And she may never see him again.
That’s because Zhang’s husband, Xia Junfeng, a former street vendor in the northeastern city of Shenyang, was sentenced to death in 2011 for stabbing to death two chengguan, who are much-maligned city management inspectors responsible for enforcing law and order.
The sentence is now under final review by the Supreme People’s Court in Beijing. If approved, Xia will not be able to appeal and will be executed.
Zhang, 37, still adamantly believes that her husband is innocent.
“They charged him with intentional homicide. But how could my husband have ‘intentionally’ killed someone if they first beat him up?” Zhang questioned. “He was only defending himself. If he’d known what would happen, would he still have done it? Of course he wouldn’t have. Even if he escaped the death penalty, he’d lose freedom for the rest of his life behind bars. Isn’t that a very painful thing?”
“Also, why didn’t they call defense witnesses to testify in court? Why only call upon the chengguans‘ witnesses? I feel it was very unfair,” she said.
Cases like Xia’s, where there’s a chance that the accused could be innocent, are the focus of the anti-death penalty efforts in China. “Even those who strongly support the death penalty don’t support condemning an innocent person to death,” said Teng Biao, a human rights activist and founder of the non-profit Beijing-based China Against Death Penalty. Teng also served as the defense lawyer for Xia in his appeal.
A report released last month by the human rights group Amnesty International said that, as in previous years, China executed more people last year than the rest of the world combined. While the official number is unknown — executions are considered state secrets in China — most estimates place the number at around 3,000. By contrast, 42 people were executed in the United States last year.
Opposition to the death penalty exists in China but faces many obstacles, including pro-execution government propaganda, class and income inequalities, and the lack of an independent judiciary. Another issue, alas, is popular indifference. But while anti-death penalty activists say public education is needed to get the message out, they believe change ultimately needs to come from the top — something that they’re not optimistic about at all.