BEIJING - Three people remain in serious condition at a hospital in East China's Jiangxi province after allegedly setting themselves on fire to protest being forcibly evicted from their house last Friday.
Luo Zhifeng, 59, her daughter Zhong Ruqin, 31, and family friend Ye Zhongcheng, 79, set themselves alight on Friday morning after quarreling with a relocation team of 40, including local officials and police of Fenggang town, Yihuang county, Xiaoxiang Morning Herald reported on Sunday.
Doctors said their conditions were likely to remain serious for a month, the report said.
The Yihuang county government issued a statement on Sunday, in which it said the trio had not intended to burn themselves, just to intimidate relocation officers.
"They got burnt by mistake," the statement said. "Ye and Luo got onto the roof and set the roof on fire. As a result of strong wind, the sparks set their clothes alight."
As for Zhong, the government said she was burnt after setting fire to some quilts and clothes, which she threw from a second-floor window.
According to local media reports, the Zhong family, which had lived in the three-storey building for the past 20 years, was among the last to be relocated in the area to make way for a bus terminal.
The project, approved by the local government in 2007, involved the relocation of 21 families, according to the statement from the county government.
The Zhong family was the only one that refused to move, despite the government having offered "unprecedented favorable policies". Instead, they asked for compensation of 3 million yuan ($443,000), which the government regarded as "unreasonable", the statement said.
According to China's current regulation on house demolitions, the government has the right to seize homes and land if they are needed for important public projects. It also stipulates that residents must move out once the government issues a relocation permit, with a maximum period of a year and half allowed for residents to relocate and negotiate compensation.
However, the family presented a different account of the incident. Another daughter, Zhong Rucui, said the three lost control of their emotions after they had engaged in a conflict with the relocation team and became desperate when they saw the team had brought tools with them to force their relocation.
She told the Xiaoxiang Morning Herald that water and electricity to the house had been cut off since May in an effort to force them to move.
"After quarrelling, the three went inside and locked the door," Zhong Rucui recalled. "The police broke in and some of them pulled my hair to stop me from entering."
Zhong Rucui said she saw her mother and Ye set themselves alight on the roof of the house. Officials and the police stood around the building and no one intervened to try to save them, she added.
Following the incident, all cameras and cell phones belonging to the family were confiscated and members of the family were warned not to speak to the media, Zhong Rucui said.
In contrast, the government statement said officials did everything possible to save the injured.
The government said the case remains under investigation.
This is not the first confrontation over a house demolition to turn violent in China.
On April 8, Yang Yi, a resident of Fushun city in Liaoning province, stabbed and killed a local official as he led a demolition team to Yang's house.
Last November, Tang Fuzhen, a 47-year-old woman in Sichuan province, set herself alight over the planned demolition of her husband's garment-processing business. She died 16 days later.
Following the incident, five Peking University professors proposed revising the existing requisition regulation, which they found violated people's right to property and went against the country's Property Law.
In response, the State Council Legislative Affairs Office published a draft amendment to the Regulations on Demolishing Urban Housing in January.
Many expected it to take effect soon afterwards, though legal experts said the new draft regulation would be difficult to implement, because it goes against local governments' interests.
Jiang Ming'an, one of the five professors, attributed the delay to local governments being unwilling to accept the new regulation, which would require that more stringent conditions be met before demolitions are approved.