Detained ‘Anti-Corruption Heroine’ Attempts Suicide in China’s Guangxi
Wei Yani was forcibly evicted from her home in 2006 to make way for the U.S.$4.2 billion Longtan Hydropower Station, the second-largest in China, straddling the Hongshui river in Guangxi’s Tian’e county. But local people said they had never received the right amount in compensation, accusing local officials of embezzling their money.
Wei began a complaints procedure to recoup the lost funds that lasted for years, and led to her incarceration in a “re-education through labor” camp on two occasions.
Wei was detained again by police in Beijing at the start of 2014 after she continued to press her complaint with the central government, bringing her back to her hometown and charging her with “defamation,” and “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble.”
Her detention and subsequent trial prompted a campaign by more than 30,000 local people for her release. A verdict has yet to be announced.
Her lawyer, Shang Baojun, said Wei had been in a volatile mood during the April 9 trial, and had already signaled her intent to take her own life.
“According to the announcement that came out of the detention center, Wei tried to commit suicide and was taken to hospital for emergency treatment,” Shang told RFA.
He said that, during the trial: “Wei Yani made this clear to me when she gave me two documents that were to serve as wills.”
“In order to prevent such a tragedy, the judge said that he would report it to his superiors, but I don’t know if they did report it or not,” Shang said.
“Now, this has happened anyway, which is a very regrettable outcome,” he said, but gave no details of Wei’s current state of health, nor how the attempt had been made.
One of the letters given to Shang was written for Wei’s daughter Lan Xianfei, who is currently a migrant worker in Nanning.
However, repeated attempts by the family to contact Lan were unsuccessful, Shang said.
“I think she had lost all interest in living and she couldn’t take it any more,” he said. “They had persecuted her for her long-running rights activism, and she was facing sentencing.”
“She and her ex-husband only had one daughter, who holds a huge amount of prejudice towards her, and basically they don’t have anything to do with one another,” Shang said.
“She didn’t get any support from her relatives here, either, so she was feeling pretty low.”
‘Miscarriage of justice’
Fellow Longtan evictee Yang Shaohui said the case against Wei was a “miscarriage of justice.”
“The local government here is pretty corrupt, and the central government never really got to the bottom of it or dealt with it properly,” said Yang, who was among thousands who signed a petition to call for Wei’s release.
“She is an anti-corruption heroine who exposed a scandal involving more than a billion yuan (U.S.$161 million) on behalf of the evictees of Tian’e county,” he said. “She was framed.”
“The fact that she had already written her will shows that she couldn’t stand the injustice and the loss of her freedom any longer.”
He said the people Wei had fought for had little money, and scant means to pursue an appeal on her behalf.
“We couldn’t save her,” Yang said. “That’s why she was so sick of this society.”
More than 1,000 of Wei’s supporters showed up outside the court buildings in Guangxi’s Hechi city ahead of her trial, only to be blocked by rows of police who confiscated their cell phones and detained anyone who argued.
Attempted suicides are growing increasingly common among disgruntled petitioners, many of whom are forced evictees, and most of whom pursue complaints against local officials for years or even decades with no result.
In June 2014, five people were taken to a Beijing hospital after they drank pesticide in a suicide pact to protest their forced eviction.