Shenyang hawker's execution stokes debate on urban management officers

Newspapers say vendor's death penalty for double murder justified, but some call for effort to reduce tensions with hawkers

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 September, 2013, 1:22am

The execution last week of a street hawker who stabbed two urban management officers to death caused a huge public uproar over the fairness of the sentence and deepened the longstanding animosity between the street law enforcers and hawkers.

On May 16, 2009, Xia Junfeng was selling roasted sausages and other snacks with his wife in Shenyang in Liaoning province, when the officers - also known as chengguan - seized him, took him to their office, and then beat him. Xia took out a small knife, stabbed two officers to death and injured another.

He was convicted of intentional homicide and sentenced to death in November 2009. His appeal was rejected in April 2011.

Last Wednesday, the Shenyang court announced on its microblog that Xia had been executed after the Supreme People's Court upheld the sentence, sparking grief and anger across the nation.

Many of Xia's supporters expected that given the length of time the top court spent reviewing his case, the sentence would be commuted. But the court defended the judgment, saying Xia's crime was particularly serious and did not deserve a lighter punishment.

In Guangzhou, a group of activists displayed a poster outside the Justice Department that read: "The violent urban management officers deserved to die. Xia Junfeng did not."

Internet users posted critical comments, leading to an editorial in the Chinese edition of the Global Times saying that by "contending with courts for influence" they showed "no sense of boundaries".

It added: "The Xia Junfeng case has fuelled strong public opinion against the civilised law enforcement by the urban management officers … there is no evidence in the case that can support Xia Junfeng's claim of 'legitimate self-defence'.

"The death sentence approved by the Supreme People's Court should be seen as valuable adherence to the spirit of the law," it said.

In the opinion of the Yangtse Evening Post, the public would be well served to view the court's judgment as maximising public interest because "after all the sadness, we'd have to get on with the rule of law anyway".

It also asked whether there were better ways to resolve the persistent dispute between the officers and the hawkers.

"It has to be admitted that there are, without a doubt, troublemakers among hawkers. It's the duty of the officers to manage them … But as we have said and been told many times, the authorities should give more leeway to those who try to make a living by their own means. Be a little bit more lenient on them.

"The issues are multi-layered. But apart from resorting to the judiciary every time someone is hurt, we seem to see too little work done on reining in the officers."

In the most recent reported case involving the two sides, a couple selling watermelons in Chenzhou , Hunan province, were beaten to death by a patrol in July.

The Southern Metropolis Daily said the demonisation of the enforcement officers was unavoidable.

"Such a ridiculed and belittled government organ is needed in a society" in which a psychological desire to go against authority had no other outlet.

It mentioned a recent instance in which officers in Guangzhou invited members of the public to an open day but barred the media. Staff argued that "in the presence of reporters, some members of the general public would get agitated, thus increasing the chance of a conflict".

The Daily suggested to authorities that the media could serve them well in furthering public understanding - a necessary first step towards shaking off its negative image.

The Beijing Times avoided discussion of the rights and wrongs of the case and devoted an entire editorial to how the event was a tragedy for the families involved. It said Xia's children should be protected from growing up in the shadow of their father's brutal death.

"The children are innocent … the affairs of adults should not be allowed to affect them."