China officials jailed over Hunan watermelon-seller death

This picture taken on July 17, 2013 shows people walking on street to protest after a fruit seller Deng Zhengjia died in Linwu county, central China"s Hunan province. Mr Deng's killing sparked protests in Hunan against local security officials

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Four Chinese security officials have been jailed for "intentional injury" in a notorious clash that left a melon seller dead, sparking a public outcry.

Deng Zhengjia, 56, died in Hunan province in July after he was hit over the head with a measuring weight during a row with the officials.

They were enforcing an urban code and trying to prevent him from selling fruit in an unauthorised location.

The four officials were given prison terms ranging from three to 11 years.

Who are the chengguan?

  • Urban law enforcers tasked with enforcing ''non-criminal administrative regulations'' such as traffic, environment and sanitation rules
  • Chengguan operate separately from the police
  • They are employed by the Urban Administrative and Law Enforcement Bureaux of their individual cities
  • Critics call them "violent government thugs"
  • Reports that a disabled street vendor was beaten to death by chengguan in 2011 sparked riots in China's Guizhou province
  • There are thousands of chengguan in at least 656 cities across China, Human Rights Watch says

The officials, also known as chengguan, or Urban Management Law Enforcement force, support the police in tackling low-level offences in cities and have become unpopular with the Chinese public after a series of high-profile violent incidents.

This particular case sparked outrage on China's microblogs and anti-chengguan protests in Linwu county, Chenzhou, where the incident took place.

The local authorities initially said Mr Deng suddenly fell to the ground and died during the confrontation in which officials were trying to prevent him from selling watermelons in a scenic location.

But the Yongxing County People's Court accepted that the officials got involved in a brawl with Mr Deng during which they beat him. It maintained that they did not kill him but that their actions triggered the haemorrhage that did.

Mr Deng's relatives have consistently maintained that he was hit with a measuring weight during the row.

China's microblog users condemned the verdict as too lenient.

"They take a life but don't pay with a life, they are all people but their lives are not treated the same! But this is China, where things are not done according to logic," one user quoted by the AFP news agency wrote.

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