China Jails Suzhou Eviction Protester for Eight Years

china-forced-eviction-march-2012.jpg A woman reacts after failing to protect her home from demolition in Guangzhou, March 21, 2012.

Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu on Friday handed down an eight-year prison term to a retired People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldier for attacking members of a demolition gang who came to raze his home.

Fan Mugen was found guilty of "intentional wounding" by the Suzhou Intermediate People's Court following his trial in early February.

He was sentenced during a brief hearing on Friday morning local time, his lawyer said.

"Fan Mugen was sentenced to eight years' imprisonment and order to pay civil compensation," one member of Fan's defense team, Wang Yu, told RFA.

"I think this is an illegal verdict," she added.

Fan's case is politically sensitive, as it comes amid growing public anger over the use of violent forced evictions, often with no warning or due process, by local governments to reclaim land for lucrative redevelopment or speculation.

Retired PLA soldier Fan allegedly attacked two members of a demolition gang that came to evict his family from their home on Dec. 3, 2013, and who he said beat up his wife. The two men later died.

In addition to the jail term, the court also fined Fan 500,000 yuan (U.S. $80,000).

Fan's defense attorneys, however, were barred from the court during the sentencing hearing.

"They wouldn't have let us in today, because we had previously staged a protest," one of the defense lawyers, Lu Zhoubin, told RFA on Friday. "But we decided not to try to attend, as a form of protest."

"The family all went in, including Fan Mugen's son, Fan Yonghai," Lu said. "The family has already received the judgment document, which states that he has received an eight-year prison sentence."

Fan's defense lawyers walked out after the first day of his trial on Feb. 4 in protest at the court's refusal to admit a crucial piece of evidence, and its admission of evidence the defense said was questionable.

Legal procedure violations

Fan's trial had been plagued with violations of legal procedure from the start, with the court ignoring the fact that video evidence shown by the prosecution had been heavily edited, lawyers said at the time.

Fan's son rejected the verdict and the sentence, saying Fan was severely provoked.

"Of course, we don't accept it," Fan Yonghai told RFA. "It's not as if we went and invaded [their domain] and tried to kill them."

"They came looking for us, but then wouldn't take responsibility, leaving us to bear the consequences," he said. "It's entirely reasonable to argue that my father was acting to defend [his family]."

Security was tight around the court buildings, as a group of Fan's supporters showed up with a banner protesting Fan's lack of a proper legal defense.

"There are about 70-80 people here, and the police are controlling what they do," Lu said.

He agreed that the court had ignored the wider social context of Fan's actions.

"The local government had been carrying forcible evictions and demolitions and had hired thugs to use violent methods to force homeowners to comply," Lu said.

"The court totally ignored this, and only a garbled account of the day's accidental events was heard at the trial," he said.

"There was no recognition of the harm that had been done to Fan Mugen by this violent, forced eviction."

Lu said the walkout by the four lawyers had deprived Fan of an effective legal defense.

Chinese authorities have previously charged suspects who kill someone with "intentional wounding" rather than homicide in cases where there is strong provocation, such as an attack on a loved one.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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