China officials held over watermelon-seller death

Local residents demonstrate with a banner saying "urban enforcers (chengguan) killed people" in Linwu county, central China's Hunan province, 17 July 2013 Local residents demonstrated with a banner saying 'urban enforcers kill people'

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Six urban security personnel have been detained by police investigating the death of a fruit seller in southern China, state media say.

Deng Zhengjia, in his 50s, died on Wednesday in Chenzhou City, Hunan.

He was hit with a weight from a set of scales after a row erupted with the officials, known as "chengguan", Xinhua reported, citing Mr Deng's niece.

The six are being held on suspicion of intentionally harming others, added the news agency.

Who are the chengguan?

  • Urban law enforcers tasked with enforcing ''non-criminal administrative regulations'' such as traffic, environment and sanitation rules
  • Chengguan operate separately from the police
  • They are employed by the Urban Administrative and Law Enforcement Bureaux of their individual cities
  • Critics call them "violent government thugs"
  • Reports that a disabled street vendor was beaten to death by chengguan in 2011 sparked riots in China's Guizhou province
  • There are thousands of chengguan in at least 656 cities across China, Human Rights Watch says

The chengguan, or Urban Management Law Enforcement force, support the police in tackling low-level crime in cities and have become unpopular with the Chinese public after a series of high-profile violent incidents.

"They are now synonymous for many Chinese citizens with physical violence, illegal detention and theft," said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a report last year.

The row in Linwu county, Chenzhou, erupted after Mr Deng, 56, and his wife tried to sell home-grown watermelons at a scenic riverside spot without a licence, the county government said in a statement.

Having asked the couple to leave, "the enforcers temporarily confiscated four of the watermelons, requesting that the couple sell their melons in an authorised location instead".

The couple began "insulting" the officers when they encountered them again 50 minutes later, the statement said.

"The enforcers tried to reason with the couple, the dispute between the two sides became a physical conflict, and in the process Deng Zhengjia suddenly collapsed and died," it added.

There were anti-chengguan protests in Linwu on Wednesday, and the fruit seller's death has also sparked outrage on China's microblogs.

In July 2011, the death of a disabled street vendor who was reportedly beaten by local law enforcers sparked a riot in Guizhou province.

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