The brother of a farmer sentenced to life in prison in central China for evading highway tolls has turned himself in to police, an official said yesterday, in a case that triggered a massive public outcry over the heavy punishment.
A court in Henan Province sentenced farmer Shi Jianfeng to life imprisonment last month for fraud for avoiding highway tolls that added up to more than 3.68 million yuan (US$560,000). However, the court announced a retrial on Friday after news of the verdict triggered an uproar among Chinese.
On Saturday night, Shi’s younger brother Shi Junfeng went to the public security bureau of Wuliang township in Henan to say his elder brother had taken the blame for him, Xinhua news agency reported. A duty officer surnamed Zhong at the security bureau confirmed that Shi Junfeng had turned himself in but said he did not know the details of the case.
Shi Junfeng said he had offered bribes to officials following his brother’s detention and was promised that he would be released soon, Xinhua reported, citing police head Wang Xucan.
Shi Jianfeng was convicted of mounting fake military license plates on his two trucks to avoid paying tolls more than 2,300 times between May 2008 and January 2009 while he ran a business transporting gravel. Military vehicles don’t have to pay highway tolls. In addition to the life prison sentence, he was fined 2 million yuan
Chinese Internet users argued in online postings and commentaries that shorter sentences were given out for the more serious crimes of rape and murder. The comments also strayed beyond Shi’s case to popular complaints that highway tolls are too high, especially for a farmer.
The public outrage was so loud that the Pingdingshan Municipal Intermediate People’s Court held a news conference on Friday to announce the retrial, with a court official saying the verdict may change because the defendant indicated he had accomplices, Xinhua said.
One legal expert said the severity of the sentence in Shi’s case came from the fact that he faked military items, including uniforms.
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