Wednesday, November 19, 2008
The "urban management" (城管) (UM) authorities have been in the news (and not in a good way) many times over the past several years. UM is a branch of municipal government established to deal in a forceful way with unlicensed peddlers and other blights on the urban landscape - sort of like the Administration of Industry and Commerce with truncheons. The latest outrage is reported by ChinaSMACK here; previous incidents are rounded up by the China Digital Times here.
UM is interesting because of its only quasi-legal status - a status that's especially dicey given the extra desirability of a sound legal basis when you are authorizing people to beat up other people. I'm told that UM operates on an eat-what-you-kill basis, meaning they don't get funding, but can keep what they fine and confiscate.
The shakiness of UM's legal status is further shown by the case of Cui Yingjie (崔英杰), an ex-soldier who killed a UM officer in a dispute. His legal team based their defense among other things on an argument (apparently irrefutable in its factual premises, although not necessarily relevant) that the whole UM system lacked a proper legal basis for its powers: there was no appropriate authorization from the State Council and other problems. After behind-the-scenes negotiations, his lawyers agreed not to press this argument in exchange for a suspended death sentence (such sentences are typically commuted after the two-year suspension period). This would explain the somewhat miraculous outcome in this case: the killer of a quasi-official immediately labeled a "revolutionary martyr" after his death by the municipal Party secretary managed to escape execution.