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Chinese Rights Activist Beaten During Taishi Investigations

A Chinese democracy activist was severely beaten when he took a foreign journalist to Taishi village in China's Guangdong Province. The village, which has seen ongoing unrest in recent months, has become a test case for grassroots democracy in China.

Peasant activist Lu Banglie says he and a British journalist hired a taxi Sunday to take them to Taishi village in southern China's Guangdong Province. Mr. Lu told VOA that when they reached the outskirts of the village, motorbikes suddenly stopped their car and at least 30 men surrounded them.

"They opened the door. Five or six men grasped my hair and pulled me out of the car," the activist recalled. "They began to kick me and beat me. Very soon, I lost my consciousness."

British journalist Benjamin Joffe-Walt later wrote that he was unharmed, but had to leave Mr. Lu behind. Mr. Lu says he only regained consciousness the following day, and found that the authorities had taken him to a different province.

He is now being treated for several minor injuries. He says he does not know who his assailants were, but he believes they were hired by the local authorities to stop them from entering Taishi.

In recent months, Taishi has become a symbol of agitation for peasant rights in China. The villagers suspected that their chief had embezzled public funds in a deal involving the sale of a large tract of village land, and in July, in accordance with Chinese law, they drew up a petition to have him fired.

The district government rejected the request. Since then, Taishi has seen several confrontations and arrests, as the local government puts pressure on the villagers to withdraw the petition.

In early August, the villagers clashed with armed police when one of their leaders in the recall effort was arrested. Several academics, lawyers and human-right activists supporting the villagers have also been arrested by police - including Guo Feixing, the village's legal representative, who was detained last month.

Several journalists have been stopped by force from entering the village. And a popular Chinese online forum that had given coverage to the Taishi villagers' campaign was shut down by the authorities at the end of September.

The Taishi standoff is widely seen as a test of the Chinese government's commitment to village democracy and rule of law. Professor Danny Paau of Hong Kong's Shue Yan College believes that the government will sooner or later punish local officials responsible for the unrest and violence in Taishi.

"I think those involved or the one accused will be punished one way or the other," the professor said. "But it is not the usual habit of the Chinese government to back down in front of public pressure immediately. They probably will take action some time later."

Taishi is only one of a number disputes that have erupted in rural China in the past couple of years. While these protests show the high level of dissatisfaction, Professor Paau says they also show that people are more willing to voice their opinions openly. He also says the fact that they have received publicity indicates that there is a now a greater degree of openness in China.