Jia Jinglong, a Heibei man who killed a village chief in 2015 with a modified nail gun, has been executed by Chinese authorities. His death comes despite social media calls and petitions attempting to block the move. The death penalty ruling against him was delivered to his lawyer on October 18.

Jia is from Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei Province in northern China. After his house was demolished in 2013, he killed the local chief, He Jianhua, in February 2015.

Jia Jinglong. Photo: Bowen.

Prior to his execution, many people – including lawyers – took to social media to question whether the ruling handed down to Jia was justified, with calls to spare him.

William Nee, China researcher at Amnesty International told HKFP that Jia’s case had attracted so much attention because it “brought up issues of perceived corruption at the local level, including how local governments collude with developers when carrying out ‘development projects’.”

1,274 signatures were collected in a petition, started by Beijinger Li Wei, against the execution of Jia. Among the reasons for the petition, Li said, was that there may have been errors in the judgement regarding the death penalty ruling. He said a “common sense and humanised” judicial system is necessary, and that the concept of “killing fewer, killing cautiously” is beginning to gain mainstream acknowledgement.

However, Nee said that the social media attention may have also backfired against Jia.

“There were signals just a few weeks ago that the government may have been rethinking the decision to execute Jia, but it seems that they eventually decided that the pressure on the internet was simply too great,” said Nee, “and for the sake of maintaining the ‘authority of the law’ and not showing weakness, they felt compelled to carry out the execution.”

He said that the case highlighted “how the death penalty in China is frequently applied unjustly or unequally.”

Jia Jinglong asked his lawyer to show the poem to friends and those who cared on the day of the execution. Photo: Bowen.

A People’s Daily column on Monday about Jia’s case said that, with the prevalence and speedy development of the internet, “the judicial system absolutely does not need to feel fear or panic due to some temporary pressures of public opinion, and should calmly respond… hitting back at untrue internet discussions.”

Xinhua also published an article justifying the sentence on Tuesday, saying that the Supreme Court’s decision had “strictly followed the law,” saying that Jia’s killing, taking place two years after his house was torn down, was intentional.

While China is the world’s top executioner, the state has also said that it has limited the use of the death penalty in recent years, said Nee, with some scholars agreeing that there has been a significant decline.

“However, it is impossible to verify any of this limited progress, since the Chinese government remains secretive,” he said.

Chantal Yuen

Chantal Yuen is a Hong Kong journalist interested in issues dealing with religion and immigration. She majored in German and minored in Middle Eastern studies at Princeton University.