China on Tuesday executed a man who fatally shot a local official with a nail gun in protest over the forced demolition of his home, in spite of a massive public campaign for a reprieve.
Jia Jinglong was executed in his home city of Shijiazhuang in the northern province of Hebei after his death sentence was reviewed and approved by the Supreme People's Court in Beijing, state news agency Xinhua reported.
In a case that became emblematic of widespread anger over social injustice in China, the highest court ruled that Jia's crime was "extremely serious," and merited the death penalty.
Jia had pleaded guilty from the start to shooting his former village chief He Jianhua in the head with a nail gun, and to planning the attack, including his getaway vehicle.
He was convicted of intentional homicide and sentenced to death, and also deprived of his political rights for life on Nov. 24, 2015, by the Shijiazhuang court, and his appeal to the provincial-level court was rejected last May.
Jia's case drew widespread public opposition to the death penalty, including from prominent lawyers.
The Supreme Court's review of Jia Jinglong’s case didn't take into consideration the allegations of illegal and corrupt dealings linked to village land sales and forced demolitions, an appeal letter submitted to the Supreme People's Court on Monday said.
The ruling also "ignored Jia Jinglong’s forthright confession and guilty plea in evaluating the severity of punishment," the letter said.
The review also ran counter to current policies requiring caution when applying the death penalty, it said.
Chinese legal expert Xin Ke said legal factors had little to do with the decision, however.
"The reason for Jia Jinglong's death is simple and has little to do with the law," Xin said. "It's about whether or not forced evictions will continue."
"If they had no plans to continue them, then there would be no need to execute him. He had to die because they do plan to continue with them," he said.
‘Miscarriage of justice’
Veteran journalist Gao Yu said Jia Jinglong had become a martyr to those fighting forced eviction and demolitions, or those seeking legal compensation for the loss of their homes.
"The cries of tens of millions of people wouldn't be enough to prevent the execution order from being implemented," Gao said. "Jia Jinglong has become a martyr of forced evictions and demolitions."
"This is yet another case that is a miscarriage of justice, and the government has blood on its hands," she said.
Former state prosecutor-turned-rights activist Shen Liangqing said Jia's execution was entirely in keeping with the ruling Chinese Communist Party's current "stability maintenance" strategy.
He said local governments rely on local property development to generate income.
"Around 60 percent of local government income across half the country is dependent on forced demolitions and evictions," Shen said.
"That's why Jia had to die. In legal terms, the severity of his crime certainly wasn't any worse than that of Gu Kailai," he said, in a reference to the wife of former Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai, who was handed a suspended death sentence for the murder of British businessmen Neil Heywood.
"These things are decided by the wider political climate, and ever since President Xi Jinping took office, there has been an extremely repressive stability maintenance policy," Shen said.
‘A triumph for rule of law’
The Global Times newspaper, a tabloid linked to Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily, defended the decision to execute Jia in an editorial, calling it "a triumph for rule of law."
It claimed Jia's victim wasn't to blame for his "trouble" and that compensation had already been paid to his father.
But Beijing-based rights lawyer Chen Jiangang said the victim, He Jianhua, was the "jaws and claws" of the ruling party.
"I think they wanted to send the message to anyone who might be thinking of opposing them that they shouldn't, to make them lose courage," Chen said. "It's to keep the population cowed."
"They are basically saying that if any of us have the temerity to kill a member of the ruling class, then this will be their revenge," he said.
Reported by Yang Fan and Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Lee Lai for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.