Slain Chinese Watermelon Vendor's Family Gets Government Payout

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A crowd guards the body of watermelon vendor Deng Zhengjia after he was beaten to death on July 17, 2013 in Chenzhou, Hunan.
A crowd guards the body of watermelon vendor Deng Zhengjia after he was beaten to death on July 17, 2013 in Chenzhou, Hunan.

China has announced a compensation award for a watermelon vendor whose death at the hands of urban management officials, or "chengguan,' sparked clashes with police, amid widespread public anger.

Deng Zhengjia "died after a violent clash with urban management officers" and his family has received 897,000 yuan (U.S.$146,000) in compensation, official media quoted officials in the central province of Hunan as saying.

Deng, 56, got into a fight with chengguan—civic order officials who are often slammed for their brutal enforcement tactics—after selling watermelons with his wife near a tourist attraction in Hunan's Chenzhou city.

His niece, who gave only her surname Huang, said Deng's death had caused "popular anger."

"A lot of the people at the scene were saying that they wouldn't sleep that night, and would stay up in vigil for us," Huang said.

"The government didn't come out and deal with this face-to-face, but just sent in hundreds of police officers, robotically," she said in an interview after Deng's death on Friday.

She said dozens of people had been injured in the clashes between police and the angry crowd.

"They just came rushing over and beat us up, whether we were young or old," Huang said.

"All we could do was watch while they snatched away the body. There was nothing we could do about it."

"I got hit by a baton a number of times on my left arm, and it's all swollen up," she added.

Autopsy results

An initial autopsy revealed intracranial injuries and soft tissue contusions on Deng's body, the official news agency Xinhua reported.

It quoted county-level officials as saying that six chengguan officers had been detained Saturday over Deng's death on suspicion of "causing intentional injury."

An official who answered the phone at the Linwu county police department on Monday declined to comment on the case, referring inquiries to the county government propaganda office.

An employee who answered the phone at the Linwu county propaganda department said they were awaiting further test results.

"We are all waiting for the results of the autopsy to come out," the official said. "We aren't dealing with that here, and the police should be able to tell you when they will come out."

"We have no control over that here."

Chengguan system

Guangzhou-based rights lawyer Sui Muqing said Deng's case had attracted the attention of many Chinese lawyers.

"We will be making freedom-of-information requests for the relevant information," Sui said. "If [the Linwu government] refuses to carry out its legal duties, then we will probably see some lawsuits emerging."

Sui said he personally thought the chengguan should be abolished.

"The roots of this tragedy are in the chengguan system itself...which makes it easy for such deaths, and violent incidents, to occur," he said.

"This is a form of so-called law enforcement that, in the interests of effectiveness, tramples on justice and fairness."

In May, Chinese riot police in the southwestern province of Sichuan were forced to withdraw after they were overwhelmed in clashes with a large angry crowd protesting the beating of a street vendor by chengguan.

The chengguan were set up in 1997 to enforce noncriminal administrative regulations, including rules governing the environment, sanitation, traffic, and civic pride.

But rights activists and netizens say the chengguan, who are often demobilized soldiers, are a law unto themselves, often using unnecessary brute force against ordinary citizens.

According to a 2012 report from the New York-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW), chengguan routinely abuse their authority in their attempts to keep city streets in order and lack effective official supervision, training or discipline.

In October 2008, the beating of a university student by chengguan in the central city of Zhengzhou sparked mass protests involving tens of thousands of people. The incident followed similar protests in Sichuan’s Yibing city in November 2007, and in Hunan’s Shaoyang city in May 2008.

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service and by Lin Jing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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