The Bright Side of a Death Sentence

  • Share
  • Read Later

This from my colleague Jessie Jiang:


Pending final approval from the Chinese Supreme Court, Yang Jia is now officially on death row.  The 28-year-old, who stabbed to death six policemen last summer in apparent revenge for being beaten while in detention for a minor infraction, was sentenced on October 20, when Shanghai high people’s court rejected his appeal against an earlier death penalty handed down in September. Surprisingly though, the prosecution of Yang has met with an unexpected wave of criticism on China’s ever volatile internet, even when there was no question about his guilt or the brutality of the murder itself.

Despite heavy internet censorship on this topic, a google blog search for Yang Jia’s name in Chinese still returns over 56,000 results. Most sympathize with the murderer, who the bloggers believe was physically abused by the police after he was detained over a failure to properly register his bicycle. (The court has failed to confirm that theory.) On October 13 when Yang’s second trial opened in Shanghai, about a dozen of his supporters took to the streets outside of the court, and apparently had prepared T-shirts with Yang’s picture on them. Like much of the raging online reaction, they demanded the right to know the truth and protested against Yang’s restricted access to lawyers, among other alleged judicial improprieties. Even some big name scholars and lawyers joined the call, drafting a petition for amnesty. 

“It’s only too easy for people to picture a jobless guy like Yang Jia getting beaten by the cops,” said Xu Zhiyong, a researcher at the Open Constitution Initiative, an advocacy organization in Beijing. “Because they have either experienced it or have heard so much about it.” Xu attributed China’s long-standing streak of police violence to the excessive power allowed by a “vertical administrative system,” which enables direct appointment from upper officials and therefore often goes uncurbed by the will of the people. “But I have to admit that the situation has gotten much better now,” said Xu. He has just taken over a case in which Du Xuelei, a peasant from Hebei province, was beaten to death by police officers in October. “This used to happen even more often 10 years ago, and almost nobody dared to speak up then.” Xu expected more such police scandals to be exposed as a result of widening freedom in society, a major force that he said has fostered the courage to speak up. “And if you try to look at the bright side of the case,” he said, “it’s pretty clear that the internet can be used as a much more powerful tool as it is today.”