Yang Jia case draws waves of criticism in China’s editorial pages

By David Bandurski — The case against Yang Jia (杨佳), the 28 year-old Beijing man allegedly behind a July 1 stabbing spree in which six Shanghai police officers were killed, might have seemed cut-and-dried two weeks ago. But the case has been clouded with numerous questions in recent days, not least the whereabouts of Yang’s mother, who was reportedly carted away by Shanghai police in Beijing on the day of the attack to “cooperate with the investigation.”

Yet again, the critical question concerns information, transparency and accountability. The public wants answers. What did police do to make Yang so angry? Why can’t Yang be allowed to publicly state the reasons for his actions? What are the police hiding?

Authorities in Shanghai and Beijing want the case handled swiftly and quietly.

A China Daily report shortly after the stabbing spree noted that “the knife attack caused widespread anger in China, although some people expressed sympathy for Yang.” But the top editorial on QQ.com yesterday was begging a very different question. The headline read: “So, There Are Actually So Many Who Support Yang Jia, and Who Hate the Police.”

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[ABOVE: Screenshot of Information Times July 20 coverage of the Yang Jia case.]

In fact, the top eight editorials on QQ.com yesterday were all related to the Yang Jia case.

Coming in at number eight was Chang Ping’s latest editorial. (Readers may wish to note that despite the May controversy that led to Chang’s “removal” as deputy editor at Southern Metropolis Weekly, he is listed here — and he has been for previous editorials this summer — as “deputy editor of Southern Metropolis Weekly.”)

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[ABOVE: Screenshot of top QQ editorials listed for July 22, 2008, 4:19pm HK]

The second-ranking editorial on QQ, by CMP fellow Yan Lieshan (鄢烈山), argued that the only way justice can be ensured in the Yang Jia case — and, more to the point, the only way the public will accept the verdict — is if it is moved to a new court outside Shanghai and Beijing.

The editorial, printed in yesterday’s edition of the Pearl River Evening News (珠江晚报), had drawn more than 25,000 responses from Web users on QQ.com by late afternoon, the vast majority expressing praise for Yan Lieshan’s points.

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[ABOVE: Screenshot of top of Yan Lieshan editorial listing number of posted comments at 4:21pm HK]

The more-or-less full text of Yan Lieshan’s editorial follows:

If the Yang Jia Case is Not Held Openly in Another Location, it Will Be Difficult to Please the Public

According to news reports, the Shanghai Municipal Procuratorate initiated public prosecution on July 17 against Yang Jia, the defendant in the Zhabei District attacks on police. The accusing side holds that the facts clearly show that Yang Jia committed murder with intent, that the evidence is entirely sufficient to show this, and that the death penalty should be sought in light of Yang’s intent. However, the question of how the case should be tried has now been entirely obscured.

Xinhua News Agency reports tell us that the Shanghai Lawyer’s Association said on July 19 that the defendant, Yang Jia, had already hired Mr. Xie Youming (谢有明) and Mr. Xie Pu (谢晋) of the Mingjiang Law Firm (名江律师事务所) to serve as his legal counsel during the trial proceedings. Nevertheless, as had already been reported elsewhere, Xie Youming serves as a legal adviser for the Zhabei District Government, which means he shares a “boss” with the Zhabei police. This throws Xie’s independence and impartiality in the public eye into question. Before this, Yang Jia had in writing entrusted the selection of his legal counsel to his mother. The two lawyers [from Minjiang] had gone to Beijing to see Yang Jia’s mother, and Yang agreed to their representation only after he saw his mother’s own signature on documents presented to him. But according to the Jinghua Times, Yang’s mother, Wang Jing (王静), was taken away by police [in Beijing] the day of the incident [of the attack on police officers in Shanghai], and relatives have been unable to make contact with her since. There is information suggesting that Wang Jing was taken to Shanghai to “cooperate with the investigation.” Many journalists have posed this question to Shanghai police for their confirmation, but they have remained silent. As the whereabouts of Yang’s mother remains a mystery, a lawyer retained by Yang Jia’s father has visited Shanghai from Beijing, and his requests to visit Yang in custody have been denied. A legal scholar writing in The Beijing News on July 17 criticized the situation, saying “suspense over Yang Jia’s legal representation did not bode well for a fair trial.”

Also on July 17, China Youth Daily ran a report called, “Does Damaging the Image of Public Security Organs Constitute Defamation?” The article criticized the detention of Suzhou male Jia Xiaoyin (郏啸寅), who was accused of “slandering police and disrupting social order under Article 246 of the Criminal Law” for an Internet post that said Yang Jia had sought revenge after a beating at the hands of Zhabei police had damaged his genitals. What I find strange is that, even supposing this Jia is guilty, why was he not arrested in cooperation with police in Jiangsu, but captured instead by Shanghai police who crossed jurisdictional boundaries? Can we not assume that upholding social order and fairness is the business of authorities in Jiangsu as well?

We should notice the fact that perhaps all of these reports on Yang Jia talk about him as a youth with a strong respect for laws and principles, who can’t even abide bad habits like tossing garbage or cutting corners. What happened at the police substation that would make this sort of young person so enraged? When media asked at a press conference to have a look at five hours of footage of Yang Jia’s questioning, their request was denied. If there is no open trial, and we have only the accusers saying his person was not violated, how can the public be reassured?

With this sort of public feeling, the Yang Jia murder case should be heard openly someplace other than Shanghai or Beijing, and this should be the case whether or not Yang Jia’s parents have, as news reports say, already made this request. Yang Jia’s abnormal behavior is a measure of abnormality in our own society. An expedient death for Yang Jia not only cannot “put the people’s anger to rest,” but will actually “stir the people’s doubts,” causing further damage to the Shanghai police and the law enforcement community generally. As the Olympic Games near, a quick death for Yang Jia in order to rouse the morale of the Shanghai police is a naive idea shared by only a few. It does not accord with the procedural fairness and extreme wariness about the death penalty that marks the age of rule of law. Acting with brutality will have exactly the opposite result. With the South China Tiger affair not far behind us, we must approach the credibility of law enforcement organs with great care.

