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Tonghua steel worker sentenced to life imprisonment for death of senior manager

The “chief suspect” in the beating to death last year of Chen Guojun, a senior manager at the Tonghua Iron and Steel Works in Jilin, was on 15 April found guilty intentional wounding (故意伤害罪) and sentenced to life in prison by the Tonghua Municipal Intermediate Court.

Ji Yigang, an employee at the Tonghua Iron and Steel No.2 Power Plant, had been arrested on 16 October 2009 and, according to the official Xinhua news agency, confessed to his crime. Ji had a criminal record, Xinhua added. In 1978, he was reportedly sentenced to three years reeducation through labour for theft, and in 1982 was sentenced by a Tonghua court to seven years imprisonment for robbery.

Xinhua reported at the time that five other suspects had also surrendered to the police but Ji has been the only person tried so far. Relatives of the deceased, only three of whom were allowed to attend the trial, were quoted in the Chinese media as saying several other perpetrators were involved in Chen’s death and were still at large. Many questions remained unresolved, they said.

Chen was killed on 24 July 2009 during a protest by thousands of workers at Tonghua that erupted after news spread that the Jianlong Group, China’s largest privately owned steel company which Chen represented, would buy a majority stake in the state-owned enterprise (SOE). Jianlong had taken a minority stake in Tonghua in 2005, laying off several thousand workers in the process, but only sought to increase its stake in Tonghua after the company turned a profit earlier in the year.

The incident sparked a heated debate in China and led to calls for workers to be properly consulted before any future SOE closures or privatizations. However, there is little evidence that anything has changed. Workers at SOEs all over China continue to protest their treatment during enterprise restructuring. In November last year, for example, several hundred laid-off workers at a state-owned fertilizer plant in Suizhou, Hubei, staged a protest claiming they had yet to receive a cent of their promised compensation.