Amid a public outcry over a death-row prisoner being executed without bidding farewell to his family, a court in Changsha in Hunan , said that no request was made by the inmate to meet with his family. sparking heated debate over the "hasty execution".
Zeng Chengjie, 55, was convicted in May 2011 of illegally raising 3.4 billion yuan (HK$4.3 billion) in Hunan. The property developer was executed on Friday morning by lethal injection without his family first being notified, local media reported. His wife was also implicated in the case and is serving a 5½-year sentence.
His daughter, Zeng Shan, who had been fighting for his exoneration in Beijing and went on a five-day hunger strike last month in protest, said online that the execution had taken place, and questioned why it took place as it did.
"This morning, my father was executed by lethal injection," Zeng Shan wrote around 10pm on Friday. "I didn't even get to see him one last time! … the government has yet to [formally] inform us."
About 40 minutes later, she wrote: "We rushed to the court and saw the execution notice. Father has really been murdered. My mind and my brother's mind went blank. Why wouldn't they notify us or let us see his body? Why? A court security guard told us we may not be able to get back his cremated remains until Monday."
Her posts went viral online, prompting questions about whether it was legal for the court to not inform family members before executing a convict, and sparking renewed calls to abolish the death penalty in non-violent crimes.
In response to the mounting queries, the Changsha City Intermediate People's Court released a brief statement on Sina's popular microblog service on Saturday afternoon, saying: "There is no clearly written law stipulating that convicts must meet with family members before being executed."
But the statement did little to appease the public. Some internet users called the comment "cold-blooded".
About half an hour later, the post was deleted and replaced with an apology saying that the people managing the social media account were not experts in criminal law, and that they had been reprimanded.
Shortly before 7pm that day, the court issued a third statement about the execution, saying they had verified the convict's identity before his execution, and that he had been told of his right to meet family members, but no such request was made.
Zeng Chengjie started raising the 3.4 billion yuan in 2004 to undertake three construction projects in Jishou , Hunan.
A number of high-profile people, including former Google China chief Li Kaifu and well-known lawyers, posted critical comments online.
"I am Li Kaifu. If I were going to be executed one day, and the judge told me I had the right to see my family, I promise I would definitely ask to meet with my family members," Li said.
"If the court says after my execution that no such request was made, it will be a lie. Please pass on this post and make your own vow in case you one day miss out on a last chance to meet with your family."
Professor Xu Xin, who teaches law at the Beijing Institute of Technology, said the Changsha court "repeatedly lied" to cover up its illegal execution.
Also since the execution, a number of lawyers have called on the court chief, Luo Hengning , to step down after "violently exploiting an inmate's last opportunity to meet with family members".
The controversy even drew criticism by People's Daily, with the party mouthpiece using its Sina microblog to question the execution's legality.