Chinese Are Angered at Swift Execution of Street Vendor

September 27, 2013 3:14 pm Last Updated: September 27, 2013 9:58 pm

The judge’s hands trembled as he read Xia Junfeng’s verdict, sentencing him to death for “intentional homicide” on Sept. 25. The street vendor who killed two urban law enforcement officers when they attacked and beat him in a 2009 incident was summarily executed and cremated. He was survived by his wife and twelve-year-old son, and the case has gained widespread sympathy around China.

Xia’s widow Zhang Jing was not informed of the matter until early in the morning on Sept. 25, when she was suddenly summoned for a final meeting with her husband. According to Zhang, during the 30-minute meeting, Xia Junfeng revealed that after he was arrested and taken to the police station in 2009, the transcript of the incident had been drafted by the police in advance, which he was forced to sign to avoid beating. 

The incident happened in May 2009 in Shenyang, capital of Northeast China’s Liaoning Province, when Xia and his wife were confronted by a group of urban enforcement officials, or chengguan, at their allegedly unlicensed meat stand. The chengguan damaged Xia’s equipment and beat him when he resisted. Taken to a local police station, Xia’s beatings continued. According to his lawyers, it was then that Xia, fearful for his life, drew a fruit knife from his pocket and killed two of the officers. Another was wounded and Xia lost a finger in the chaos. 

After Xia’s execution, in an interview by New Tang Dynasty Television, Zhang said that her husband never pled guilty, and he refused to sign his name on the relevant documents. He had told his wife that as long someone in the family was still alive, he or she should appeal his case.

“Even in death, I will not give in,” Xia told his wife. 

Tong Zongjin, a scholar of law, said, “Why is it that Xia’s family was only allowed to meet with his family at 5 in the morning on the day of his execution? According to the Supreme Court’s interpretation, Article 424 of the ‘Criminal Procedure Law of the People’s Republic of China’ requires that three days prior to execution, the people’s court which handles cases at the local level is to inform the local people’s procuratorate to send an official for onsite supervision. And the law which addresses the right of prisoners to meet with relatives is Article 423. Why couldn’t [the family] be informed earlier if informing the procuratorate alone takes three days’ advance time?”

Zhang believes firmly in her husband’s innocence, and expressed her disdain for the court. “I do not believe them anymore,” she told NTD. “None of their actions are trustworthy… Even a fool should be clear on the case, let alone those who majored in law and the Chinese leaders. They’ve sunken below even a minimal standard.”

A statement, signed by prominent lawyers including Li Fangping, Teng Biao and Jiang Tianyong, said the court did not allow witnesses who could have testified that Xia acted in self-defence. 

There is online speculation that Xia, like many other Chinese convicts, may be a victim of organ harvesting.

Flowers in April_86673 commented: “People have doubts because [the legal procedures are] carried out so quickly.”

Pan Caifu, a columnist from Beijing, posted on Sina Weibo: “I once talked to the Red Cross about the issue regarding organ donation. Some law or regulation on organ donation needs to be passed as soon as possible because executed prisoners are the primary source of organ donations. After an executed prisoners organs are harvested, the only thing that can be given to the family members is an urn containing ashes. This technique is increasingly being under international pressure, and it is very inhumane. So, an organ donation system should be promoted and established.”  

Pictures of Xia’s widow collecting his ashes and artwork created by their 13-year-old son were spread widely on social media. A website to mourn Xia was set up by supporters but soon removed, likely by regime censors. Broad support for Xia reflects widespread disdain for the chengguan and general lack of faith in China’s judicial system.

The South China Morning Post reported that activists Xiao Qingshan, Zhang Shengyu and Ma Shengfen displayed a poster outside the Justice Department in the southern province of Guangzhou, that read: “The violent chengguan deserved to die. Xia Junfeng did not.”

Many netizens have criticized the ruling and compared it with the trial of Gu Kailai, wife of disgraced communist party official Bo Xilai. Gu was sentenced to death for murdering a British businessman, but the verdict was commuted. 

“If Gu Kailai can remain alive after poisoning someone to death, then Xia Junfeng shouldn’t be put to death,” said Tong Zongjin, a professor at the Chinese University of Political Science and Law in Beijing, according to a report by the New York Times. “It might be a flimsy dream to insist that everyone be treated equally before the law, but it’s nonetheless unseemly to turn this ideal into a joke.”

Yang Jianli and his US-based activist group Initiatives for China recommended that Xia’s supporters demonstrate on 10am on Oct. 1 – according to Chinese tradition, the deceased are to be commemorated seven days after death. 

The seventh day of Xia’s passing happens to coincide with the 64th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Apple Daily, a Hong Kong-based media, reports that netizens are calling on people all over the country to burn incense and offer prayers on this day – a day on which every year, they hope, “the regime shall shake in fear.” 

With translation by Bill Xu and Frank Fang.