On Jan. 23, a protest by residents in Chengdu, the capital of the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan was violently dispersed by police.
According to a report by the Chinese-language version The Epoch Times, residents of the Shuangliu District of Chengdu had gathered to protest the continued construction of the sewage plant that was being built around 200 meters away from the Yixin Lake residential compound.
But before the residents could properly and peacefully convey their demands to the city government, a large number of police officers arrived at the protest and began violently breaking it up.
Photos taken of the protest showed dozens of demonstrators being shoved, thrown to the ground, beaten, kicked and dragged away by the police. One photo showed a female protester being pinned to the ground by three large male officers. One of these officers had his knee firmly on her neck. (Related: At least 25 Americans were killed during George Floyd riots – where’s the media outrage?)
Other photos showed a pregnant woman collapsed onto the ground, with her hands clutching the lower part of her abdomen and her face bearing a painful expression.
The director of the local water authority later showed up at the protest site while it was being broken up by the police officers. She claimed that the sewage plant would only be temporary and would be demolished after about a year. She added that a temporary construction project did not require approval from her higher-ups in the Chinese Communist Party.
This did not sway the residents. One of them reportedly asked: “She also once said the project has a budget of 80 million yuan. So, do you believe she is serious that an 80 million yuan project will be removed after just one year in operation?” Eighty million yuan is equivalent to about $12.4 million.
District residents have informed The Epoch Times that the sewage plant is expected to begin operating sometime in February.
One source said that many residents protested against its construction because it was located so close to the residential compound and because there are a lot of schools nearby, including several preschools. Furthermore, they are worried that the plant’s toxic waste byproducts could affect the health of their and other nearby communities.
Authorities have covered up many aspects of the project. It was never announced in any local government planning documents, and when residents found out about a project being developed on the land, local authorities asserted that they were building a sports park. When word got out that this was a lie and the land was instead being used to build a sewage treatment plant, they refused to release an environmental assessment report to provide a full accounting of how this will affect nearby residents.
Several days before the protest that led to multiple people being injured by police officers, the local water authority attempted to placate the residents by saying the sewage plant would be temporary and would be dismantled by February 2022.
This is not the first time the residents of Chengdu have risen up to protest against the city’s deteriorating environment.
Back in May 2008, at least 200 people rose up against Chengdu’s plan to set up an ethylene plant and oil refinery in the city’s northern outskirts. Reports showed that the Chengdu protesters were worried the plant would degrade the city’s water and air quality, and that the demonstrators were orderly and did not carry any banners.
At least six people were arrested during the protest. One person was charged with inciting subversion and five others were detained for organizing or participating in the protest.
Chengdu residents attempted to hold a similar environmental protest in May 2013 around a major public square but were quashed by city authorities. This protest was against the creation of a petrochemical plant 25 miles northwest of the city.
After word of the protest spread, microbloggers on the infamously restrictive Chinese internet said government fliers were spread urging people not to demonstrate.
Drugstores and printing shops close to the planned protest site were ordered to report anybody making certain purchases. Schools were told to remain open on the day to keep students on campus and away from the demonstration site.
When the day of the protest came, several thousand city police officers lined many of the streets leading to the public square. They also formed a solid ring around the square to prevent people from entering. Municipal officials said the city was holding a weekend-long earthquake drill.
“What do they fear?” asked a local resident at the time through a Chinese social media network. “If the government can share more information, the public would be less distrusting.”
Years of neglecting the degrading environment of Chengdu culminated in 2016 when the city became shrouded in a thick layer of smog. Similar to the 2013 incident, protesters attempted to organize a public demonstration in a public square in the heart of the city.
But much like the 2013 planned protest, this gathering was similarly aggressively put down by a large police presence convening in the city center for several days. Police cars were parked in the middle of the square and officers roamed the edges to prevent anybody from entering.
Police even attempted to get nearby stores to warn them if people attempted to buy large quantities of face masks, which the city’s residents wore to prevent them from breathing in the toxic air. Some city residents even reported being stopped and questioned by the police for living in the same area as the planned protest and for wearing masks.
“We won’t put up with this,” wrote one Chengdu resident online at the time of the smog event. “Take to the streets! We are all guilty of producing a world like this. Come on, kids, let’s stay alive!”
Learn more about the struggle of citizens in China against the degradation of water and air quality at Pollution.news.