A local government denied Sunday it ordered villagers to remain silent about the death of a watermelon vendor at the hands of urban management officers and detained those who spoke to reporters.
Huang Shenghong, deputy director of the publicity department of the Linwu county government in Hunan Province, slammed the accusation as "ridiculous" in a phone interview with the Global Times.
"Is this a joke? The villagers will say what they want. How can we stop people from talking?" Huang answered in response to a report by Nandu Daily on Sunday, which said residents from Liantang village were forbidden to talk to media, with some taken away when spotted talking to journalists about the death of Deng Zhengjia.
Deng, a 56-year-old fruit vendor from Liantang village in Linwu county, died after a clash with urban management officers Wednesday morning for selling watermelons on the street without a permit.
The incident sparked national headlines, and two officials were removed from their posts. Hu Bin, director and Party chief of the urban management administration in Linwu county, and Zou Hongwei, the administration's deputy Party chief, are currently under investigation, the county government said in a statement released to the Global Times. Six urban management officers were also detained.
The family of the dead watermelon vendor has received 897,000 yuan ($146,200) in compensation from the local government.
An autopsy conducted on Thursday afternoon in the presence of his relatives, witnesses and local procuratorate officials showed that the body had bruises on the arms and legs and there was an intracranial hemorrhage and a scalp hematoma without fracture of the skull.
Deng was buried Thursday evening in accordance with local customs, according to authorities.
Police in the city have sent samples from Deng's body to an institution in South China's Guangdong Province, which will further examine the remains to determine the cause of death.
"The results will come out in 15 to 20 days and a final autopsy report will be released," said Huang.
Family members of Deng could not be reached for comment on Sunday but Deng's daughter wrote on Sina Weibo on Friday that "the family is satisfied with the compensation the government provided."
The incident was one of the many clashes between China's urban management officers and street vendors.
Another watermelon vendor in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province, was beat up by a group of urban management officials Thursday night.
"The conflict is a reflection of the unbalanced social structure in urban areas," Shi Changkui, a research fellow with the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Sunday, adding that the situation is partially created by China's rapid urbanization.
"While newcomers from rural areas struggle to survive, city residents demand a clean and organized environment," said Shi.