The former head of China’s Wukan “democracy village” has fractured his knee in prison after slipping and falling, according to the Hong Kong-based Ming Pao newspaper.

The village of Wukan became a symbol for democracy after it was permitted to elect its own leader following prolonged protests over land grabs in 2011. Village head Lin Zuluan, one of the last original protest leaders remaining, was organising villagers to petition the government before his arrest in June, which prompted villagers to rally around him in mass demonstrations lasting weeks.

Lin Zuluan
Lin Zuluan, talks to journalists after being elected as village chief in Wukan village, Guangdong province March 31, 2014. Photo: Reuters/Alex Lee

Lin fell and fractured his left knee in prison because “it was raining and the floor was wet,” officials told his family. He was taken to the southern city of Guangzhou for an operation, where he was also diagnosed with tuberculosis.

Ming Pao reported on Friday that the 73-year-old has since returned to the prison hospital in Yangjiang, in the southwest of Guangdong province.

Sources told the newspaper his family hopes he will be released on compassionate grounds, but they are not optimistic that this will be allowed.

Protest leader

Lin was sentenced to 37 months’ imprisonment for taking bribes in September. Villagers demonstrated in support for him, but riot police cracked down, detaining five Hong Kong journalists in the process.

Wukan protesters
Wukan protesters. File

Sources quoting family members told Ming Pao that Lin’s knee operation went relatively well, and that he is in good spirits.

The family is allowed to see him in prison once a month, but all conversations are recorded and submitted to provincial-level party officials.

See also: Making a clean sweep in China’s ‘democracy village’ of Wukan

Nine Wukan villagers were also sentenced to prison in December, in the aftermath of the protests against Lin’s arrest.

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.