Three Gorges Probe

SARS and falun gong provide pretexts for Three Gorges arrests

Kelly Haggart
August 14, 2003
China has used both the SARS health crisis and the crackdown on the
falun gong spiritual movement as reasons to detain migrants who dare to
complain about the Three Gorges resettlement operation.

 

While the exact number of people who have been arrested in
connection with the dam project is not known, several new cases have
recently come to light. These include four migrants who were sent
months ago into SARS-related quarantine and have been held in detention
ever since.

 

Meanwhile, three of the four men from Gaoyang township in Yunyang
county who were jailed in March 2001 for "disturbing public order" have
been released.

 

However, local officials have warned the men they must stop trying
to seek help from higher authorities, and two of the men are so
terrified of being rearrested that they have gone into hiding.

 

The fourth man – He Kechang, now 63, who was sentenced to three
years in prison – remains incarcerated in Wanzhou. Conditions in
Chinese jails are harsh, and malnutrition is widespread. Mr. He is said
to be in poor health, and to have broken a leg when he slipped and fell
on his way to the toilet. For a long time he was keep incommunicado,
but now apparently is allowed visits from relatives.

 

The four men had been chosen by residents of Gaoyang, located 225
kilometres from the dam site, to bring their complaints of unfairness
in the resettlement operation to the attention of authorities in
Beijing. They travelled to the capital to submit evidence they had
collected that indicated state compensation funds had been stolen by
corrupt local officials.

 

Jiang Qingshan, 54, and Ran Congxin, 64, were arrested along with He
Kechang in Beijing on March 12, 2001. Wen Dingchun, 69, had been seized
a few days earlier in Gaoyang.

 

Mr.
Jiang, Mr. Ran and Mr. Wen were released in March of this year after
serving two-year jail terms. While Mr. Ran was in prison, officials
demolished his home to force his family – including his mother, who is
in her 80s – to move from Gaoyang.

Ran Congxing's house
Ran Congxin’s house: Demolished
while he was in jail.

 

"We need help badly," one Gaoyang resident said. "Hundreds of
migrants are still refusing to move from here, even though their houses
have been destroyed and they’ve received no compensation."

 

Yunyang is one of the counties most affected by the dam, with more
than 120,000 residents being displaced, including 13,000 from Gaoyang.

 

Meanwhile, a 33-year-old man from Gaoyang was detained in May after
he travelled to Beijing to petition top leaders about his family’s
situation. Zhou Beijun had been ordered out of his home, which was
situated in the part of the Gaoyang due to be submerged when the Three
Gorges reservoir was filled to the 135-metre level in June.

 

At first, officials had encouraged Gaoyang migrants such as Mr.
Zhou’s family to move in with relatives or friends wherever they had
connections and felt best able to re-establish livelihoods. But to
speed up the pace of relocation as the filling of the reservoir drew
near, resettlement authorities began ordering migrants to depart
immediately for government-selected sites far from their old homes.

 

Mr. Zhou was told to move his family 1,000 kilometres away to
Tongliang county, where he had no ties and where he felt uncertain
about his chances of earning a living. "You will receive no
compensation whatsoever if you refuse to move to Tongliang," he was
warned. But Mr. Zhou’s family had already made arrangements to move to
Wanzhou, the largest city between the dam site in Yichang and Chongqing
at the end of the reservoir, and they objected to being ordered
suddenly to change their plans.

 

And so, in early April, Mr. Zhou travelled to Beijing to appeal to
top leaders for help. He submitted letters describing his situation to
the State Council, the National People’s Congress and an office of the
Communist Party.

 

When Mr. Zhou returned to Yunyang later that month, he was sent into
quarantine at a local hospital because he had been in the capital,
which was in the grips of an outbreak of severe acute respiratory
syndrome.

 

But unlike other travellers from Beijing held at the hospital, Mr.
Zhou was handcuffed while he was there. And at the end of his
quarantine, he was transferred, on May 11, to the Yunyang Public
Security Bureau, where he was charged with "disturbing public order."

 

His wife and family have received no written notification of his detention, and have not been allowed to visit him.

 

At least three other migrants from Gaoyang have met the same fate in
recent months after refusing to move to distant locations not of their
own choosing. A 60-year-old woman, Wang Aixiu, and two men – He Zhengkui and Chen Qisan – were all first sent into SARS quarantine and then thrown into jail.

 

Local people say the disgruntlement is deepening among migrants in
Gaoyang. Part of the town was submerged in June by the rising
reservoir, and many people from the flooded section have moved in with
relatives on higher ground and are refusing to relocate to
government-assigned sites. (More of Gaoyang will be flooded in 2006
when the reservoir level is raised to 156 metres above sea level.)

 

"Somebody said they’d rather die than bottle up their anger," one
resident of Gaoyang told a visitor. "They even threatened to use
explosives to blow themselves up, to bring their plight to public
attention."

 

Last year, four members of a family from Mingchong village in
Gaoyang were arrested after a resettlement official’s vehicle was set
on fire. Yao Changqing, along with his wife, father and younger
brother, had attended a public meeting at which Mr. Yao angrily quoted
resettlement regulations issued by the central government that he felt
were being flouted by local authorities.

 

This enraged a resettlement official at the meeting, and an argument
flared, which led to a physical fight and the car-burning incident. All
four family members were arrested, and Mr. Yao was sentenced to one
year in prison.

 

In a separate incident, 56 migrants from Gaoyang tried to board a
train for Beijing last July to lodge the complaint that as many as
1,000 people in the town who wanted to move to destinations they had
chosen, such as Wanzhou, had not received any compensation money.

 

When they tried to buy tickets for Beijing at the nearby train
station of Dazhou, the migrants were accused of being falun gong
supporters heading to the capital intent on making trouble. They were
herded into a waiting room, while hundreds of police officers
surrounded the station. The governor of Yunyang county, Xiao Min, and
Gaoyang party boss Ding Shengming led the squad.

 

While eight of the migrants were able to slip away and board a train
for Beijing, more than 40 others were detained in the basement of the
station before being taken to Yunyang under police escort. Fortunately,
the eight who made it to Beijing reported the situation to officials of
the Three Gorges Project Construction Committee, who called Yunyang and
arranged the migrants’ release after two days of detention.

Categories: Three Gorges Probe

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