The directive, according to people there at the time, came from the mouth of Wei Jiandong. He was a bureaucrat made local potentate by his twin positions as the head of the village committee and the Communist Party secretary of Raolefu.
The crowd didnt take it well. A video from that evening shows people shoving their way and running to the gates of the courtyard, where they blocked the door. About 30 miles from the dead center of downtown Beijing, Raolefu went spiraling into something between protest and revolt.
Election officials had announced earlier that Wei lost the election to a popular local businessman named Song Jianzhong, whod previously served prison time for fraud. The vote count was 1,025-963 in Songs favor. However, no winner could be declared because Songs total didnt exceed half of all votes collected.
There were reportedly 18 invalid votes and one abstention, leaving 51 ballots missing. People in the crowd yelled that they wanted to see the 51 votes, which officials said were filled out incorrectly. If only five of them went against the committee head, Wei would have been kicked out of office.
China has permitted village-level elections since the 1980s, and they usually are closely supervised affairs. At the committee building at Raolefu, there was a red banner hanging with the Communist Party slogan always adhere to the partys basic line, and some 100 local officials and staff were on hand. But after the villagers blocked the doors, they were in control. The guardrails buffering the leadership from the public suddenly made them look penned inside.
A man in the crowd shouted, How much money did Wei Jiandong give you?
Another turned to one of the police officers guarding the officials and asked, Dont you have a guilty conscience? and used an obscenity.
Locals had been filing petitions in recent years at higher-level government offices, alleging that Wei used his positions to broker illegal real estate deals.
As one of their documents put it: During the eight years of Party Secretary Weis time in office, the land in our village was lost. . . . Most farmers in the village become poorer and poorer.
It added: But the entire family of Wei Jiandong is rich and his family members all drive high-class cars.
POLICE CRACK DOWN
The sparks didnt fly for long in Raolefu. Police swarmed into the village the next day. The voting box, and with it any proof of fraud, was taken away.
The Communist Party let matters calm down for a bit and then made its move. About three weeks after the election, police started rounding up Ma Huimei and her co-defendants, including Song, the man whod run against Wei.
The public security bureau held a meeting with the head of the (prosecutors office) and the court to decide the verdict of this case, said Liang Xiaojun, a Beijing rights lawyer who represented one of the accused. Of course, this was carried out under the coordination of the local political and legal committee, a powerful entity thats used to assert the partys will over law enforcement.
A second attorney involved with the case, hired to defend Song, said the conclave wasnt convened to determine the outcome of the trial but how to handle the situation of the Raolefu villagers activism in general. Its a problem of public security, a problem of social stability, said Gao Yuhui, who works for the Kangda Law Firm, a Beijing operation with extensive political ties.