Around 3,500 villagers in Wukan marched in the streets on Tuesday calling for the release of their detained leader, despite action taken by authorities to head off protests.

Students protest in Wukan.

The Guangdong village made international headlines in 2011 after residents opposed police for months in a standoff over illegal land seizures. As a result, the provincial government allowed the villagers to elect their own leaders. After Lin Zuluan, Wukan’s elected village chief, was taken away by police early Saturday morning under suspicion of graft, villagers took to the streets on Sunday to call for his release. Since then, police have summoned six villagers who took an active role in the protests.

‘Give us back our secretary’

According to Apple Daily, villagers gathered in the village square and started marching around the village at 4:15 pm, foregoing visits to government offices that were originally planned. Participants waving red Chinese national flags chanted “give back our secretary” and “give back our land.”

A video from i-Cable News showed students leaving school early to participate in the protests, despite the fact that the school had extended the school day to keep them off the streets.

The video also suggested that authorities had tried to make students sign documents promising they would not protest. Schools also reportedly attempted to obtain their parents’ personal information.

Tuesday’s press conference showing Lin’s confession.

The protesters were led by Wei Yonghan, who had previously been summoned by the police. Yang Chen, Lin’s wife, did not participate in the march. i-Cable’s video showed that police were present at the protest, but did not interfere.

In an attempt to head off the demonstration, on Tuesday morning, authorities called a press conference in which they showed a video of Lin “confessing” to accepting kickbacks from village projects.

They also accused Hong Kong media outlets such as Apple Daily of inciting, planning and directing events in Wukan.

Students protesting in Wukan. Photo: Screenshot from i-Cable News video.

In response, Apple Daily said: “Our reporters were conducting regular interview activities. They were absolutely not inciting, planning, or directing. [Authorities] should not discredit the media to shift eyelines.”

The HK Alliance’s protest on Tuesday in support of Wukan villagers. Photo: League of Social Democrats Facebook page.

China Digital Times released a leaked directive allegedly issued by authorities to the media on Tuesday. Referring to the protests and arrest of Lin, it said: “Websites are strictly prohibited from releasing or re-publishing any news, photos, video, or information related to the mass incident in the village. All websites are to strictly control related commentary, firmly punish the accounts of those who maliciously distribute information, and report progress to superiors.”

On Tuesday, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China also organised a protest in Hong Kong in support of Lin’s release.

Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.