The execution of a Chinese villager – despite widespread calls to commute his sentence – has drawn criticism from those who say this country’s courts have one way of handling the powerful and a different way of handling the poor.
In early May 2013, Jia Jinglong was preparing for his wedding day.
He wanted to have the ceremony at his family home in Hebei Province, not far from Beijing in northern China.
However, just prior to the big day, his house was knocked down to make way for a new development.
Adding to his woes, his fiancee then called off the wedding and he reportedly lost his job.
Jia Jinglong felt it was all too much. He sought revenge for the upheaval in his life following the destruction of his house without proper compensation.
In February 2015, he took a nail gun and went looking for the village chief, the man he decided was to blame. Then the groom-to-be-no-longer shot and killed the chief, 55-year-old He Jianhua.
For this he was sentenced to death.
Class and injustice
In accordance with the rules governing all death penalty cases, his went to the Supreme Court for ratification. It was cleared to proceed.
There has been a major public campaign to have his death sentence commuted because of extenuating circumstances. Even some newspapers controlled by the Communist Party have been arguing that he should be spared.
But now word has come through from an official social media account run by the Shijiazhuang Intermediate People’s Court: Jia Jinglong has been executed.
Some outside China will be wondering why the general public and Chinese media might have felt the need to campaign for somebody who admitted to murdering his local Communist Party secretary.
Well it all comes down to class and injustice in modern China.
These types of forced demolitions are routine here. It would be hard to argue against the premise that for years this country’s central government has turned a blind eye while property developers, in league with corrupt local officials, have bulldozed people’s houses, using paid thugs to beat up villagers if they try to resist.
It is a way of clearing out pesky residents which continues to this day.
The “compensation” paid is usually nowhere near enough to buy an apartment in the same area, forcing evicted families to move to distant, low-grade housing estates.
How can I say this so confidently? Because I’ve seen it first hand time and again. I’ve seen the houses being destroyed, I’ve seen the crying families and I’ve seen the men sent in to silence them.
Ask pretty much any China correspondent and they will tell you the same thing.
‘Pushed into a corner’
We are constantly approached by desperate people claiming their homes have been effectively stolen and destroyed. The BBC could do a story on one of these cases in a different location every week if we wanted to.
Because this is seen here as such a widespread abuse of power against the lao bai xing (the ordinary punters) there has been a view that – while murder is not to be condoned – Jia Jinglong was pushed into a corner; that the crimes against him should have meant commuting his death sentence to some lesser penalty.
After all, people will tell you, government officials and those in the upper echelons of society are saved from a lethal injection for much less.
These cases are posing a real problem for the Communist Party in terms of perceived legitimacy, especially when its reason for monopoly power is supposed to be delivering a more just world for the downtrodden.
In 2009, a 21-year-old woman working as a pedicurist in a hotel building was on a break, washing some clothes.
Attached to the hotel was a massage and entertainment complex called Dream Fantasy City. Offering food, drink, massages, karaoke and often prostitution, these types of establishments are popular with government officials.
When a local Communist Party figure approached Deng Yujiao asking her to stop washing her clothes and instead provide him with “special services” he fully expected to get his way.
She told him she didn’t do that kind of work there. It’s said he then took a wad of cash from his pocket and started slapping her on the face with it. He then pushed her onto a lounge and got on top of her. To defend herself she stabbed him four times with a small knife. One of the blows struck him in the neck, causing the director of the local township’s business promotions office to bleed to death on the spot.
Deng Yujiao was charged with murder.
Her case drew huge waves of support from Chinese people using the Internet to campaign in her favour. To many, she was seen as a hero. Finally somebody was standing up to these small-town, corrupt and arrogant officials.
The social media posts were censored but the momentum could not be stopped.
Prosecutors dropped the murder charge and granted bail. She faced a lesser charge of “intentional assault” but was never sentenced. This was apparently due to her mental state.
There are considerable parallels in these two cases but certainly not in one respect.
Despite the public outcry there was to be no sparing Jia Jinglong.
His crime was committed in the new era of President Xi Jinping. Justice now appears to be more hardline and the Communist Party remains well and truly in charge of the courts and all that takes place inside them.