. Sooner or later the government will have to address the concerns of these farmers and work out an equitable resolution to this issue.”

For more information, contact:
Stacy Mosher (English) 212-268-9074
Liu Qing (Chinese) 212-239-4495