Police in Zhejiang, China, detain a man after a stabbing attack that left six people dead

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Police in eastern China’s Zhejiang province have detained a man after a knife attack in Pingyang province that killed six people. The killings are said to be related to a long-running dispute with local officials over land.

“On the morning of January 19, 2023…suspect Yang ***xun (male, 42 years old, from Pingyang) committed a knife attack due to a dispute, killing six people,” the official said. Pingyang police in a statement on its official social media account, deliberately omitting part of the suspect’s first name.

“After receiving the emergency report, the police immediately organized troops to deal with the case and arrested the suspect,” it said, adding that the investigation into the murders is ongoing.

According to a local who commented on the story on social media platform WeChat, two of the victims were prominent officials in Yang’s home subdistrict of Hexi.

Another noted that Yang had been treated unfairly by local officials over a land dispute, and had been locked up in a mental institution for making official complaints over their heads through China’s petition system.

Calls to Hexi Canton government offices went unanswered during business hours on Friday.

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The ApolloNet news service reported on January 20 that one of the victims was a local village official.

“He killed the village chief and three relatives in one town and then pursued another [family member] to another city and killed them too,” ApolloNet quoted a local resident in an online comment.

“All I can say is don’t bully honest people by hacking into their homes,” the person commented.

“It was a land dispute,” another resident said in a social media commentary of the same report. “The attacker had just been released.”

The Toutiao news service quoted Yang’s neighbors as saying that two families had fallen out over a piece of land, with one family using “improper means” to obtain possession of the land, in an oblique reference to official corruption.

Yang was sent to a psychiatric hospital, which wouldn’t even release him to attend his father’s funeral, a local resident said.

Toutiao quoted another local as saying that Yang made a “revenge list” while in hospital, warning passers-by to steer clear before launching his attack, which they said had “a clear purpose”.

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“The man planned all these killings and his purpose was very clear,” the report said. “He didn’t kill innocent people indiscriminately — everyone he killed was involved in this dispute.”

China’s army of petitioners

While further details on Yang’s case were not immediately available from official sources, his case has struck a chord with China’s army of petitioners, many of whom have filed complaints against official misconduct – often related to land grabs and forced evictions by local authorities . civil servants — for years, if not decades, to no avail.

In November 2019, authorities in eastern Shandong province imprisoned father and son who tried to resist the forced demolition of their home in Linyi Province in April 2018, which left one person injured and another killed.

While petition-related killings have rocked the country from time to time, petitioners using peaceful means to oppose the government are also facing joint harassment, state-sponsored violencearbitrary detention and incarceration in psychiatric hospitals.

Chongqing petitioner Jiang Linxuan has been petitioning for 10 years after losing his home and land to local government officials.

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He said reports of murders by petitioners show the unbearable pressure people are placed under when they try to challenge the actions of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

“It was too much for him… He would have tried to appeal so many times, but without any solution,” Jiang said. “I never thought I would be petitioning in vain for more than a decade, since 2011.”

Current affairs commentator Zhang Jianping said that if Yang really was a mental patient, as authorities claimed when they imprisoned him for three years, he would have no criminal responsibility for the murders at all.

“From a legal point of view, the government has determined that he was mentally ill, so the law cannot demand that he be responsible for these murders,” he said, adding that psychiatric confinement is often used by local officials to prevent people from petitioning.

“The crucial thing is how the authorities treat Yang and what verdict the court passes, which everyone will have to wait for,” he said.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.