Four officials convicted over death of watermelon vendor in Hunan

Law enforcers accused of beating hawker to death, in a case that sparked public outcry against official corruption, are handed jail sentences of up to 11 years

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 December, 2013, 6:08pm
UPDATED : Friday, 27 December, 2013, 8:37pm

A Chinese court on Friday sentenced four municipal security officers to prison for a clash that left a watermelon seller dead and triggered a public outcry.

The Yongxing County People’s Court said in a notice on its website that the four officers were convicted of intentional injury and sentenced to prison terms ranging from 3.5 to 11 years in prison.

The death of 56-year-old watermelon seller Deng Zhengjia in July in the central province of Hunan was blamed on the local enforcement officers, but the county government said happened spontaneously.

The officials in the county in Hunan were enforcing an urban code and tried to prevent Deng and his wife from selling fruit in a place they were not allowed to.

The four officers received sentences of 3.5, four, six and 11 years, the official news agency Xinhua said on a social media account.

They take a life but don’t pay with a life. ... But this is China, where things are not done according to logic
Sina Weibo commenter

Deng’s death in the fight with the officials became the latest flashpoint of public anger against urban management officers who are notorious for corruption and violence against small businesses and the poor.

While witness accounts in state media indicated Deng was most likely beaten to death, the county government said at the time that Deng had died suddenly, but did not offer a clear cause.

Local media reported at the time that six chengguan were initially detained, and that officers beat Deng to death for operating without a licence, with one smashing the vendor’s head with a metal measuring weight.

The government reportedly took Deng’s corpse by force from family members, prompting complaints of a possible cover-up to avoid responsibility.

A news portal linked to the government of Linwu county, where the incident took place, said Deng suddenly fell to the ground during the confrontation and died.

But netizens of Sina Weibo said the verdict was unfairly lenient and protected government employees.

“They take a life but don’t pay with a life. They are all people, but their lives are not treated the same! But this is China, where things are not done according to logic,” one wrote.

“Too light! If the victim were related to an official, I’m not sure this would be the sentence,” said another.

Many in China have long resented the heavy-handed tactics of the country’s urban management officers, who are known as chengguan. They are hired by bureaus tasked with enforcing non-criminal city codes covering issues such as street vending, noise control, sanitation and parking.

Though they have no legal authority to use force, they are often accused of beating people who commit minor infractions in a show of power that has fuelled social tension, triggered riots and aggravated public discontent against the government.

National leaders have repeatedly pledged this year to crack down on what they acknowledge is widespread corruption and to bolster the rule of law.