A Chinese environmentalist was allegedly subjected to a vicious five-hour attack after attempting to draw attention to the putrid state of the country's waterways by challenging a local official to swim in a creek near his home.
Chen Yuqian's daughter posted photos online showing injuries to his face after he was beaten
Chen Yuqian, a 60-year-old resident of Pailian village in Zhejiang province, was one of at least three concerned citizens who last week called on Chinese environmental officials to brave the rivers they were supposed to be keeping clean.
A businessman from the same province vowed to pay 200,000 yuan (around £20,000) to his local environmental protection chief if he dared bathe in a rubbish-clogged river near Rui'an City.
Mr Chen, a farmer who has spent the last decade fighting pollution, posted his challenge on the internet, hoping it would trigger government action. Instead, his daughter says he was severely beaten by a gang of baton-wielding men at around 6am last Sunday.
"My father was alone at home," said 32-year-old Chen Xiufang. "Some 40 people turned up in plain clothes, some holding batons. The only thing they said was: "You used the internet, you always use the internet!"
"The whole thing lasted four or five hours until the police arrived. My father got hit in the head by six or seven people, with their fists. He is now feeling dizzy and sleeping all the time," she added, claiming the attack had been orchestrated by local officials. Calls to the mobile phone of the local Communist Party chief went unanswered on Wednesday.
Ms Chen said her father had been campaigning against paper mills that he believed were releasing toxic waste into the river near their home since 2003. His activism began after family members started suffering from mysterious red blisters they suspected were the result of contact with contaminated land and water.
"No one has really ever cared about our lives or our plight. If we can't work and live normally, and drink water safely, then what is the point in us living at all?"
The claims come amid reports that China's environmental protection agency is refusing to publish the findings of a nationwide survey of soil pollution claiming the data constitutes a "state secret". It has been estimated that up to 10 per cent of Chinese farmland is contaminated with toxins such as arsenic, lead, mercury and cadmium.
Dong Zhengwei, the Beijing lawyer trying to obtain the pollution study, said he planned to appeal. "Environmental protection is directly related to each of our lives and we have no time to lose now," he said.