Chinese Elected Village Chief Jailed Amid Bitter Land Protest

The husband of a whistleblowing elected village chief in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong on Monday hit out at her sentencing to a year's imprisonment on public order charges as a triumph of power over law.

Guo Yinmei, who has served for three decades as the elected chief of Haibang village in the provincial capital Guangzhou, was sentenced to a year's imprisonment by the Panyu District People's Court on Saturday after she led local residents in a series of protests at the sell-off of their farmland.

"Power is greater than the law nowadays, and is gained by the use of force," Guo's husband, who gave only his surname Liang, told RFA after the hearing.

'Disturbing public order'

Guo was accused of reporting the Haibang village party secretary for graft "without understanding the situation" last July.

A month later, a crowd of Haibang villagers gathered outside the Panyu district government offices in protest, sparking clashes with police in which 10 people were injured and detained.

Guo was detained after she went to government offices to inquire after them, and later charged with "gathering a crowd to disrupt public order."

The party secretary was later detained, but the authorities have since denied that this was linked to Guo's allegations.

Security tight

Around 400 supporters arrived at the court on Saturday to hear the sentencing passed on Guo and three other protesting villagers, and police set up steel barriers to keep them away from the buildings, eyewitnesses said.

Guo's fellow defendants were given jail terms of between six and 10 months.

Liang said the four relatives who were allowed into the courtroom on Saturday had to pass through three separate security checkpoints to get inside the building.

"This government must be really powerful to use up so much money and energy just to keep up the pressure on a handful of people," Liang said.

"We weren't drug smugglers.... It was just four villagers."

Fallen afoul of township officials

Meanwhile, a second villager surnamed Liang said Guo had served the interests of local people faithfully for decades.

"Someone like that, who really puts her mind to work on behalf of the villagers; how could we not support her?" he said.

Guo's former defense lawyer Yang Zhaoqian said she had fallen foul of officials in the township government that administers Haibang.

"But if you ask me the reason, it's not really convenient for me to talk about that," he said.

Land disputes

The requisitioning of rural land for lucrative property deals by cash-hungry local governments triggers thousands of "mass incidents" across China every year, but many result in violent suppression, the detention of the main organizers, and intense pressure on the local population to comply with the government's wishes.

In the case of Wukan, a village in the east of Guangdong, a violent standoff with armed police who encircled the village sparked rare concessions following an investigation by the provincial government, which concluded that most of the villagers' demands and complaints were justified.

But while Wukan was allowed to choose its own ruling Chinese Communist Party committee following violent clashes in December 2011, the village has seen a further two years of deadlock over the return of village farmlands sold off piecemeal over many years by former village party chief Xue Chang.

Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.