Anger over 'accidental' death of Chinese activist

 Published: 2/1/2011 2:28:04 AM GMT
Original Cached

BEIJING (AFP) – A Chinese court ruled Tuesday that the death of a village chief crushed by a truck in December was accidental, sparking outrage from those who insist he was murdered for his campaigning over land seizures.

The gruesome December 25 death of 53-year-old Qian Yunhui has rattled authorities at a time when the government is trying to damp down public anger over a range of hot-button issues including official abuses and rising prices.

Qian had demanded compensation for farmers whose land was seized to make way for a power station and his death stirred passions after doubt was cast on the official version of events.

Gruesome photos posted online appeared to show Qian, who had been leader of Zhaiqiao village in the eastern province of Zhejiang, crushed under the wheels of a truck.

A court sentenced the unlicenced driver, Fei Liangyu, to three-and-a-half years in prison on Tuesday for "accidentally" running over Qian, China Central Television (CCTV) said in an in-depth live report.

Police and the courts said it was a simple hit-and-run, basing their conclusions in part on video footage supposedly recorded by Qian's wristwatch during the accident -- images dismissed by some as a total fabrication.

"Looking at this videotape, I think you must say that it is not a traffic accident -- this is murder," said one chatroom posting on the popular web portal

"Why is he the only one to wear a wristwatch video camera -- why does he need to videotape? Do judges wear wristwatch video cameras?"

CCTV on Tuesday repeatedly broadcast the shaky footage -- shot by a figure walking down a road and which ends with the image being severely jarred and, finally, a shot of a truck's wheel.

The reports appeared aimed at underlining the official version it was a simple traffic accident.

Another comment posted under the name cdch1983 said, "We've seen these inferior (government) tactics before and it is unclear whether they think the people are dumb, easily fooled or downright stupid.

"This is a tragedy, an out-and-out naked lie."

Chatrooms on the case on some other major Chinese portals were shut after the verdict, apparently to stifle anti-government comments.

Court officials refused comment when contacted by AFP.

Qian had been detained three times since 2005 for repeatedly demanding compensation for farmers after nearly 150 hectares (370 acres) of land was seized, earlier reports said.

Government-backed land requisitions, often in collusion with real estate developers, remain one of China's most controversial issues, with authorities routinely accused of enriching themselves through arbitrary land grabs.

The government has recently indicated mounting concern over that and other key controversial issues such as corruption that are blamed for thousands of frequent angry public protests.

Rights groups said the government last month ordered the media to restrict coverage of such controversial issues this year.

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