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Chinese village leader gets life sentence for assault in Liuzhangzi Township

The Chinese village leader who assaulted local officials and burned down a township government building this January has been given a life sentence, according to his family and lawyer.

Gao Jinghe, the head of a small hamlet some 140 miles northeast of Beijing, was found guilty of trying to kill the leader of his local township by stabbing him in the face and setting him on fire with gasoline. In the same incident on Jan. 15, Gao is also said to have used a pig-slaughtering knife to wound the Chinese Communist Party secretary of Liuzhangzi Township, which sits near the village of Beitai that Gao oversaw until his outburst of violence.

None of the injuries were life threatening, though the township leader reportedly suffered extensive burns. A third person was slightly injured by Gao in the melee.

The verdict against Gao was passed by a court in Hebei Province, which surrounds Beijing, on April 16 but not communicated officially to his family until April 23. Gao’s lawyer said he expected him to serve 12 or 13 years before possibly being released.

Although the details of the attacks were not in dispute, many people interviewed in Beitai by McClatchy later in January were supportive of Gao after his arrest.

He had led an unsuccessful fight to invalidate agreements brokered by his predecessor that granted rights for village timberland to several businessmen. There were widespread complaints in Beitai that the deals were nontransparent, if not completely corrupt. Suspicions of wrongdoings by local officials and their allies, especially on matters of land and money, are common in China.

“The officials are protecting each other, there are financial interests,” said Gao Jinlong, Gao Jinghe’s nephew, in a phone interview on Wednesday.

Allegations of wrongdoing in the real estate transactions were brought up during Gao’s three-and-a half hour trial on April 10 as possible motivation for the bloodshed, said Gao’s Beijing-based lawyer, Hao Hongwei.

“But Gao Jinghe was not very satisfied with the responses from the county and the township,” in giving particulars of the deals, Hao said.

During the trial, Gao said that he’d carried a knife and bottle of gasoline to the township government offices only to scare officials, not to kill anyone, according an account in The Beijing News, a state-controlled publication.

The newspaper noted the court was not swayed by that version of events.

In addition to a life sentence for arson and the attempted murders, Gao was ordered to pay 449,417 yuan, about $71,275, in damages for torching the township building. Hao, the lawyer, said that Gao decided not to appeal the ruling both because he’d run out of money to do so and he did not expect a different decision from higher-level courts.

Asked about Gao’s attitude during the proceedings, Hao explained that, “he didn’t apologize, but he felt regret.”

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