China Covers Up Violent Suppression of Village Protest

Copyright The New York Times
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Published: June 27, 2006
SHANWEI, China, June 20 ó When the police raked a crowd of demonstrators with gunfire last December in the seaside village of Dongzhou, a few miles from this city, Chinese human rights advocates denounced the action as the bloodiest in the country since the killings at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, in 1989.
Villagers said at the time that as many as 30 people had been killed, and that many others were missing. The authorities have said little or nothing about the episode, concentrating instead on preventing any accounts of it from circulating widely in the country. In the limited coverage that was allowed, officials blamed the unrest on the villagers.
Six months later, there has been no public investigation of the shootings. Instead, the government has quietly moved to close the matter, prosecuting 19 villagers earlier this month in a little-publicized trial. Seven were given long sentences after being convicted of disturbing the public order and of using explosives to attack the police. Nowhere in the verdict is there any mention of the loss of life.
Outside court, villagers say, the authorities have privately acknowledged the death of three residents during the protest. Many say they suspect that more were killed, citing a witness account of a pile of bodies, and details about people who remain missing, but they say they have been warned not to cite a higher figure.
Indeed, residents of the village, in Guangdong Province near Hong Kong, say they have been warned not to talk to outsiders at all. Given the fact that journalists, lawyers, human rights workers and other independent observers have been kept away from Dongzhou, a definitive death toll may never be established.
Whatever the lingering uncertainty, the handling of the protest and its aftermath stand out as a prominent example of how China deals with localized unrest, which has been rising in the countryside.

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