Journalists were attacked and forced out of the fishing village where China has suppressed new protests five years after the village received international attention for demonstrations against land seizures.
Wukan remains under siege two days after police arrested 13 protesters on allegations that they incited violence and arrest. The Chinese government is now staging a broad crackdown on information flow out of the village, refusing to let journalists in and heavily restricting discussion of Wukan on social media networks.
Reporters from two Hong Kong newspapers, the South China Morning Post and the Chinese-language Ming Pao, were assaulted on Wednesday night while conducting interviews and later detained for several hours, both newspapers reported.
According to the South China Morning Post, a group of unidentified men stormed into a home and pushed the newspaper’s journalist to the ground. The Ming Pao said some in the group were wearing police uniforms, and that someone punched its two journalists even after they had followed orders to squat on the ground.
The journalists were later taken to a police station and questioned for several hours, the newspapers reported. According to the Ming Pao, a government official asked the journalists to sign a pledge not to do any more reporting.
Both newspapers said their reporters were eventually taken to the Hong Kong border.
The BBC also reported its journalists in Wukan were stopped from entering the village.
Wukan carries heightened symbolic importance after the success of protests in 2011, when its villagers marched against land seizures and corruption. Facing an international spotlight, the Chinese government responded by letting villagers elect their local leader, a measure the ruling Communist Party has sometimes used to quell local outcry, though national and provincial government officials are all chosen by the party.
The winner of Wukan’s election was Lin Zuluan, a former protester. But earlier this year as Lin was set to lead a new round of protests over new allegations of land seizures, authorities detained him the day before a scheduled protest and later announced he had been charged with taking bribes from developers.
Lin went on television to confess to accepting bribes totaling 593,000 yuan (about $89,000). The government often broadcasts confessions as a means of winning public confidence in an ongoing anti-corruption campaign, though such confessions are often derided by human rights groups as coerced.
His supporters staged more than 80 straight days of protests following his detention, even after he was sentenced last week to three years in jail.
After issuing warnings against further protests, the government sent dozens of police vans into the village early Tuesday, arrested protest leaders in their homes, and fired rubber bullets at protesters.
Social media postings seen by The Associated Press depict bloodied villagers with apparent bullet wounds. Subsequent posts have shown police posted at street corners, and villagers contacted by The AP have refused to be interviewed.
On Thursday, Chinese state media said life in the village was back to normal. The Global Times, a state-run newspaper, posted a column headlined, “Foreign media fails to trick Wukan villagers on rumor”.
The column accused journalists of trying to visit Wukan to “wait for conflicts”.
“Even though some foreign media have been unscrupulously inciting, planning, and directing chaos, local police have not resorted to violence to solve the issue,” the column said.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association said it “strongly condemns” violence against reporters in Wukan and called on the Hong Kong government to “take effective measures to protect the rights and safety of Hong Kong journalists working in the mainland”.
Hong Kong is a specially administered Chinese region that retains its own political system and civil liberties such as freedom of speech not shared on the mainland, under the principle of “one country, two systems”.