By James Pomfret
WUKAN, China (Reuters) – The chief of a Chinese “rebel” village once seen as a symbol of grassroots democracy said in a video on Tuesday that he had accepted bribes, but many in the village said the confession was probably forced and pledged to ramp up protests.
Lin Zuluan, the democratically elected and popular party chief of Wukan village in southern Guangdong province, was arrested in a surprise midnight raid on Saturday.
Lin’s arrest came days after he made a public appeal for the village to launch a massive protest march against illegal land seizures.
For the past three days, the village, that made international headlines in 2011 for a months-long people’s uprising against corruption and illegal land grabs, has again become a focus of dissent, with mass protest marches taking place under the gaze of hundreds of heavily armed riot police.
The video, distributed to villagers via social media, showed Lin confessing to taking kickbacks for public works projects and purchases of resources.
“This is my biggest criminal activity,” said Lin who was scruffily dressed in a check shirt as he sat before two unidentified people in a blue-walled, padded room.
The Southern Daily, an official provincial Communist Party publication, said Lin had been sacked after confessing to taking bribes.
Government spokesman Shi Shuoyan was quoted as saying they welcomed media from home and abroad to “objectively and fairly report in accordance with the law”, but warned they would take action against publications which tried to incite people in Wukan.
Lin’s wife, Yang Zhen, told reporters in her family’s walled compound, however, that she believed the confession was forced.
“This is to deceive people,” she said, in the heavily accented dialect of the Chaozhou region in eastern Guangdong.
“He is innocent.”
Around the coastal village of some 15,000 thousand people early on Monday there appeared a tense calm.
Since Lin’s arrest, groups of young men have patrolled and guarded Wukan’s perimeter. Just after midnight on Monday, gongs were sounded and many people streamed outside preparing to repel intruders, though it turned out to be a false alarm.
A relative of Lin who declined to be named said scores of arrest warrants had been issued for villagers who might cause trouble, and that Lin’s grandson had been arrested on Monday.
This grandson, however, was reportedly released overnight, just before Lin’s videotaped confession was distributed online.
Back in 2011, thousands of Wukan villagers ransacked police and government offices, and forced provincial Communist Party authorities to grant rare concessions for a people’s movement.
A corrupt village chief was fired and a democratic election was permitted, resulting in the election of many protest leaders, including Lin.
It was unclear what the next step would be but groups of villagers in Wukan debating the latest developments on Tuesday seemed inclined towards fighting on, with talk of another protest march to the nearby Lufeng government headquarters in the afternoon.
Wukan’s defiance in 2011 took place during the administration of former president Hu Jintao. It remains unclear whether security forces would take a stronger line under President Xi Jinping who has cracked down on rights across China since taking office.
(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)