China to execute street vendor who reportedly killed officials in self-defence

BEIJING (AFP) - China will execute a street food vendor who stabbed two urban security officials following a street dispute, a court said on Wednesday, provoking outrage online.

China's Supreme Court upheld a death sentence against Xia Junfeng, who murdered two "city management" officials after a dispute over his streetside stall in 2011, the Shenyang Intermediate People's court in northeast China said in a verified social media account.

The execution would be carried out on Wednesday, the Shenyang court added.

Xia had appealed his sentence on the grounds he killed the two officers in self-defence when they savagely attacked him and others in the city of Shenyang as he sold food, reportedly barbecued meat, on the street.

Xia's case drew widespread sympathy amid regular reports of abuses by China's quasi-police city management officials.

The officials, known as chengguan, "have earned a reputation for brutality and impunity... They are now synonymous for many Chinese citizens with physical violence, illegal detention, and theft," a spokesman for advocacy group Human Rights Watch said last year.

Hundreds of people rioted in southwest China in 2011 after chengguan reportedly beat a disabled street vendor to death, while the alleged murder of a street vendor in southern China in July provoked a nationwide outcry.

Xia's death sentence was the most discussed topic on Sina Weibo, a Chinese equivalent of Twitter, on Wednesday, where many expressed sympathy for him and called the verdict unjust.

"This was a normal act of self-defence, how can you give the death penalty?" commentator Wei Zhuang wrote.

"This is a father who killed to retain his dignity... at the time (of the murders) shouldn't it be the street, the city and the country who feel guilty?" author Li Chengpeng wrote.

One of Xia's lawyers, Chen Youxi, wrote on Sina Weibo that the court invited Xia's wife to meet her husband ahead of the execution.

"After two and a half years of struggle, we are finally powerless," he added.

China has halved its number of executions since 2007, when its high court began reviewing death row cases, but still puts around 4,000 people to death every year, US campaign group the Dui Hua Foundation estimates.

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