Killing of gangster in ‘self-defence’ sparks debate in China after life sentence imposed

Many sympathetic to plight of Yu Huan, who is appealing against his jail term for killing a criminal who was holding him and his mother captive over an unpaid debt

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 March, 2017, 11:03am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 March, 2017, 4:26pm

A heated debate is taking place in China after a man was given leave to appeal against his life sentence for killing a gangster who had held him and his mother captive at a factory over an unpaid debt.

The legal saga is being closely watched by the public who question whether the original sentence was fair, especially given that the police intervened in the incident and left without offering the pair any aid.

The latest legal developments were first reported by the Southern Weekly newspaper on Friday. Yu Huan, the son, and Su Yinxia, the mother, were held captive in the reception room of the factory in Guan county in the eastern province of Shandong by a gang of 11 people on April 14 last year.

Su had borrowed a 1.35 million yuan (US$196,000) loan from loan sharks, but was unable to make the 10 per cent monthly interest rate.

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The head of the gang, Du Zhihao, subjected the pair to a tirade of verbal and physical abuse, according to the report.

At one point, Du took off a shoe and put it over the mother’s mouth, and took down his trousers to expose his genitals, the newspaper reported, citing a witness. When Yu, 23, tried to intervene, Du slapped his face.

A passing factory worker, Yu Xiurong, saw the scene through a window and called the police. Three officers arrived and spent about four minutes in the room but left without taking anyone into custody.

The son grew emotional and grabbed a fruit knife from a nearby table and began stabbing wildly at the group. He injured four, including Du, who then got into his car to seek treatment at a local hospital. He died later from blood loss in the hospital, according to the newspaper.

The son Yu was tried on December 15 last year and found guilty of intentional wounding, with the court handing down a life sentence. But Yu appealed the verdict and the provincial high court agreed on Friday to hear Yu’s argument. The Supreme People’s Procuratorate said the case was a priority and would investigate whether he acted in self-defence.

The case has stirred public debate over whether the police failed to carry out their duty. Faith in law enforcement was badly undermined by another widely watched case that unfolded in Beijing last year. A young father named Lei Yang was beaten to death by five police officers last May and the district prosecutor decided in December they would not charged despite an inquiry concluding they were guilty of wrongdoing.

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The implementation of laws and regulations in China are sometimes selective and offer law enforcers significant leeway to manoeuvre.

You Wei, director of the Justice Research Centre at East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai, told the South China Morning Post that it was up to the judges to decide whether Yu acted in self-defence.

He conceded it was possible that “public opinion” could influence a court’s handling of prominent cases and he was “100 per cent” certain the attention the top prosecutor was now giving the case was the result of the intense interest the saga was receiving online, he said.

Yin Qingli, a lawyer from the Hebei province-based Ten Power Law Firm who is representing Yu in the appeal case, told the state-run news agency Xinhua: “In the upcoming second trial, I will definitely insist on justified self-defence.

“There were so many gangsters confronting Yu and his mother. The gangsters insulted, beat them and constrained their personal freedom. It’s quite possible that the gangsters’ actions could have escalated to more serious ones, thus putting Yu and his mother’s life in danger.”

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Xu Xin, a Beijing-based lawyer, said there was a good chance the court would rule in favour of the son.

“I think Yu’s actions are within a reasonable scope,” he told the Post. Xu said Du’s death was more the result of him seeking treatment on his own and delaying medical attention.

However, You, the Shanghai professor, said he was worried about the loss of judicial independence amid the public uproar.

“What I am most concerned about is whether judges will be affected by public opinion and upper-level authorities.”