China's Dams

Dam protester put to death in secret, rushed execution

Kelly Haggart – Three Gorges Probe news service

December 7, 2006

A 20-year-old who took part in angry local protests against the Pubugou dam in Sichuan province two years ago was executed on Nov. 28, with neither his family nor his lawyer notified beforehand.

Chen Yongzhong, the father of the executed prisoner, learned of his son’s fate only when police instructed him to collect the young man’s ashes and pay a 50-yuan “bullet fee,” the Chinese-language ObserveChina.net [PDF] news website reported.

Observers speculated that authorities in Sichuan may have hastened to carry out the death sentence against Chen Tao before a new national law comes into force next month.

On Jan. 1, China’s Supreme People’s Court will assume final authority for capital-punishment decisions, taking that power away from provincial courts.

The move has been welcomed by human-rights campaigners, who hope it will prevent at least some wrongful executions and force central authorities to take responsibility for all death-penalty verdicts.

China is believed to execute several thousand people every year, more than all other countries combined.

Chen Tao was one of four demonstrators arrested as a result of protests by tens of thousands of people that convulsed Sichuan’s Hanyuan county in October and November 2004.

It was one of the most serious outbreaks of rural unrest in China since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949.

Outraged local farmers staged days-long sit-ins and demonstrations to protest meagre compensation terms offered for farmland requisitioned for the Pubugou dam, which is flooding 100,000 people out of their homes. The farmers also complained of official corruption in the Pubugou resettlement program.

The 186-metre-high dam is being built on the Dadu River, a Yangtze tributary, by the Guodian Group, one of China’s “big five” power companies. Construction of the 3300 MW hydropower project is due to be completed in 2010.

As many as 10,000 riot police were deployed to quell the unrest in the fall of 2004, and Mr. Chen was convicted of “deliberately killing” one of the officers.

Three other men were jailed in the case, with one — Cai Zhao — receiving a life sentence.

Cai Zhao’s defence lawyer, Ran Tong, was incensed when he learned on Monday (Dec. 4) of Chen Tao’s execution, which took place on Nov. 28.

“I received the sentence sheet containing the defendants’ names and sentences, already carried out,” he was quoted [PDF] as saying.

“The court had sentenced them in June, but behind closed doors, and we only got the information almost half a year later. We were not able to defend our clients, and I strongly oppose the court not respecting the spirit of the law.”

He wrote four big Chinese characters across the sentencing document: qiang lie kang yi — “vehemently protest.”

Mr. Ran was quoted by VOA’s Chinese service [PDF] as saying that Sichuan judicial officials have violated Chinese law in the case. He condemned Mr. Chen’s secret trial and secret execution as unworthy of the communist system.

Chen Tao was sentenced to death by the Ya’an Intermediate People’s Court in May 2005. His lawyer, Feng Yubing, then submitted an appeal to Sichuan’s top court. Chen Tao’s family and lawyer were still awaiting word on the appeal from the Sichuan Higher People’s Court when the execution was carried out.

The decision to implement the death sentence was taken on June 5 of this year, but neither Mr. Chen’s relatives nor his lawyer were ever informed of the ruling, VOA reports.

Veteran journalist and anti-dam campaigner Dai Qing expressed outrage at Mr. Chen’s execution.

“This young man was subjected to a secret trial and killed with a bullet to the head before his loved ones were given a chance to see him,” she said.

“Let’s ask the authorities in Sichuan: Do you think that by executing Chen Tao you can intimidate the people affected by the Pubugou dam? Do you think that by doing this you can put the funds earmarked for resettlement and the revenue generated by the dam into your own pockets?

“And do you think that the central government is going to turn a blind eye to your misconduct, and ignore the concerns that will be raised about this case by many, many people, inside and outside of China?”

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