A Chinese Farmer’s Execution Shows the Pitfalls of Rapid Urbanization | Land Portal | Securing Land Rights Through Open Data

By: Owen Guo
Date: November 15th 2016
Source: New York Times

BEIJING — The Chinese authorities said on Tuesday that they had executed a farmer convicted of killing a village official after the demolition of the farmer’s home, despite months of public outcry in sympathy with the farmer.

The execution of Jia Jinglong, 30, took place in Shijiazhuang, the capital of the northern province of Hebei. He was sentenced to death last November. On Tuesday, he was allowed a brief visit with his family, the state news agency Xinhua reported.

While Mr. Jia’s trial had focused on the brutal nature of the crime — he was found guilty of killing the official, He Jianhua, by shooting him in the back of the head with a nail gun — it was the demolition of Mr. Jia’s home that stirred anger among a public that saw it as yet another government snub against the powerless.

Mr. Jia’s three-story home was destroyed in May 2013 to make way for a new property development. According to Chinese news reports, his father had agreed to the demolition in exchange for compensation and a new apartment promised by local officials, but Mr. Jia refused to abide by the agreement. Nevertheless, the home was knocked down.

Shortly after the demolition, Mr. Jia’s planned wedding was canceled by his fiancée. Over the following months, Mr. Jia’s appeals to officials, citing his opposition to the demolition and what he said was insufficient compensation, went nowhere, his family said, and he snapped. On Feb. 19, 2015, he fatally shot Mr. He.

The murder and subsequent trial have been a reminder to many of the consequences of China’s rapid urbanization. The forced demolition of homes has been a leading cause of protests across the country in recent years. Dozens of farmers have set themselves alight in an extreme form of protest against the practice.

In a brief telephone interview before the execution, Mr. Jia’s older sister, Jia Jingyuan, said her brother was “also a victim.”

Forced demolitions have also exposed fault lines in China’s attempts to reform its judicial system, a topic that has gained traction in recent years amid rising social tensions. Chinese farmers, with limited education and at the bottom rung of the social ladder, often find the judicial system broken and discriminatory. Lawyers and scholars have taken notice.

An open letter to China’s Supreme Court, signed by 12 leading Chinese legal scholars and lawyers and posted online on Monday, argued that the court’s sentence glossed over local corruption and Mr. Jia’s contrition for his crime. It called the court’s determination of “basic facts” a “major mistake” and called for Mr. Jia’s life to be spared.

The letter said that the lack of a fair-minded judiciary allowed an “evil administration” to trample on residents’ rights, “creating countless incidents of mass petition and violence against law enforcement.”

Zhang Qianfan, a law professor at Peking University who signed the petition, said in a telephone interview that he was disheartened by the execution. “I think the Supreme Court had already made up its mind, and to reverse its stance is very hard despite the social backlash.”

People’s Daily, a newspaper controlled by the Communist Party, criticized the petition in an opinion piece published the day before the execution. It said that the court must not back down in the face of public anger and dismissed the letter as “biased” and detached from reality.

Despite official attempts to quell public anger over the execution, the outcry might have some impact on China’s death penalty system, William Nee, China researcher at Amnesty International, said in an email.

“The public got a rare peek into the opaque death penalty system,” he said, “and view how hard it is for lawyers to properly defend their clients, gain access to legal documents and evidence, and have their arguments taken into consideration.”

“The intense scrutiny of the court’s decision will most likely force judges to act with greater restraint in the future,” he added.

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Photo source: Miran Rijavec via Flickr/Creative Commons (CC By-NC-ND 2.0). Photo: © Miran Rijavec

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