Tong Yihong's home was the last one standing in his village after neighbors in the area, slated for development, took the compensation package and relocated. As lot after lot of the surrounding land was leveled, the Tongs built a barbed wire fence around their property and waited for a better offer.
On November 18, 2010, a group showed up with a bulldozer and moved within throwing range of Tong's building. Police say that bricks Tong was throwing down from his roof put someone in the hospital; Tong says the group tore through his fence and began to roll in, that no one was injured and that, acting in self defense, he was only aiming for the bulldozer.
After local police took a statement from a skeptical Tong on November 19, telling him he faced charges of public disorder, he flew the next day to Beijing to ‘turn himself in’ and try pleading his case there. By November 21, Tong was in Hongshan police custody and on a train back to Wuhan, where he faced new charges of inflicting grievous bodily harm.
Last Wednesday, Tong was found guilty of the charge in a closed trial at an intermediate people's court in Hongshan district. According to media reports over the weekend which quote the official verdict, Tong was sentenced to four years in prison and ordered to pay RMB 190,000 in compensation to the alleged victim, surnamed Luo.
Sheng provides further background to the case:
Tong's attempt to turn himself in outside of the jurisdiction of the arresting police, in the hope of ensuring due process, received sustained media and public interest at the time. The fate of Tong's property, however, remains unclear. Tong has reportedly already filed an appeal.
The verdict comes at the same time that China's State Council makes yet another call for an end to the practice of forced demolition of housing and land expropriation and, Sheng notes, putting the charges against Tong aside for a moment, the court took neither this nor public opinion which see Tong's actions as self defense into consideration, in a decision which he suspects might indirectly encourage developers to continue such behavior:
The court's main reason for finding the self defense claim inadmissible seems to be that “the construction machinery did not come in contact with Tong's house”. However, if Tong had waited until the machinery came in contact with his house, wouldn't it have then been too late? According to Article 20 of the Criminal Law of The People's Republic of China, “Where a person conducts an act to stop an unlawful infringement in order to avert an immediate and unlawful infringement of the state's interest or of the public interest or of his own or another person's rights of the person, or property rights, or other rights, resulting in harm to the unlawful infringer, such an act shall be justifiable defence, and criminal responsibility shall not be borne for such an act.” Obviously, Tong Yihong was throwing down bricks in an attempt to avert an act of unlawful infringement, unlawful infringement which began the minute that group of workers started the crusher machine and ripped a hole in the barbed wire fence.
Recently, a succession of self-immolation and other horrible incidents have taken place as a result of forced demolitions. In response to this, the State Council issued a notice on the 13th, announcing its decision to immediately launch an investigation into the legality of land expropriations and housing demolitions being carried out across the country, as well as to strengthen supervision and crack down on illegal demolition projects in an attempt to ensure people's legal interests are being uphold. The court's ruling against Tong Yihong, however, clearly encourages illegal demolitions.
Of course, the State Council notice has no legally binding power over courts, and judges in any event should measure facts against the letter of the law. If confidence is to be had in this case, the court should at least give a direct response to the three facts put forth by the defense lawyer.