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Chinese blogosphere debates land rights campaigner's death

The death of a land rights activist continues to agitate internet users in China. Many believe he fell victim to a planned attack on his life late December.

China is known for using police or military force at the slightest sign of resistance

China is known for using police or military force at the slightest sign of resistance

Eyewitnesses from Qian Yunhui's village right outside the eastern city of Wenzhou say the police beat and apprehended villagers last weekend. The government's official stance is that the 53-year-old land rights activist died in an ordinary automobile accident. An "independent" investigation was supposedly carried out on the weekend, coming up with the same conclusion.

People were shocked throughout the world by images of a dead man stuck under the wheel of a truck. The pictures show Qian Yunhui, who had for years protested the building of a power plant and resulting land confiscations which went uncompensated. Many are convinced his death was not an accident. According to an eyewitness, he was pushed in front of the truck by a group of men.

Changing statements

On state TV, the same eyewitness was recorded as saying, "I was standing four meters away from the truck and I saw it drive for about half a meter. There were four men running behind the truck. Then I saw our village head lying under the wheels."

The eyewitness was seemingly pressured into changing his statement and is now behind bars for spreading rumors. The drivers of the truck were also arrested and spoke of an accident in an interview.

Ye Hanbing, police chief of Wenzhou, commented, "We have not found any evidence or motives for murder. The drivers of the truck have said that they have had no problems with the village nor that they knew the victim. They deny being hired as hit men."

In 2007, A family in Chongqing refused an offer of compensation from the land developer of a construction site

In 2007, a family in Chongqing refused an offer of compensation from the land developer of a construction site

Spread of murder theories on the net

Nonetheless, the blogs are dominated by Qian Yunhui’s death and the censors have not been able to prevent the spread of murder theories. Nor have they been able to mask the people’s contempt and criticism of the government for "covering up the truth", as many bloggers have posted.

And in the case of Qian Yunhui, many suspect corruption, as he was known to have been unpleasant for the powers that be. Local governments were especially perturbed when he took his power plant protests to Beijing.

One TV station based in Shanghai surprised watchers by broadcasting an unofficial version of the story, in which Qian Yunhui’s eldest daughter stated, "We were surrounded by police officers. My sister cried and wanted to get out. But she was arrested instead."

"Too much corruption"

Qian Yunhui had been released in July after two years of imprisonment for his petition. The village head of a neighboring village called Qian a "good man". He said, "There are 3,400 people in his village. Why did they select him to be village head? Because there are far too many corrupt officials in China, even at lower levels. There are not enough village heads like Qian."

For the Three Gorges Dam Project, many people were expropriated with little compensation

For the Three Gorges Dam Project, many people were expropriated with little compensation

Ironically, China just recently published its first white paper on fighting corruption. In it, the role of the internet as a watchdog is praised. But so is the Communist Party, who, according to the paper, will remain the sole fighters of corruption. It is unlikely that there will be an independent government body any time soon, despite the nearly 120,000 reported cases of corruption last year. According to the white paper, 70 percent of Chinese citizens are happy with the crusade against corruption. But the questions and anger surrounding Qian Yunhui’s death make that hard to believe.

Author: Astrid Freyeisen / Sarah Berning
Editor: Thomas Baerthlein

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