Residents in the coastal village of Wukan in Guangdong remained tense on Thursday amid an ongoing police lockdown, with some families separated on an otherwise festive day.
Local authorities also stepped up control over reporting out of the village, with five Hong Kong journalists, including one from the South China Morning Post, detained overnight and forced out in the early morning.
Special police have started to withdraw from the village, but local police were seen standing guard on every road. During the night, officers marched in formation and patrolled throughout the village.
“Police are still everywhere. It’s very quiet. No one dares to leave their house for fear of being taken away randomly,” a villager said over the phone.
Wukan was rocked when residents clashed with riot police on Tuesday following pre-dawn raids by officers seeking protesters who had been supporting jailed village leader Lin Zuluan. The villagers have been staging a sustained campaign over unresolved land disputes.
Women were being allowed to enter and leave the village on Thursday during daylight hours after their personal identification was checked. But a complete lockdown resumed at nightfall. “The women go to buy food from neighbouring villages more than 10 kilometres away and they buy in bulk,” said a villager in his 40s. He said he was forced to spend the Mid-Autumn Festival without his wife and daughter, who were less than 20km away.
“This is the first Mid-Autumn Festival I’m spending without them. I can’t leave Wukan because I won’t be allowed in and I still have a younger son to take care of,” he said. “Not being able to unite with family makes me sad, but there is no point talking about sadness now.”
A Post reporter and two other Hong Kong journalists from another publication were interviewing villagers in a house when two dozen unidentified men broke in at about 9.30pm on Wednesday.
The Post reporter was pushed to the ground, while the other two journalists were punched in the stomach and slapped twice by the assailants. They accused the journalists of stealing but did not show any documentation throughout the incident. The owner of the house was also subdued.
The three journalists were taken to a local police station where they were joined by two more Hong Kong reporters from another publication, who had been detained on their way to Wukan.
They were questioned separately by Lufeng government officials, who accused them of “illegal” reporting and breaching police lines. Recent photos on their phones were deleted.
The Post journalist did not sign any document, but other Hong Kong reporters were said to have been asked to sign a “confession letter” agreeing not to return. All five reporters have returned to Hong Kong.
News associations in Hong Kong issued a statement strongly condemning the use of violence by Lufeng authorities. The Hong Kong News Executives’ Association said it would write to the central government’s liaison office and the Hong Kong government to demand attention to the incident and would relay its concerns to the central government.