A confrontation between a cyclist and a BMW driver who attacked him with a machete has sparked a heated debate in China about where the acceptable limits of self-defence lie after the cyclist fought back and killed the attacker after seizing his weapon.
The cyclist could face a lengthy prison sentence if the courts decide his actions were excessive.
CCTV footage widely circulated on social media shows how the incident on Monday night unfolded after the BMW veered into the bike lane in Kunshan, a city in Jiangsu province, nearly knocking the cyclist off his electric bike.
A man and a woman, both passengers, then got out of the car and began talking to the cyclist, a 41-year-old man identified only by his surname Yu.
But as the pair turned away from Yu to return to the car, the driver – surnamed Liu – got out of his vehicle and attacked the cyclist, despite an attempt by the male passenger to restrain him.
Following a scuffle, Liu went back to the car, retrieved a machete from the driver’s seat and aimed a number of blows at the cyclist.
Yu then wrestled Liu to the ground, forcing him to drop the weapon, then grabbed it for himself and slashed at the assailant as he ran back to his car.
A police statement released the following day said both men had been injured in the fight and were taken to hospital for treatment, but Liu, 36, later died from his injuries.
Later on Tuesday local prosecutors said they were investigating the case.
The incident has also generated intense debate online about whether Yu’s actions went beyond legitimate self-defence.
This debate intensified after the media reported that Liu had a history of violent criminal activity, including holding people to ransom, theft and assault.
An article published on the news portal sohu.com analysed 100 court cases involving similar incidents and found that there were only four cases where the suspect was found to have acted in lawful self-defence.
In a further 20 cases the defendant was found to have gone beyond the bounds of legitimate self-defence and in the remaining 76 the courts decided they had deliberately set out to inflict an injury.
“Don't get into a fight, your most correct response would be to run,” the anonymous piece concluded.
Zhang Di, a criminal lawyer at Weiheng Law Firm in Nanjing city, Jiangsu province, said the law would have allowed Yu to claim self-defence when he was being chased with the weapon, but the case would hinge on whether he was deemed to have overstepped the bounds when he picked up the machete and struck back at his assailant.
“There is a legal right to strike back, however, it needs to be within certain limits. If the attacker has already pleaded for mercy or run away, one should stop the counter action and call the police, or get to safety,” he said.
Yu will be cleared of all responsibility if the claim of self-defence is accepted, but overstepping the boundaries could result in a sentence of three to 10 years. In cases where the defendant is found to have caused deliberate injury or death the sentence would be more than 10 years, Zhang said.
The Kunshan People’s Procuratorate said on Thursday that there were no further developments to report.