Cancer victim fights govt

CHINA - His frail body is ravaged by cancer and age, and his wife and son are in a Chinese prison.

Mr Yao Baohua is awaiting trial himself, but he is still determined to fight for his house and land.

The Yao home is the last one standing in the rubble of a vast development site in Changzhou, a Chinese "nail house", the moniker earned for both their physical appearance and their owners' stubborn resistance.

The former mathematics teacher is one of the few to make a stand against the devastating side effects of China's breakneck urbanisation, which can see entire villages uprooted to make way for industry and housing developments - often with the help of corrupt officials and police.

"Everyone else has gone, fight by fight, tear by tear," said the 75-year-old, breathing heavily on a bed at Changzhou People's Number Two hospital, recovering from an operation on a stomach tumour.

"But I will never give up. It is an illegal development," he said, raising his fists defiantly as aggressive security staff forced out his visitors.

Mr Yao's plight is typical of disputes over land expropriation that China's then premier Wen Jiabao said last year "are still very serious and the people are still very concerned about them".

China has passed a series of regulations in recent years to protect land rights, including outlawing the use of violence during evictions and stipulating market rate compensation must be paid to relocated residents.

But local officials often ignore the rules, say researchers and campaigners.

Mr Yao is the only one of 89 homeowners on a 12-ha plot to refuse the 4,000 yuan (S$800) per square metre compensation offered under a relocation scheme arranged by local officials.

He insists that property in Zhonglou - a few kilometres from the centre of Changzhou, one of the richest cities in the affluent eastern province of Jiangsu - commonly fetches almost twice as much.

His family resisted efforts by hired thugs to forcibly evict them last September, he says.

But officials say most of Mr Yao's neighbours left willingly, and that his opposition delayed many from moving into their new homes for years.

Mr Yao first took up the land issue 10 years ago, when he began campaigning for villagers.

Labour camp

In 2006, he was sentenced to 15 months in a "re-education" labour camp after petitioning for nearby farmers, a struggle which also saw his wife and son detained.

The family joined in another campaign in Zhonglou, which saw angry clashes between construction workers and residents in November 2011.

His daughter, Ms Yao Qin, 49, said the residents were originally offered nothing, but officials eventually paid them a total of 700,000 yuan.

They were also subjected to a campaign of terror, she added.

Windows were smashed, doors kicked in and fireworks set off by thugs, while the police refused to help, she said.

In December, the entire family was arrested for public order offences relating to the 2011 protests.

Ms Yao has since been granted bail, but her mother and brother remain in custody.

"This is political persecution. It is not just about forced evictions. The second Cultural Revolution is coming," she said.

Mr Yao's lawyer, Mr Liu Xiaoyuan questioned the authorities' motives for the detentions.

"When Yao's family were the only ones that refused to sign the contract, they were arrested because of revenge by the local government," he told AFP.

Zhonglou district police spokesman Fei Xingwei said that Mr Yao had been charged with extortion over the 2011 protests involving "huge amounts of money."

Mr Yao's lawyer said he was not aware of any such accusations.

Social unrest is anathema to China's ruling Communist Party, but protests have risen steadily since the 1990s and there were an estimated 180,000 in 2010, according to research by Professor Sun Liping of Tsinghua University in Beijing.

Land rights are a common cause, he said in a report last year, with reforms "held hostage" by opponents including government bureaucrats and the property industry.

"Officials can obtain land at a cheap price through administrative means and then turn around and sell it for a high price on the market," the report said.

"Is there anything more valuable than this to powerful vested interests in the amassing of wealth?"