China overturns death sentence for two men in high-profile rape case

Case caused outcry after victim’s mother sent to labour camp for seeking tougher sentence

China’s Supreme Court said the crimes of two men found guilty of raping a woman and forcing her into prostitution  were not serious enough to warrant the death sentence. Photograph:  STR/AFP/Getty Images

China’s Supreme Court said the crimes of two men found guilty of raping a woman and forcing her into prostitution were not serious enough to warrant the death sentence. Photograph: STR/AFP/Getty Images

 

China’s Supreme Court has annulled the death sentence for two men found guilty of raping and forcing into prostitution the daughter of Tang Hui, who was sent to a labour camp for seeking harsher punishment for her child’s attackers.

The court said that under Chinese law, the men’s crime was not serious enough to warrant the death sentence.

Zhou Junhui and Qin Xing, who were found guilty of rape, organising prostitution and forcing others into prostitution, will have their cases retried at Hunan provincial higher court, the Xinhua news agency reported.

The case caused a major public outcry and led to changes in the re-education through labour system. This decision is going to bring more attention on China’s justice system, with some saying that the death penalties and lengthy jail terms meted out were merely a reaction to the public outrage, but not appropriate in the strict legal sense.

A court officer said yesterday that the sentences were “inappropriate”.

The case drew considerable attention as the victim’s mother Tang Hui was sent to a labour camp for more than a week for petitioning for harsher punishments for Zhou and Qin.

She was initially sentenced to 18 months at a labour camp for “disturbing social order” and “exerting a negative impact on society” through her protests, but the subsequent public outcry led to her release.

In July, a high court in Hunan ruled in her favour when she sued the local authority for infringing her personal freedom and causing her psychological damage. She was awarded 2,941 yuan (€350) as compensation.

Her case was one of the high- profile incidents that are believed to have contributed to the decision to abolish the “re-education through labour” system last year.

Tang Hui’s daughter, who was 11 years old at the time, was kidnapped in 2006 and was raped and forced to work as a prostitute until she was rescued three months later. Her daughter, who is now 18 and lives with her mother, was regularly beaten and forced to have sex with four to five clients a day.

Seven men convicted. As well as the two death sentences, another four were given life sentences and one was jailed for 15 years.

Following the sentences, Tang Hui campaigned for the death penalty for all the men.

The reaction among various commentators on the Sina Weibo microblog, the Chinese version of the banned Twitter, was swift.

Mimi Miao wrote: “I think the law needs to be based on common sense and morality. The result was too soft. I support Tang Hui,” while lawyer Li Dahe said the decision “violated legal principles and justice completely. It is an outcome violating not only justice but also morality.”

However, others thought that it showed the court was showing its independence and its unwillingness to be swayed by public opinion.

Liushui Changdong thought it was an improvement.

“The law cannot be kidnapped by people’s will and morality. Tang Hui’s case is worth to be rethought in the legal sense.”