Will Public Outcry Spare Jia Jinglong From Controversial Death Sentence?

Pierre Asia, Human Rights 0 Comments

Legal analysts and experts in China say that the fate of a 30-year-old Chinese man, sentenced to death for his murder of a village chief in a forced demolition dispute, is still up in the air.

This despite a growing public outcry to stay his execution.

Jia Jinglong from Hebei province of northern China was convicted of murder after he resorted to violence and shot his village chief to death with a modified nail gun in early 2015. This was two years after his house was allegedly demolished by force, after he was said to have exhausted all means to appeal his case.

The Supreme Court recently ratified Jia’s death sentence, which is expected to be carried out as early as Monday.

That was when Jia’s family rushed to petition both the Supreme Court in Beijing and the Intermediate Court in the province’s capital city of Shijiazhuang for a reprieve as well as a retrial. Many legal professionals have blamed the court for having turned a deaf ear to evidence in favor of Jia, which may qualify him for a lesser sentence.

So far, neither a reply nor an order to carry out the execution has been finalized, which Jia’s sister took as a good sign.

There’s still hope

Jia Jingyuan told VOA “No, we have heard nothing so far, ” regarding the family’s petition. “There’s still hope,” she said, adding her family will be allowed to meet Jia in person if he is to be executed.

According to her, Jia’s life was torn apart overnight after the wrecking team, led by the village head, flattened the house he had carefully renovated in preparation for his marriage. His finance later left him – a tragedy, which gave Jia a hard time.

For now, Jia appears to have dodged a bullet, but that doesn’t mean he is out of the woods, said legal studies scholar Zhang Yaojie — one of the few legal observers who have been keeping an eye on the case.

“In the short term, it’s unlikely [that Jia will be executed.] But shall his death verdict fail to be reversed, a surprise order can still arrive later to close his case when attention from both the media and the public dwindles. This is the biggest fear,” Zhang said.

Unjust ruling

Last week, many well-renowned law professors, including Liu Hong of East China University of Political Science and Law, He Haibo of Tsinghua University Law School and Zhang Qianfan of Peking University Law School, presented legal opinions online in defense of Jia, who they said shouldn’t have been convicted as a capital murderer.

They argued that evidence showed that Jia had attempted to turn himself in, although he was intercepted and beaten up by relatives of the victim minutes before he made it to the police station. They added that the village head should have also been held accountable for his failure to secure a court order prior to the house demolition which escalated their dispute – some of the reasons experts say why Jia’s death penalty should be off the table.

Professor Zhang of Peking University, in particular, urged the court to “exercise prudence in applying death penalties” while his colleague He Weifang added that China should abolish the capital punishment for good.

Even state media, including China Daily and Global Times, raised concerns over the controversy.

Looming doubts

“We are not in the position to call a halt. Yet we feel strongly that the order must not be carried out,” China Daily in its editorial on Monday. “Not because social media are rife with cries against the ruling, but because the circumstances are anything but normal, and there are some outstanding questions that need to be properly answered,” it added.

Despite the public’s call to spare Jia’s life, Zhang Yaojie said the country’s judicial system serves no one but those in power.

“I’ve studied how the police investigated [the case] and how the prosecutor indicted [Jia], all the way till the court handed down its verdict. The mindset of those [in power] has remained authoritative,” he said.

“That is, [in their eyes,] you [Jia] are someone who had defied the government. You are proved to be a villain after you have killed someone. So, we will see to [your death punishment.] Even if evidence in favor of you has been spelled out, [the court] wouldn’t accept and is determined to execute the death sentence,” he added.

Zhang said he suspected the village chief had colluded with the judicial system in his profit-oriented land grab initiative – an accusation the chief’s daughter flatly denied.

Victim’s side of story

In a posting on an online forum, someone claiming to be the chief’s daughter argued that her father had successfully turned around the village, which suffered 600,000 yuan ($88,545) in debts before he came to power in 2009. And she added that Jia’s father had given his consent to the demolition agreement in 2010 while the village had appropriated two new houses and 31,400 yuan ($4,700) in compensation to the family.

Her arguments have won some support online as some Weibo users said Jia’s act was a premeditated and malicious murder.

But most netizens threw their support behind Jia. “In face of oppression, he was forced to resist the authorities and shouldn’t be put on a death row. Decades ago, his move would have been deemed heroic for getting rid of the evil,” another Weibo user wrote.

Some Weibo users contrast Jia’s plight to that of Gu Kailai, wife to former Politburo member Bo Xilai. Gu’s death sentence for poisoning a British businessman has been suspended and later cut to life in prison.

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