A notice from Fujian police has triggered controversy after offering a 20,000 yuan (S$4,200) reward for clues about a suspected murderer but offered 50,000 yuan (US$7,772) for anyone who found his body.
Since the notice issued on Tuesday (Oct 12) internet users have been discussing it, with many saying the police seemed to be encouraging people to kill the suspect, who has attracted a rare outpouring of support after details emerged about his dispute with the victims.
Under public pressure, the local government called on the public not to misunderstand, the Chutian Metropolis News reported.
An unnamed official from the government said the police’s notice did not intend to encourage or incite people to do “bad things”, the report said. They will review the situation and announce if there are any changes to the rewards, said the official.
The suspect is Ou Jinzhong, who was alleged to have wielded a knife to kill two of his neighbours and have injured three others on Sunday. All of the victims were from the same family living just metres away from Ou’s home, with one injured person a 10-year-old child, according to the report.
Villagers said the incident happened following a quarrel between Ou, 55, and the family.
In the notice, the police called on villagers to check their home’s surveillance record dating back to the afternoon of Sunday.
The community was also advised to be on the lookout for anything suspicious, like evidence of strangers in their houses, theft of food or clothes or any suspicious sounds.
“20,000 yuan for a living suspect, but 50,000 yuan for the dead one. Isn’t this an incentive for people to do something bad?” one person wrote on Weibo.
“I just can’t figure out why finding a [dead] body is more expensive than finding a living person,” another user echoed.
But some people sided with the police. “Who will kill a person just for 50,000 yuan? There were many police statements in the past which offered more rewards for a body than for a living suspect,” one person said.
Many internet users came to sympathise with Ou after learning that he had appealed to the authorities for help time and again over the course of this year about a housing dispute involving his neighbours and village officials.
In one post he wrote in June, Ou said he obtained the approval of building a new house from the village committee in 2017, but still didn’t manage to start building it due to harassment from local hooligans supported by several village officials.
He said his family, with five members including his 89-year-old mother, has been living in a rundown makeshift house for five years.
Villagers said Ou had conflicts with the victims’ family multiple times before the crime happened mainly because they had obstructed Ou from building his new property, by not allowing him to use a road surrounding their home to transfer construction materials.
Their last fight took place as Ou went to this neighbour’s vegetable farm to pick up an iron sheet roof that had peeled off from his bungalow because of strong winds.
Some also shared posts saying that the suspect was a good person, including an unverified account about Ou jumping into the sea to save a child 30 years ago.
The local disciplinary authority has started an investigation into village officials regarding Ou’s house construction issues, The Beijing News reported.
“It’s not contradictory between exploring the reason for the suspect to commit the crime and punishing him for the crime,” the China Youth Daily said in an editorial. “Understanding the story and motivation behind this incident will not affect the court’s work in making verdicts against him.”
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.