March 18, 2010
CHINESE authorities have defended detaining for six months lead poisoning victims who were seeking medical care, saying the punishment was necessary for ''public education''.
Police in Jiahe, in Hunan province, blocked a bus carrying 53 villagers who were on their way to get health checks last September, according to the Chinese media.
Mistakenly believing the villagers were planning to protest, the police have detained two of them for the six months since on the charge of ''disrupting traffic''. Although it was later proved that they and their children were contaminated by illegal emissions of heavy metals from a smelting factory, the local government was unapologetic.
''We may have blocked the wrong visit, but they should not have been on that road,'' Li Ying, the deputy secretary of the Jiahe county political and legislative committee, told Beijing News.
The chairman of the local People's Congress, Ou Shudong, told the newspaper the police roadblock and detentions were justified. ''The villagers' intentions were unclear. Even if they were going for a medical examination, they should have informed the government.''
The story highlights the feudal control local officials exercise in much of rural China. It also exemplifies the widespread strategy of stifling dissent by making an example of suspected ringleaders.
A Jiahe county report cited by the newspaper said the punishment of a few people ''served the purpose of public education for the majority''.
The journalistic exposure of police tactics came amid a widening wave of heavy metal scandals. Since the first cases last summer, more than 3000 children nationwide have been found to have unsafe levels of lead in their blood, forcing dozens of factories to close.
According to the environment ministry, 12 heavy metal pollution incidents were reported last year, prompting 32 public disturbances.
The factory in Jiahe was operated by Tenda Corporation, a company that had been ejected from wealthier areas.
Guardian News & Media