China executes street vendor Xia Junfeng for murder, sparking cries of double-standards in justice

Chinese street vendor Xia Junfeng with his family, prior to his arrest in 2009. Family Photo

BEIJING The execution of a Chinese street vendor on Wednesday sparked an outcry on China's social media sites.

Xia Junfeng, who used to work as a vendor grilling kebabs along the streets in the city of Shenyang, was convicted of murdering two urban management officials in 2009. He was put to death on Wednesday.

Xia claimed he stabbed the two officials in self-defense after they beat him. The court ruled there was no evidence of self-defense and convicted him of murder. A higher court upheld the lower court's ruling.

"Love"
"Love"
Weibo

Xia's wife, Zhang Jing, launched a social media campaign begging the Chinese government for leniency. She posted a picture titled "Love," purportedly drawn by Xia's son. It depicts the son giving his father a bear hug from behind.

His execution quickly became the most discussed topic on Sina Weibo, China's version of Twitter.

His death came just days after Bo Xilai, a former high-ranking Communist Party leader, was sentenced to life in prison for embezzlement, abuse of power, and corruption. Bo's political life unraveled after the murder of Neil Heywood, a British businessman, in 2011. Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, was found guilty of murdering Heywood and is currently serving a suspended death sentence.

Chinese social media users noted the differing treatment of citizens from different walks of life found guilty of the same crime; the well-connected Gu being spared her life, while a lowly street vender was put to death.

"How can you say China is a country ruled by law? Is everybody really equal before the law," asked one anonymous user on the social site.

In a separate incident, another street vendor who sold watermelons was killed after a scuffle with local officials in July in Chenzhou City, in the southern province of Hunan. The vendor's wife said the conflict began when local officials refused to provide an official receipt after the couple paid a fine for selling fruit outside a designated area.

Weibo users also drew comparisons Wednesday to the death of the watermelon vendor.

"Managers killed a farmer selling watermelons, he (the official) only lost his job. Xia Jiafeng killed out of self-defense... he was sentenced to death. What kind of country is this," asked one commentator.

Leaked documents circulating online in China appear to show that government propaganda officials tried to minimize the public backlash in Xia's case. An alleged official order told the media to adhere to the information officially released by the court and not to "hype" coverage of the case.

On its official Weibo account, the Shenyang Intermediate Court said only: "Criminal Xia Junfeng, who is guilty of intentional homicide, was executed on 25 September in Shenyang city, Liaoning province, in accordance with the law."

This story was filed by Seth Doane and Shuai Zhang in the CBS News Beijing bureau

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