BEIJING — The execution of a Chinese villager on Tuesday was taken as a message to the country: Ordinary people can’t take the law into their own hands, and the Communist Party is not going to be swayed by a public outcry.
Jia Jinglong had been busy preparing his wedding in 2013 when China’s merciless development machine mangled his plans.
Just 18 days before the ceremony, a wrecking crew came to demolish the family home where he had planned to hold the ceremony, according to the Associated Press. He was beaten senseless, and his fiancee left him.
Two years later, Jia decided to exact revenge, modifying a nail gun to kill the local party chief he believed was responsible.
On Tuesday, he was executed in the northern city of Shijiazhuang, the official state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.
Jia, who worked on construction sites, had become a popular symbol of the injustice faced by many poor people in China and their powerlessness to resist rapacious development and corrupt local officials.
Because he confessed his crime , many people said he should be spared the death penalty; even state-run news media had urged leniency.
A Chinese court found Jia guilty and ordered him to be put to death, a verdict approved last month by the Supreme People’s Court.
Twelve Chinese legal experts from academia and law firms wrote an impassioned letter asking the court to reconsider, arguing that it had ignored the corruption of local officials and Jia’s confession, and had rushed to judgment without giving his defense proper time to prepare his case.
Corrupt village governance, they argued, often sparks grass-roots grievances and rage.
“The reason that the case received so much attention is because of how deeply felt the yearnings are for property rights and equal protection under the law by China’s vulnerable groups,” they wrote, according to a translation by the China Change website.
The last-ditch appeal for clemency fell on deaf ears, and state news organizations changed their tune this week to back the court’s decision.
The People’s Daily, a Communist Party newspaper, warned that the judiciary should not bow to public pressure, adding that there was nothing wrong with expressing opinions on the case “in private” but that doing so in public was different.
William Nee, a China researcher at Amnesty International in Hong Kong, said the government seemed to have been rethinking the decision to execute Jia a few weeks ago but ultimately decided it could not bow to public pressure expressed over the Internet.
“Clearly, the Chinese authorities are incredibly worried about the potential for citizens to mobilize public opinion in sensitive cases and put pressure on the government to make social change,” he said in an email.
China is the world’s top executioner, experts say, and although the number of executions is thought to be declining, the extent of the death penalty’s use is considered a state secret.
Luna Lin contributed to this report.