China moves to strengthen people’s land rights after violent clash

China’s top legislature aims to expand ordinary people’s right to sue the government if local authorities renege on contracts signed over land issues, following a violent clash earlier this month.

The amendment to the Administrative Procedure Law was submitted for a third reading on Monday to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, state-run news agency Xinhua reported.

The move follows violent deaths on 14 October in a pitched battle between a construction company and villagers in Jinning County, Yunnan Province.

The incident occurred in the village of Fuyou, where tension has been building for three years over the expropriation of two square kilometres of farmland for a new logistics centre. Villagers were unhappy with the amount of compensation they had been offered, and with farmland flooding caused by the work. They blocked construction in May, and tensions had risen over the summer.

It is a major issue for China, which has seen an explosion of state-driven development. Xinhua commented that "acts of violence including forceful demolition and self-immolation have arisen during land conflicts in recent years".

The Fuyou incident was the deadliest such clash in recent years, with villagers accused by local government of capturing construction workers, tying them up and burning them alive. Xinhua reported that villagers threw home-made explosives. 

The death toll has now reached nine after a construction worker died from injuries sustained in the violence, the New York Times reported.

Xinhua reports that Fuyou’s village head has been arrested for "taking bribes" and another 16 officials have been removed from their posts. Construction workers and villagers have also been arrested.

Under the law amendment tabled this week, courts should order authorities to follow contracts or give compensation for the breach if they are confirmed to have violated a contract.

Even if authorities have legitimate reasons to terminate contracts, they should offer compensation, the draft revision said, without detailing how to determine the amount of compensation.

The draft amendment also stipulated that participants in lawsuits, including government staff, will be fined or detained if they force a plaintiff to withdraw the suit through illegal means such as threats or fraud.

Photograph: Farmer tends cereal crop in Yunnan Province, China (Cephoto/Uwe Aranas/Wikimedia Commons)

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