The man serving life in prison for fatally injuring a loan shark who had purportedly sexually assaulted his indebted mother, said he was innocent during an appeal hearing at the High People’s Court of Shandong province on Saturday.
Central to the hearing — which was live streamed on the court’s Weibo microblog and watched by thousands of users — was whether defendant Yu Huan acted out of self-defense. The prosecutor said that “the nature of Yu’s defense was not identified in the first trial,” and that Yu’s behavior should be seen as “excessive defense.”
During a statement at the end of the session, Yu himself argued that the law shouldn’t expect a 19-year-old to apply the right amount of self-defense in a dangerous situation. “If I didn’t use a knife to defend myself, how could I have protected my rights?” he said. The court did not announce when it will reach a verdict.
On Feb. 17, 2017, a lower court, the Intermediate People’s Court of Liaocheng in China’s eastern Shandong province, gave Yu a life sentence for the crime of “intentional injury” after he used a knife to attack several of his mother’s debt collectors, resulting in the death of one of them.
Yu’s mother, Su Yinxia, had borrowed 1.35 million yuan ($197,000) from a real estate investor, Wu Xuezhan, and struggled to repay her debt and the steep interest. On April 14, 2016, around 10 men showed up where Su worked and restrained her and Yu in a room. One of the men reportedly told Su she could take up prostitution to repay her debts, and exposed his genitals.
Yu’s life sentence was widely criticized by the public and by media, who have argued Yu was trying to defend his mother’s honor and pointed out that police called to the scene before the attack left after only a few minutes and did not offer meaningful assistance to mother and son. In some high-profile cases, courts in China have been known to sway according to public sentiment — some media outlets have drawn parallels between Yu’s case and that of Deng Yujiao, a woman who stabbed an official to death when he attempted to rape her. Deng avoided being convicted with murder after a public outcry.
Yu’s lawyer, Yin Qingli, appealed the sentence in late February, one week after Yu was jailed for life. After the case caught wider media attention, on March 26, Shandong prosecutors started an investigation into whether police had been negligent in their duties.
Saturday’s appeal hearing was preceded with a flurry of news updates regarding people involved in the case. On Friday afternoon, prosecutors announced that police who had been at the scene of the killing had failed to handle the situation effectively, but that this did not constitute negligence and that a crime case would not be filed against the officers. However, on Friday evening the Commission for Discipline Inspection of Guan County, which is administered by Liaocheng, took disciplinary measures against the police, dismissing two officers and punishing several others.
Also, on Friday evening, Liaocheng police reported they had discovered that Su and Yu Jiale — Yu Huan’s sister — had illegally used public funds of about 20 million yuan. At about the same time it was announced that Wu the loan shark and his gang — 17 in all — had been taken into custody on suspicion of organized crime, illegal detention, forcible trade, intentional injury, and other crimes.
Net users who closely followed Yu’s appeal hearing debated whether or not the high court should lower the sentence. “Setting him free would be contempt of the law,” wrote one Weibo user, “but a life sentence or the death penalty would oppress morality. Neither side wins if the punishment is not appropriate.”
Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.
(Header image: A view of the Intermediate People’s Court of Liaocheng, Shandong province, March 26, 2017. Wang Zhaofeng/IC)