3 High-Profile Cases in China Decided on Politics, Not Rule of Law

October 9, 2013 Updated: October 9, 2013

In the last week of September, the execution of a street vendor, the sentencing of a serial rapist and murderer, and the sentencing of a general’s son for taking part in a gang rape commanded the Chinese public’s attention. The three cases are unrelated, but together they show how the Chinese legal system is all about politics, not law.

Xia Junfeng was a street vendor in northeastern China’s Shengyang City. Like many of the street vendors in China’s cities, he operated without a license. On May 16, 2009, just as he and his wife were about to begin to sell sausages from their cart, the local Chengguan, the city law-enforcement agency, confronted him.

He then went with or was taken by Chengguan officers to their office. Inside the office, two Chengguan officers were killed and another one injured by Xia Junfeng’s knife, a tool he used to cut sausages. Xia Junfeng was sentenced to death on Nov. 11, 2009.

His case became a cause célèbre, argued about in regular and social media, and the Chinese people supported Xia against the notoriously brutal and corrupt Chengguan. After four years of appeals and a second trial, the Supreme Court finally affirmed the death sentence, which was carried out on Sept. 25.

Xia Junfeng said he was beaten inside the office, and lawyers and the public argued that he had acted in self-defense, or at most in what is called excessive self-defense, which in Chinese law should receive a reduced sentence, not death. At least six witnesses could testify that Xia had been beaten on the street, but the court refused to let them testify.

Chengguan officers who were present made statements that conflicted with one another or with their own previous statements. The lawyer Teng Biao argued that the charge of “intentional homicide” could not be applied to Xia Junfeng because the killing was not planned. In fact, the circumstances made clear that the killing, the weapon, and the incident had never been planned by Xia Junfeng.

The Regime’s Power

The Chengguan has conflicts with street vendors in every Chinese city every day. Compared to other law enforcement or even military forces, the Chengguan has the most experience in real combat. It is no wonder that when China has had disputes with Japan over the Diaoyu Islands, many Chinese have suggested sending in the Chengguan.

Some people listed eight cases in recent years in which Chengguan had beaten individuals to death—with several happening in public. None of the Chengguan was sentenced to death as a result, and in many cases, the officers involved were never charged with anything.

Netizens and some legal experts compared Xia Junfeng’s case with that of Gu Kailai, the wife of the now-imprisoned former Party heavyweight Bo Xilai. Gu planned the murder, prepared the poison with the help of an assistant, and killed British businessman Neil Heywood, according to the court.

Yet Gu only got a suspended death sentence for what was a typical premeditated murder. Her sentence will very likely be reduced to life in prison, and then, one day, she probably will walk out of prison.

As a street vendor, Xia Junfeng was a nobody, especially when compared to Gu Kailai, who belongs to the CCP elites, even though Bo Xilai has been expelled. Of course, the Chengguan killed by Xia Junfeng were also nobodies, but they represent the political power of the regime. Executing Xia Junfeng sends the signal that the regime should never be challenged at any level.

The Chinese Internet has been full of speculation that Xia Junfeng’s organs were used for transplants, and this is very likely.

The Supreme Court approved his death sentence in April, but the execution was only carried out at the end of September. After such a long wait, Xia’s wife was only informed the morning of the execution that it would take place. The officials were likely waiting for a recipient who matched with Xia, and the court itself could not know when the execution day would be.

Organ harvesting also explains why, after the execution, Xia Junfeng’s wife was only given ashes, not the body.

An Official’s Kidney

If Xia Junfeng’s death sentence was meant to warn people not to challenge the regime, Wang Shujin’s trial and sentence were for different reasons, but the reasons have nothing to do with the rule of law. Two days after Xia Junfeng’s execution, Wang Shujin was sentenced to death by the Hebei Provincial High Court for rape and murder.

Wang Shujin was arrested on Jan. 18, 2005. He admitted that he had raped several women and murdered four of them in Hebei Province. The police dug up human remains at exactly the location Wang pointed out.

However, the case became complicated when the police found out that 10 years earlier, someone else had been convicted of the murder of one of Wang’s victims: A young man named Nie Shubin had already been executed for the crime.

During a second trial in the Handan City Intermediate Court on June 25, 2013, Wang Shujin described in detail how he raped and killed that particular victim. His lawyer also said that Wang’s description fit the crime scene.

The prosecutor, however, insisted during the trial that Wang didn’t commit the crime Nie Shubin had already been convicted of. The prosecutor and the defense attorney seemed to have switched roles, something one doesn’t see every day.

This time, the court adopted the prosecutor’s argument, explaining that Wang’s confession included some key details that didn’t fit the original evidence, even though many details fit well. One example: The victim was strangled to death by a shirt, which was not part of Wang’s confession.

Wang can’t read, and so there is no way he knew the details of the murder by reading about them in the paper. Any details that didn’t fit with what Wang testified must have been the key evidence that convicted Nie Shubin. Moreover, that evidence was very likely planted by police, who were under pressure to solve the case quickly.

Nie Shubin’s case had passed through the hands of many people who worked in the legal system: the police who solved the case, the prosecutor, the courts and the judges, and even the Party officials. Many of them still work in the legal system or the Party, at higher positions. Their reputations, jobs, and interests are still linked to the Nie case.

If Nie Shubin’s case were to be reopened and reinvestigated, many people would have a hard time sleeping well. In China, any official mistake or wrong policy creates a related interest group, and those people will do anything to prevent the mistake from being corrected.

Recent revelations make the situation even more horrible.

A netizen named lrxshq from Inner Mongolia claimed that during the Nie Shubin trial, the Shijiazhuang Intermediate Court found that there were something wrong about the case and suggested a suspended death sentence.

However, at the time, Nie Shubin’s tissue matched that of a high-ranking official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who urgently need a kidney transplant. Netizens looked up the exact times of that official’s two kidney transplants, one in 1995, when Nie was executed, and one in 2002, the boom time of China’s organ transplantation business. During that period, it is believed that tens of thousands Falun Gong practitioners were killed for their organs.

If Nie Shubin’s kidney was used for that official, then higher officials, going all the way to the central leadership in Beijing, were involved in Nie’s mistrial and execution.

A Sacrifice

On Sept. 26, Li Tianyi, the son of the singer and army general Li Shuangjiang, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for gang rape. Compared with the cases of Wang Shujin and Xie Junfeng, this one seems reasonable, even though many think the sentence was too light.

The trial suggested that Chinese judges know the law and know how to try a case. But it would be a big mistake if someone thought that the judges tried the case independently, without instructions and pressure from above.

Li Shangjiang is famous, or notorious, for his role in the CCP’s propaganda. He sang the Communist Party’s songs for 40 years. However, even though he is an army general, he is not inside the circle of families with real power.

Symbolically, Li Shangjiang is not as important as the Chengguan, who represent the regime’s power. To make a show of the rule of law, to calm down the people’s anger over the Xia Junfeng case and many other matters, to protect the regime’s core interests, sometimes the regime has to sacrifice its own. That’s the real meaning of Li Tianyi’s jail sentence.

All three cases were political decisions. Today’s China is a stranger to rule of law.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.