A selection of Web postings for Yan Lieshan’s editorial on QQ.com follows:

[From 123.120.7]
Oh, brave Web editor, it’s probably pointless for you to raise these issues here. Only if you could say these things through People’s Daily, or draw the attention of CCTV’s “News Probe,” would they be of any use. Also, can’t Yang Jia’s appeal documents and e-mails be made public! They’re not state secrets, right? They should take care not to be too “Zhou Zhenglong” [of the South China Tiger controversy].

[From Xiamen]
Between Yang Gui and the Shanghai police, who was it that first got a rise out of the other? Who was guilty first? If what the lawyer says is true, that Yang Gui is of sound mind and has a strong sense of the law, then why did he defy death to go after the Shanghai police? If the Shanghai police hadn’t violated him, would he have gone after them like that? Why won’t the Shanghai police let Yang Gui come out himself and explain his reasons for commiting this crime? Where is Yang Gui’s mother?

[From 19.143.95.*]
Oh, well said! We strongly demand that the trial proceedings be held elsewhere!

[From Zhuhai]
I agree with the viewpoints expressed in this article.

[From Chaohu City]
Everyone around me disagrees with the way the Shanghai police have handled things!

[From Chengdu]
We invite foreign media to come and report on the case!

[From Beijing]
This article makes a really valid point.

[From Dongying City]
So I suppose you don’t think he should be sentenced to death?

[From Beijing]
The trial process is more important than the outcome.

[From Chongqing]
Right now I don’t care whether Little Yang dies or not. I just want to know the truth. Is it really that hard to find out the truth?

[From Nanning City]
I hope the trial can be fair, impartial and open, upholding the defendant’s legal rights.

[From Shenyang]
If the case against Yang Jia is so ironclad then why don’t they dare be open about it????????????????????

[From Kunming]
The trial should be held in Chongqing!

[From Shangqiu City]
It’s plain to see that there are ghosts infecting the hearts of the Shanghai police!

[From 117.80.115*]
The trial should be broadcast live on television. And Yang’s mother should be there.

[From Jiangsu]
I’m fully in support of trying the case outside of Shanghai.

[From Nanchang]
Have they still not found Yang Jia’s mother?

MORE SOURCES:

Accused Police Killer Appoints Lawyers,” Shanghai Daily, July 20, 2008
Now Stab Man’s Mum is Missing,” Shanghai Daily, July 19, 2008
Man Charged with Murder of Six Shanghai Police: Officials,” AFP, July 17, 2008
Cop Killer in Shanghai May Be ‘Mentally Unstable’,” China Daily, July 16, 2008
In Cold Blood,” Danwei.org, July 3, 2008

[Posted by David Bandurski, July 23, 2008, 12:30pm HK]

4 Comments to “Yang Jia case draws waves of criticism in China’s editorial pages”

  1. David says:

    Doug:

    Thanks for your comments.

    I think Tang Buxi has sufficiently answered your question about the police transcript. Do make sure to read Blog for China’s very good post on the Yang Jia case way back on July 9.

    CMP cannot, of course, speak for the writer of any editorial (fellow or no) as to why they choose not to “make a definitive statement based on the facts.” But I’m puzzled by the suggestion Yan Lieshan’s editorial should somehow be duty bound to do so. Isn’t it sufficient for him to lay out the substantial number of facts in question (such as the whereabouts of Yang’s mother) and call into question the decision to hear the case in Shanghai?

    He does, in my view, make a clear statement of opinion: “With this sort of public feeling, the Yang Jia murder case should be heard openly someplace other than Shanghai or Beijing, and this should be the case whether or not Yang Jia’s parents have, as news reports say, already made this request.”

    I confess I don’t follow your point about how Yan’s editorial is merely “conceptual.” Why should it be Yan’s responsibility to help you “make up your mind” about whether Yang is guilty? His point — apparently lost in my translation (in which case, I apologize) — is that there are sufficient public doubts about the fairness of proceedings to merit a change of venue.

    Best,
    David

  2. Tang Buxi says:

    @DBC,

    Part of the transcript with Yang Jia was released, but not enough to give us a full picture.

    http://blog.foolsmountain.com/2008/07/09/chinese-police-new-self-defense/

    I think the room given for the media to criticize this case so fully bodes well. I don’t know if China has precedent for changing locales for a trial, but that does seem very reasonable in this context. It’d be great precedent for dealing with future corruption limited to the local level…

  3. DBC says:

    What I didn’t find in your piece is reference to the transcript of the police interaction with Yang, which was supposedly made public. That was one bit of transparency, if true, though I don’t know if it was or not.

    Also, why doesn’t the editorial make a definitive statement based on the facts that are known? It seems that the editorial is conceptual, in that it doesn’t allow me any information that would allow me to make up my mind about whether Yang did anything wrong. Is that because these records are really not made public?

  4. jen says:

    There’s also been criticism of Yang’s lawyer; 新京报’s editorial yesterday (http://www.thebeijingnews.com/comment/zonghe/1044/2008/07-22/011@080524.htm) says he should have dropped the case out of a conflict of interest since he basically works for the same department as the 公安 employees who were killed.

    Said lawyer – Xie Youming – has said that Yang is mentally stable, ruling out the mentally insane defense, and has said that Yang will probably get the death penalty. It seems like the Shanghai authorities didn’t realize how much criticism a quick, closed trial would elicit.

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