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    A Billboard Death, No Arrests — Why, Chengguan? Netizens Ask

    Net users and legal experts question why officials who removed ladder aren’t facing criminal prosecution.

    The deadly fall of a billboard installer after city management officials removed his ladder has once again incited discussion about these officials’ oft-criticized conduct.

    On Tuesday, two workers were putting up a billboard on a roof in Zhengzhou, capital of central China’s Henan province, when city management officials told them to take it down, on the grounds that they did not have the proper license. When this did not happen quickly enough, the chengguan — as they are known in Chinese — removed the men’s ladder.

    Stuck on top of the three-story building in cold weather, one of the men, surnamed Ou, fell to his death while trying to lower himself to the ground using a rope, The Beijing News reported Friday. A video widely shared on social media showed the scene of the accident cordoned off with police tape.

    Local media outlet reported Sunday that the officials involved have been relieved of or suspended from their positions for dereliction of duty, and turned over to discipline supervision authorities. Ou’s employer, a woman surnamed Liu who owns a local print shop, has been detained on suspicion of negligence resulting in a serious accident.

    Law experts have criticized Liu’s detention, and net users say she has been made a scapegoat for the incident when the chengguan were the ones at fault.

    Deng Xueping, a lawyer at Jingheng Law Group in Shanghai, wrote in a commentary for The Beijing News that the print shop owner should not be punished more harshly than the chengguan themselves. Liu had not instructed Ou to use the rope, Deng argued, although she did bear responsibility for the unlicensed billboard installation.

    Zhang Zhaohuai, a law student at Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University, wrote in a blog post that the chengguan were potentially guilty of false imprisonment if they were aware that in removing the ladder, they were depriving the installers of their only way down from the building. Zhang said that Liu should not have been detained for violating safety rules, and that whether the installers were licensed to work at such a height was the more important issue.

    China’s city management officials are frequently the subject of discussion, often due to cases in which they resort to violence in confrontations with street hawkers.

    One curious turn in the billboard installer’s story came from the report, which quoted a Zhengzhou lawyer surnamed Ge as supporting the authorities’ handling of the case. But on Monday, Ge’s law firm, Xinxin, released a statement saying that their employee had been “gravely misquoted.”

    The firm’s website lists Ge Xiaobo as its only employee with that surname. When Sixth Tone contacted Ge on Monday, he denied having been interviewed at all. An employee of told Sixth Tone that the story had been republished from a news platform in the same company.

    Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

    (Header image: Two workers change a billboard in Kunming, Yunnan province, May 3, 2012. VCG)