Cries of Unequal Justice After Jia Jinglong Execution

Two years after his home was forcefully demolished in 2013 to make room for development in North Gaoying Village, Shijiazhuang, Hubei, killed He Jianhua, the village chief who had ordered the demolition. Jia was sentenced to death, and his case stoked heated national conversations about both social inequality and capital punishment. In August, the Supreme People’s Court upheld Jia’s sentencing, and state media reported on Tuesday that after a brief visit with his family, Jia had been executed by lethal injection. The South China Morning Post’s Jun Mai recalls Jia’s story and the public debate that surrounded it:

Jia Jinglong, 30, was found guilty of using a nail gun to shoot dead the man responsible for the demolition of his house. The verdict, by a court in Hebei province, came last November, two years after the house was torn down. An appeal court upheld the original death sentence in May.

[…] Jia’s father, who had signed an agreement on compensation for Jia’s home behind his son’s back, said he only did so after the government threatened not to accept an application for a pension for Jia’s grandmother, according to records from the trial. An official in charge of demolitions for the village had testified that rejecting family pension applications was a way to ensure that home demolitions went smoothly.

[…] Jia’s house was demolished only 18 days before his wedding day, which was also his birthday.

[…] The demolition team included dozens of unidentified men, armed with axes and sticks, who tore down the house. Jia and his cousin were beaten up during the process.

Jia’s sister, who was at the scene on May 7, 2013, said there were uniformed policemen nearby filming the demolition, but that they never stopped the violence. […] [Source]

At The Wall Street, Liyan Qi and Te-Ping Chen report on resounding cries of unequal justice following the execution of Jia Jinglong:

Lawyer Gan Yuanchun took over Mr. Jia’s case last month. At the time, hopes were high that the high court would overturn the sentence. Mr. Gan argued that the penalty, already upheld by one appeals court, was unfairly harsh. The village chief had broken the law with the forceful demolition of private property, he said.

“I really thought [Mr. Jia] had a chance. I wanted to give it one last try,” Mr. Gan said in a phone call Tuesday. “He didn’t deserve to die.”

[…] The disparity between Mr. Jia’s punishment and that of officials caught up in China’s anticorruption campaign has been the source of particular outrage, with many noting that officials convicted of embezzling gargantuan sums haven’t faced the .

[…] “People should be equal in the eyes of the law,” wrote a local prosecutor from Guangxi province on his verified Weibo account. “The amount of corrupt bribes is incredibly huge…Should those criminals not be killed?”

“Corrupt officials are the ones that should be put to death,” wrote another. [Source]

While nationalist tabloid Global Times praised the execution as “a triumph for the rule of law,” veteran journalist Gao Yu said that Jia had been made “a martyr of forced evictions and demolitions.” Coverage from The New York Times Owen Guo explains how China’s rapid urbanization has created the social inequity that allowed Jia’s martyrdom:

The murder and subsequent trial have been a reminder to many of the consequences of China’s rapid . 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.”

[…]  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. and scholars have taken notice. [Source]

Just ahead of the execution, a group of 12 prominent lawyers sent an open letter to the Supreme People’s Court calling for the delay and review of Jia’s sentencing, which holds the authority to overturn every death sentence in China. China Change has translated the appeal:

I. The review of Jia Jinglong’s case did not take into consideration the particular nature of the legal institutions surrounding village assets; it did not consider the impact of traditional customs; it did not consider the phenomenon of corrupt governance of local regimes in village areas — all of which led to serious errors in determining the basic facts of the case. […]

[…] II. The Supreme People’s Court review ruling ignored Jia Jinglong’s forthright confession and guilty plea in evaluating the severity of punishment, violating Chinese criminal legal regulations about the standard for applying the death penalty, and the policy to “kill fewer and kill cautiously.” […]

[…] IV. Our Account and Appeal

On the tenth anniversary of the Supreme People’s Court regaining control over review of death penalty sentences, we wish to give an account of this particular case, call for a stay on the application of the death penalty to Jia Jinglong, and urge that a new ruling be rendered. We hope that judicial organs will respect life, put the people first, place equal weight on the limits of applicability of the death penalty against corrupt officials as against ordinary defendants, and truly follow the principle of “equality before the law.” We recommend that the Supreme People’s Court attach importance to the role of the legal opinions of counsel in the death penalty sentencing review process, listen in-person to the opinions of defending counsel, and reform testimony procedures so that lawyers and prosecutors can all participate, and so that the legal opinions of lawyers can be more fully heard. We call for the Supreme People’s Court to further reform the death penalty sentencing review process to safeguard fairness in the judicial system, and to uphold the fundamental spirit of the . [Source]

The Hong Kong Free Press’ Chantal Yuen reports on the massive online outcry for Jia’s life to be spared. Yuen quotes Amnesty International’s William Nee, who thinks the online advocacy may have in the end backfired:

William Nee, China researcher at Amnesty International told HKFP that Jia’s case had attracted so much attention because it “brought up issues of perceived corruption at the local level, including how local governments collude with developers when carrying out ‘development projects’.”

[…] However, Nee said that the social media attention may have also backfired against Jia.

“There were signals just a few weeks ago that the government may have been rethinking the decision to execute Jia, but it seems that they eventually decided that the pressure on the internet was simply too great,” said Nee, “and for the sake of maintaining the ‘authority of the law’ and not showing weakness, they felt compelled to carry out the execution.”

He said that the case highlighted “how the death penalty in China is frequently applied unjustly or unequally.” [Source]

Some online comments in support of Jia Jinglong were deleted on Weibo. A CDT Chinese survey of reactions to a post by the official Supreme People’s Court account found evidence of coordination by members of the “Internet Water Army,” and also noted that many responses criticizing the high court’s decision remained uncensored.

China has in recent years made a commitment to reduce capital punishment. Read more on the death penalty, China’s lack of a judicial mechanism allowing pardon and further investigation for those sentenced to death to protect against , and on China’s great divide, via CDT.