A high-profile protest by Chinese villagers against alleged corruption of local officials has produced a result: Two former village officials from Wukan, near Hong Kong, have been expelled from the ruling Communist Party and ordered to return stolen funds.
The former party chief of Wukan, Xue Chang, and former head of the village committee, Chen Shunyi, allegedly conducted illegal land deals, embezzled collective properties, accepted bribes and rigged local elections, Chinese state media outlet Xinhua reported.
Xue and Chen were ordered to hand over illegally obtained funds amounting to 189,200 yuan ($29,997) and 86,000 yuan ($13,635) respectively. Six other village officials and 12 township and municipal officials were also punished, Xinhua reported without specifying details. A total of $1.06 million yuan ($159,497) in illegal gains was confiscated.
Wukan, a town of about 12,000 in southern China, gained international attention when thousands of villagers staged a wave of violent protests against alleged illegal land seizures and election-rigging by corrupt local officials. The Wukan protests, lasting over four months, began in September 2011. One villager died in custody, sparking riots.
The officials are accused of selling off misappropriated land rights to business people and developers, which state media said the government is now investigating.
We want the authorities to thoroughly probe the corruption problems as well as the land grabs, Zhuang Honglie, a Wukan villager, told Xinhua.
We hope the land issues can be dealt with in time, another villager and protest organizer, Zhang Jianxing, said. If the probe drags on too long, the village's development will be affected.
Zhang also expressed concerns about the thoroughness and aims of the probe.
I feel that they're avoiding the heavier problems and picking on only the minor ones, he told the BBC. The amount of money these officials are accused [of stealing] is too low, considering that they've been around for decades.
The villagers are waiting to see whether the newly elected village committee will be able to represent our view and challenge the authorities, Zhang added. If not, we will take the petition to the city government again.
One villager, Xue Jianwan, told CNN that most of the other villagers were more concerned about reclaiming their property than seeing the officials punished.
We still want to know whether we can have our land back, she said.