China secretly executes anti-dam protester

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Chinese officials have secretly executed a demonstrator who took part in a massive protest in 2004 against a hydro-electric dam in the south-western province of Sichuan, lawyers and family members said yesterday.

In a grim postscript to the summer of rural unrest that overtook China two years ago, Chen Tao was executed for "deliberately killing" a riot policeman during the demonstration, when 100,000 farmers staged a sit-in against the building of the 186-metre-high Pubugou dam on the Dadu river in Hanyuan county. The dam was set to flood thousands of people out of their homes and there were complaints that compensation was inadequate.

It was one of 74,000 "mass incidents" across the country that year - often-violent protests and riots over land-grabs, illegal pollution and official corruption. The scale of predominantly rural unrest prompted the Beijing government to introduce a number of measures aimed at reducing the wealth gap in China.

Chen was one of four men jailed after the huge demonstration. Cai Dengming, whose son was Chen's co-defendant, told the Reuters news agency that he had been executed.

"When I went to the Ya'an jail to visit my son this week, the officer there told me that Chen Tao had been executed," he said. His son, Cai Zhao, was jailed for life in the same case.

Another villager, Gao Qiansong, was jailed for three years for his alleged role in leading the protests against the dam, which will be the country's fifth-largest hydro-electric plant, with a capacity of 3.3 million kilowatts when it is completed in 2010.

The group's defence lawyer, Ran Tong, said he had only found out about the verdicts on Monday, when he received the sentence sheet containing the sentences of all the defendants. "We were not able to defend our clients, and I strongly oppose the court not respecting the spirit of the law," he said.

The death sentence is carried out swiftly after conviction, generally by a bullet to the back of the head. China executes more people than any other country.

Nearly 10,000 People's Armed Police were sent to the dam site to stop the demonstrations. One policeman was killed. The protests led to a purge of local officials for corruption. The former vice-mayor of Ya'an, Tang Fujin, was accused of accepting 2.5m yuan (£260,000) in bribes.