(March 23, 2001) A Three Gorges Probe exclusive: Five farmers who helped organize petitions by communities being resettled to make way for the Three Gorges dam have been abducted by police in the last three weeks.
A Three Gorges Probe exclusive
Five farmers who helped organize petitions by communities being resettled to make way for the Three Gorges dam have been abducted by police in the last three weeks.
The arrests follow earlier threats by Yunyang county officials that migrants refusing to move out of the Three Gorges area, or who accuse local officials of wrongdoing and seek outside help, would be punished.
Three farmers were abducted on Mar. 12 in Beijing and could face jail sentences of three to seven years for “disturbing the Three Gorges Project’s resettlement,” although it is not known at this time whether they are alive or dead.
The trio, all from Yunyang county’s Gaoyang township in Chongqing municipality, were three of eight people representing Yunyang county residents unwilling to accept their local government’s resettlement plan. In early March, the eight representatives had decided to travel to Beijing, where buildings are tall and decorated beautifully, and where many of the political elite live, to report their situation to the “beloved” Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party in an effort to obtain justice for Three Gorges migrants. But before they could do so, the Yunyang county police went after them.
On Mar. 8, the Yunyang county police rushed to Gaoyang township to arrest the eight migrant representatives, two of whom were caught while another three fled. The remaining three representatives, including lead organizer He Kechang, decided that night to go directly to Beijing to appeal for help. But the following day on Mar. 9, He Kechang was stopped by two tall strong men (by their dialect, they came from Yunyang county) when he arrived in Hubei’s Yichang, the site of the Three Gorges dam. Brandishing knives, the two men shouted, “What do you want, your life or your money?” and stabbed him in the stomach. It was lucky Mr. He was not injured: his waistband protected him from the attack, but all his belongings, including his identification card, the appeal documents, and US$100 pooled from Gaoyang residents for the appeal, were taken by the men.
Two days later, Mr. He and the two remaining representatives arrived in Beijing. After learning of their address there, the government of Yunyang county dispatched five police to Beijing to arrest them. Without any due process of law, Mr. He and the two representatives were arrested, treated as fugitives, and placed in secret custody. Their homes in Yunyang were ransacked and their belongings wrecked. Several of their family members were also detained by police.
In Gaoyang township, where most of the available land will be flooded by the Three Gorges dam reservoir, more than 10,000 residents will be forced to relocate. In trial “distant” resettlement projects launched by the Three Gorges Project Construction Committee last year, people collectively resettled in Jiangsu province’s Dafeng city in the lower Yangtze – over a thousand kilometres downstream of the reservoir – were extremely dissatisfied with their new conditions. Migrants complained they had received less than what the government had promised them before leaving their homes. To their outrage, migrants later discovered that compensation funds earmarked for their resettlement had been diverted by resettlement authorities for other purposes.
Knowing these facts, people who have yet to move out of Gaoyang township are increasingly cautious, requesting that the government give them sufficient compensation and fulfill its promises before they decide to leave. However, the government of Yunyang county turned a deaf ear to these requests. Instead, it decided to detain all representatives of migrants involved in appealing to higher authorities for help, accusing them of “disturbing the Three Gorges’ resettlement.” It was under these circumstances that migrants in Gaoyang township decided to send their representatives to Beijing to seek justice and it was then that Yunyang police went after them.
Frightened now by the threat of violent intimidation, migrants slated for resettlement in Gaoyang township in Yunyang county, are being forced to register as “distant” migrants.
This new directive requiring “distant resettlement” represents a shift in resettlement policy from “settling all migrants in nearby areas,” to a combination of settling migrants locally as well as moving them far away. The policy shift occurred after the original plan was seriously challenged by a variety of problems, including environmental pressures resulting from migrants clearing vulnerable marginal land in the reservoir area.
The new resettlement rules and regulations, called “Premier Zhu’s new policy,” are designed to help reduce pressure on the Three Gorges reservoir environment. However, it is by no means easy to relocate mostly rural migrants to distant parts of eastern China where the population density is already great. What makes the situation worse, is that the Three Gorges Project Construction Committee has announced that 125,000 rural people will have to move out of the Three Gorges area by 2003, when the reservoir is scheduled to be filled to the height of 135 meters.
This deadline has intensified political pressure on local officials in particular, county secretaries of the Communist Party and the heads of county governments – these officials will be removed from their current positions if they are unable to fulfill the task of resettlement assigned to them by central authorities. Under such circumstances, to keep their positions and ensure an opportunity for promotion, local officials in the counties affected by the project are using every means at their disposal to force migrants to leave as soon as possible.
Chongqing’s Yunyang county provides such an example.
After the Chinese Spring Festival in January 2001, Huang Bo, the secretary of the Communist Party of Yunyang county, created a new procedure for resettling people called “resettlement by legal system.” This procedure has enabled Mr. Bo to displace people from their homes, with police force when necessary. Anyone who opposes this resettlement procedure risks being labelled “a bad element” against Three Gorges resettlement policy. In an effort to speed up the relocation process, local officials are now lying to people slated for resettlement, claiming that the state has stopped its original policy of allowing migrants to secure resettlement destinations for themselves, and has replaced it with a policy that requires all migrants to be moved in groups by local governments to other parts of the country.
Forced resettlement through high-handed measures, with illegal arrest, detention, and suppression to those who try to appeal to higher authorities for help and justice, will create a crisis and jeopardize the smooth process of the Three Gorges’ resettlement project, causing even greater social unrest.
It is time for the Chinese government and the international community to pay attention to the situation unfolding in Yunyang county.
We will watch the resettlement process and monitor what happens to the Three Gorges petitioners. We are also trying to lift the lid on the official rosy praise for the project’s resettlement process, to expose why the migrants affected by the Three Gorges dam are so furious about their relocation and how the money earmarked for their so-called “resettlement with development” is diverted for corrupt purposes at various levels – from the central government to the province or municipality, to the city or district, county, township, village, and finally to the group* (the lowest basic unit in rural China). Wang Yusheng is a freelance reporter based in Chongqing.
* In rural China, villagers are often divided into numbered groups – the updated equivalent of production teams, the lowest level in China’s now defunct people’s commune administrative hierarchy. Since the mid-1980s, most teams were replaced by groups.
Wang Yusheng, March 23, 2001
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All Chinese stories that are translated and published by Three Gorges Probe are as true to the original Chinese text as possible. Editing for English grammar and style is kept to a minimum in instances where misinterpretation may occur.
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