BEIJING (AP) — The popular head of a Chinese village who won a rare open election in 2012 following a standoff with the ruling Communist Party said in a televised statement Tuesday that he accepted kickbacks for government contracts, as thousands of his supporters marched in the streets calling for his release.
Lin Zuluan was arrested early Saturday shortly before he planned to lead protests against land grabs by local developers. His arrest touched off days of demonstrations in Wukan village, where many residents maintain his innocence and say his televised confession was forced.
The fishing village of 13,000 on the South China Sea coast became internationally known in 2011 when its residents openly revolted and won unusual permission from the Communist Party to hold an open election that elevated Lin, a protest leader, to village party secretary the following spring.
Instead of lowering tensions, the televised statement appeared to harden the community's longstanding distrust of the government. Holding Chinese flags and parasols in the sweltering heat, thousands of Lin's supporters marched Tuesday to a local government office with a banner bearing their signatures and fingerprints seeking his release in spite of government notices warning against further protests.
As residents emptied out of Wukan's houses and shops and into its streets, many speculated that Lin made the statement to protect his grandson, who was detained by police the previous day.
"His confession will only make us want to protect his family even more," said a woman who gave only her surname, Zheng, because of concern about repercussions from law enforcement. "When the video was spread around there wasn't a single villager who believed it. Every voice said, 'this can't be possible, I don't believe it,'" she said in a text message.
Hundreds of riot police have been patrolling Wukan's streets since Lin's arrest, apparently to prevent a repeat of the 2011 uprising, when residents expelled local officials and police and barricaded the village in an extraordinary show of defiance.
There were no reports of clashes Tuesday. Videos posted online showed heavily armed riot police standing in rows along village streets looking on as protesters marched by.
While prosecutors have pushed ahead to bring charges against Lin this week, municipal officials administering the village have sought to defuse the situation by pledging to investigate residents' complaints of land seizures.
The government initially allowed foreign media a relative degree of freedom in reporting on the politically sensitive incident. That appeared to end Tuesday, when a local official threatened legal action against several Hong Kong outlets he accused of "inciting, planning and directing" the protests in Wukan.
The word "Wukan" has been heavily censored on Chinese social media in recent days, according to Weiboscope, a tracking tool run by the University of Hong Kong's journalism school.