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Shifang students prevent copper plant construction, China, 2012
On 29 June 2012, the Shifang government in China’s Sichuan province announced the construction of a molybdenum-copper alloy factory. High school students in the area who were concerned about the factory’s environmental impacts sent the government a petition calling for it to cancel the construction. Reports estimated that the factory would pollute a radius of 60 km, encompassing Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province. The students also distributed pamphlets and posters over the entire city to raise awareness and rally the residents to take action against the refinery’s construction. High schools threatened to expel the student activists if they continued their protests. Later that day, thousands gathered in the Shifang public square and in front of government buildings in protest.
On July 2, hundreds of protesters began a sit-in at the gate of the Shifang Municipal Government Compound and signed their names on a banner. The government sent in riot police who used tear gas, stun grenades, and batons on the demonstrators. They also shot at the protestors. At least 13 were injured, although the government denied any casualties.
Many protestors and witnesses posted personal accounts, videos, and pictures on Weibo, a Chinese social networking site. One user said that the government had bribed people living near the plant with 20,000 yuan (equivalent to US $3,148) in hush money. Another Weibo user posted about a restaurant owner who had refused to serve a police officer in protest against the police violence.
On July 3, police attacked protestors again with tear gas and grenades. They also arrested 28 people, a number of them students. That evening, tens of thousands of people gathered in front of the gate to the government compound, demanding the release of students that police were holding against the students’ will. The demonstrators, many of them parents of the detained students, chanted “Release the people!” Students from nearby Guanghan also joined the protests.
By the end of the night, the government had given in to the protesters’ demands and announced that they would terminate the project. The police released 21 detainees later that night. However, they formally arrested three people on criminal charges and another three on administrative charges.
In response to these widespread protests, the Shifang government demoted the former party chief of the Shifang City Committee, Li Chengjin, to assistant of the new first secretary Zuo Zheng.