Fu Xiancai, a brave campaigner for the rights of people displaced by China's Three Gorges Dam, lies paralysed with a broken neck. He was attacked by thugs on the way home from a meeting with police officials unhappy with his contact with foreign journalists, human rights activists said.
Mr Fu has lobbied provincial governments and local officials since the 1990s to secure compensation for some of the million people resettled to make way for the 185-metre high dam, which opened last month. An energetic, engaging man, his activism annoys local officials intensely. After we met in March, I was detained and questioned for hours by police, made to sign a confession and hand over my notes and photo memory card.
Last Thursday, Mr Fu was called to meet Wang Xiankui, of the Public Security Bureau in Zigui county in Hubei province, about an interview he gave to German television, Human Rights Watch in China (HRIC) said yesterday.
On his way home, an unknown assailant struck him from behind with a heavy object and left him unconscious on the side of the road. The blow was so hard it fractured his neck. He has lost control of all bodily functions except his ability to speak. He has been moved to hospital in Yichang, the main city near the Three Gorges Dam, and his family are struggling to find the £5,400 needed for his medical bills. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said it had no knowledge of the case.
I first met Fu Xiancai during a visit to the village of Maoping, in the shadow of the mighty dam, when I was talking to villagers about the project. He had been summoned by an old woman who could only speak the local dialect and felt her Chinese and her education was insufficient to tell her story fully.
Soon we were approached by Mr Fu. His own house was knocked down to make way for part of the dam and his new home lay near the site of the old one, complete with portraits of Mao in the hallway. He told of his two sons, one studying law in Beijing. He was keen to show us evidence he had gathered over the years, including sworn testimonies by people who had received no compensation from the local government. They were marked with thumbprints.
The dam has led to huge corruption - one local official was executed in 2000 for taking nearly £600,000 in bribes and scores of bureaucrats have been arrested. "Around 80 per cent of the migrant people I talk to are dissatisfied," Mr Fu said at the time.
"We've nothing against the project, it's a good dam. But we want our compensation. I don't have a job as such. I try to help people fight for their compensation rights. My income comes from the local people."
He said he had been detained just once, for 15 days, in 2001. "But I've had constant pressure to persuade me to drop the campaign," he said. This pressure has included numerous violent attacks by thugs, and threatening phone calls.
Funeral wreaths and stacks of fake money used in funeral offerings have been placed outside his home. Officials have reportedly told him he could be sent to a labour camp and his family has also been threatened.
Mr Fu was resettled in the Jiuling area in 1996. "That was when I started to fight for the rights of people around here. I've been to the provincial authorities 28 times, and to Beijing six times to petition the government," he said.
As we left his house, Mr Fu's mobile phone rang and he smiled as he took the call. "The police know you're here," he said.
Driving down the dirt road from his house, we were stopped by police and local officials and held for nearly four hours in a chilly government building, before being taken into rooms and interviewed separately. Talking to Mr Fu breaks Chinese rules governing how reporters can work.
We handed over our notes and photos, made our "confessions", and were eventually released after signing a statement and being told to forget about our interview. Mr Fu was repeatedly described as a "bad man" or a "non-person".
"As a result of his legitimate petitioning activities, Mr Fu has been made a target of a chilling pattern of harassment, assault, death threats and abuse by individuals who have been clearly allowed to act with impunity," HRIC said.
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