China: Police crackdown against activists outside forced eviction trial

Police in China must end the crackdown against hundreds of supporters of a man on trial for killing two members of a demolition gang that stormed into his home and beat his family in a violent forced eviction, Amnesty International said. 

On Wednesday, dozens of police officers were deployed to block more than 300 supporters of Fan Mugen from attending the start of his trial at Suzhou Municipal Intermediate People’s Court in eastern China. 

Fan Mugen claims he acted in self-defence. However he is charged with ‘intentional injury’ which can carry a death sentence. The case has captured the imagination of people across China, where violent forced evictions remain a significant issue. 

“Forced evictions are the cause of widespread discontent across China. Supporters of Fan Mugen are entitled to support him and speak out about the trial and must not be prevented from doing so by police,” said William Nee, China Researcher at Amnesty International.

On Wednesday afternoon, Fan’s son Fan Yongqiang was beaten up outside the court by local officials. One member of Fan’s legal team – lawyer Wang Yu – was temporarily detained on Wednesday afternoon. At least five activists supporting Fan were also taken away by police on Monday and are now being administratively detained. 

“This trial is a test case for the authorities to show whether the rule of law can be placed above vested interests. Depressingly it appears the police, local authorities, and the courts are doing all they can to prevent Fan from presenting a full defence. It is highly unlikely that he will receive a fair trial,” said William Nee.

Hundreds of Fan’s supporters are expected to try and attend the three day trial again on Thursday. 

Fan is accused of killing two members of demolition crew of at least a dozen men armed with steel bats who burst into his family home in December 2013. Fan repeatedly called the police for assistance, who eventually turned up but failed to stop the crew from attacking Fan and his family. 

Fan says the demolition squad continued with their assault, his wife’s arm was broken and both he and his son suffered head injuries, as auxiliary police stood by. Finally, Fan claims he responded in self-defence, fatally stabbing two of the demolition crew with a knife in the process. 

The incident took place in the context of a large development project, during which Fan and his family had refused to move and accept what they considered inadequate compensation.

According to one of Fan’s lawyers, Wang Yu, the court is refusing to accept the proof of the injuries his wife sustained in the attack, which his lawyers argue is a key piece of evidence in proving that Fan was acting in self-defence.

“President Xi Jinping has repeatedly called on courts to make independent and fair decisions in cases like this in accordance with Chinese laws and procedures, yet such calls appear to be falling on deaf ears at the local level,” said William Nee. 

In a separate lawsuit against six of the demolition crew on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles”, lawyers for the family were initially prevented from attending the hearing on Monday. They were only admitted midway through after they lodged complaints with the prosecutor. 

In 2012, Amnesty International published a report highlighting the rise in forced evictions across China, with deaths, beatings, harassment and imprisonment of residents who were forced from their homes across the country in both rural and urban areas. Local governments and property developers continue to hire thugs wielding steel rods and knives to rough up residents.