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Jilin court to mull appeal in illegal toll bridge case

By Cui Jia | China Daily | Updated: 2023-07-10 07:14

A court in Jilin province is reviewing an appeal by a villager who was sentenced to two years in prison with a two-year reprieve for building an unauthorized floating toll bridge to give residents easier access to a nearby city.

The court issued its statement on Saturday after the case sparked controversy on social media for the severity of the sentence, and led to questions as to why the local government had not built a bridge that was clearly needed.

In 2014, Huang Deyi and his family made a floating bridge out of 13 boats on the Tao'er River in Zhenlin village, Taonan city, investing about 130,000 yuan ($18,000) in construction.

It allowed local residents to significantly cut travel time between the village and Baicheng, a popular city that has jurisdiction over Taonan. The only other option was to take a detour of dozens of kilometers.

To cover the costs of construction and maintenance, Huang and his family decided to charge tolls ranging from 1 to 10 yuan, depending on the sizes of the vehicles crossing and the number of passengers.

Because the construction was unauthorized, the local water resources department first asked Huang to dismantle the bridge in 2015, according to Liu Hongbo, head of the Taonan Water Conservancy Bureau.

"We asked because the bridge was unauthorized and posed a safety hazard. Huang was fined because he failed to comply within the time given, and even when he did dismantle the bridge to comply, he would rebuild it again, so we had no choice but to keep imposing fines," Liu said on Friday.

In October 2018, the water resources department once again ordered the dismantling of the bridge, and the following February, Huang and several family members were detained for causing trouble.

In December 2019, Huang was sentenced to two years in prison for causing trouble with a two-year reprieve by the Taonan People's Court, while 17 of his family members received prison terms and probation. In its verdict, the court stated that the rulings were in response to the family forcing people to pay to use the bridge and for making a profit of 52,950 yuan.

Posting on social media on Saturday, Huang that they had decided to charge a toll to cover the cost of building the bridge.

"People can choose not to pay and still use it. It's up to them. We just want to make life easier," he said.

Huang added that the river's current can be strong and that villagers have drowned in the past while attempting to take a shortcut, so he felt that having a bridge would prevent further tragedies.

In March, Huang's appeal was rejected by the Taonan court. On Saturday, the Baicheng Intermediate People's Court said in a statement that it received his appeal on June 26 and decided to review the case on June 29.

Luo Xiang, director of the Institute of Criminal Law of the China University of Political Science and Law, posted on social media on Saturday that Huang had broken the law by constructing the bridge without permission, and that the maximum punishment applicable was administrative penalty.

"There is no crime involved if people are willing to pay the toll," Luo said. "According to media reports, one villager even returned the money the court had reimbursed him to Huang because he believed that the charge was reasonable, so the nature of Huang's act is clear."

Liu Yang, vice-mayor of Taonan, said on Friday that in acknowledgment of the inconvenience caused to the villagers, the city will build a temporary bridge before this year's autumn harvest. It will also consider the possibility of building a permanent bridge near the village.

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