The villagers said a man who was detained for his alleged role in the September riots had been beaten to death – a claim Chinese authorities deny. They say the man, Xue Jinbo, fell ill in custody and died in hospital.
The protests in Wukan in the southern province of Guangdong were triggered by local anger over a government land requisition and saw hundreds of demonstrators attack a police station and ransack vehicles.
Residents accused authorities of forcibly grabbing their land and not compensating them, but the government insisted the process was lawful.
Land grabs have become a hugely contentious issue in China, where authorities are accused of colluding with developers in lucrative real estate deals that have become an important source of government revenue.
On Monday a local villager whose name AFP has withheld for his protection said the roads around Wukan had been blocked by police, who he said numbered in the thousands, and that the internet had been cut off.
“People can’t come in and we can’t go out … We won’t survive if the situation keeps going, as we have no food,” he told AFP by phone in an account confirmed by another resident.
“We normally have to buy food from outside, but we are blocked, so we can’t buy it,” he said.
Authorities have so far detained five people for their alleged role in the unrest in September, including Xue Jinbo, who died on Sunday.
The government of Shanwei – a larger area that has jurisdiction over Wukan – said Xue “suddenly felt unwell” after three days in detention and was rushed to a local hospital where he later died.
“A man is dead but he wasn’t beaten to death – that is all we can tell you,” a local government official who did not give her name told AFP by telephone.
A statement posted on the government’s website on Sunday said the hospital had determined it was a “sudden cardiac death,” and had “so far ruled out other causes”.
However, one relative of the victim told AFP there were indications he had been beaten.
“I don’t believe that he died yesterday in hospital. He must have died before he was sent to hospital,” said the man, who asked not to be identified.
“His daughter … collapsed when she saw the body and she saw that some finger bones were broken. There were bruises on his back. The skin of his chest was broken. We are convinced that he was beaten to death.”
The Shanwei government said in a separate statement that police had gone to Wukan on Sunday to clear away trees and nail-studded planks laid across roads leading to the village by “criminals”.
One villager told AFP they had put up the blocks to try and stop police from coming and arresting more people.
The government made no mention of police blocking people from coming in or out of the village, and calls to various government and Communist Party departments in the area went unanswered.