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He talked. Now he can't walk.

Complaining about the government in China can still be dangerous.

By KRIS HUNDLEY
Published June 25, 2006


[Times photo: Bob Croslin]
Fu Xiancai was attacked on June 8, and may never walk again. He had recently talked to a German television station. This photo is from before the attack.
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Fu Xiancai, once a subsistence farmer who was forced off his land by China's Three Gorges Dam project, has violated the cardinal rule in this Communist country.

He has refused to shut up.

Now Fu, 47, lies in a hospital bed in Yichang, the city closest to the massive dam. He is likely paralyzed for life. Fu's neck was broken during an attack by an unknown assailant on June 8 shortly after he left the local police station in his village of Zigui.

Fu, who has three years of formal education and can read but not write, had been called in for questioning after being interviewed in May by German public television for a special on the grand opening of the Three Gorges dam.

During the interview, Fu repeated the same complaint he has been making for the past decade: That he and hundreds of thousands of peasants forced off their land by the dam never received the compensation they were promised.

Fu also told the German reporter that he had been continually threatened and beaten for trying to bring the injustice to light.

St. Petersburg Times photographer Bob

Croslin and I interviewed Fu about a year ago during a month-long visit to China. I was preparing a number of stories on the stunning rise of capitalism and increasing wealth in China. But I wanted to acknowledge that the burst of economic freedom was occurring within the confines of an unyielding authoritarian regime. To read those stories, go to www.sptimes.com/china.

Chinese who were riding the nation's boom said the key to success was to avoid politics and concentrate on business. "Here all everybody is talking about is how to make money,'' said Rick Cui, a U.S.-educated computer scientist in Shenzhen.

But Fu, who stood barely 5-feet tall and was so slight his belt nearly encircled his waist twice, never hesitated to speak out against corrupt local officials whom he said embezzled funds intended for peasants. He made more than 28 trips to provincial authorities and six trips to Beijing with petitions signed by thousands of peasants. He also spoke to foreign journalists as often as possible, even though the reporters were often detained by police after such interviews (as we were for six hours) and such incidents only raised the level of harassment against Fu.

In the past year, an anonymous caller told Fu his son would be killed if he didn't come up with a large sum of money; intruders burst into his home and beat him with wooden poles, breaking his leg; thugs using police batons put a gash in his head and someone placed funeral wreaths outside Fu's home.

The attack which paralyzed Fu has elicited a flurry of international support for his cause. Human Rights in China and Reporters Without Borders both demanded an investigation and punishment for those responsible. Human Rights Watch has created a fund to accept donations to help pay for Fu's medical expenses. And the director of German television station NDR, Jobst Plog, sent a letter to China's ambassador to Germany, suggesting that the incident might impact Germany's coverage of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

"It is beyond doubt that the assault was an act of revenge to punish Fu for his comments on the German television program,'' Plog wrote.

A team from the Germany embassy in Beijing also visited Fu briefly at the hospital in Yichang, where he is under police surveillance. In a phone interview with a foreign reporter a week after the attack, Fu said his legs and arms had no feeling. But he was not silenced.

"I will continue to sue (the local government), and fight with the corrupt officials as long as I am alive,'' he said.

Information from wire stories was used in this report. Kris Hundley can be reached at hundley@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2996.

[Last modified June 25, 2006, 05:36:13]


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