Subway Harassment Dispute Moves From Social Media to Courthouse
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2017-06-01 16:04:59

A woman who wrote on social media that she was sexually harassed and then beaten on the Beijing subway is being sued by her accused attacker for defamation.

The woman, Li Yang, posted her story on her Weibo microblog on Saturday, recounting how two days earlier a passenger sitting next to her had inappropriately touched her arm and chest. When she told him to move over, the man hit her repeatedly, she wrote.

“The old man said ‘You little brat, who are you telling to move?’” Li wrote on Weibo. “Then he hit me on my head, slapped me.” She then called the police, who took the man into custody and sent Li to receive medical attention.

Following a barrage of netizen condemnation, the man accused of sexual harassment filed a lawsuit to require Li to remove all Weibo posts and issue an apology.

A large proportion of Chinese commuters say they have been sexually harassed on public transport. A 2015 survey from China Youth Daily said that over half of the nearly 1,900 respondents had experienced harassment. Last month, a feminist activist from Guangzhou, in southern China, kicked off the “I Am a Billboard” campaign, calling on volunteers to don placards to raise awareness of sexual harassment.

Li’s post, which included two photos of the man, was liked and shared more than 20,000 times, and net users soon discovered the man bore a strong resemblance to Zhong Dajun, a 65-year-old economist who runs a think tank. When Li found out that the man had been released from police custody for health reasons, she decided to share Zhong’s personal information, including his social media accounts, to “inform women to be careful” and expose his alleged misdeeds.

Thousands of net users rushed to Li’s defense. “Old trash! Just imagine how psychologically damaged the woman may be,” one Weibo user commented. “He is an educated person? The things he does are so filthy!” wrote another Weibo user.

Zhong responded to the online storm of criticism on Tuesday, denying sexually harassing Li in his own Weibo post. “A thin man like myself, I was just sitting there — how would I touch her?” he wrote. Zhong did admit to slapping Li, justifying his actions by saying he had been tired from working all day. “She was cursing, harassing, and provoking me,” he said. “Would I have hit her for no reason?”

“Li Yang’s Weibo is filled with lies,” Zhong added. “She twisted the facts, mobilized netizens to slander me, spread my photos online, and instigated cyberattacks against me. I will hold her legally accountable for damaging my reputation, violating my rights, and spreading rumors.”

Zhong filed his lawsuit with a local court on Wednesday, according to Wu Fatian, a professor from China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing, and the lawyer whom Zhong approached to represent him. Zhong is demanding that Li delete all Weibo posts related to the incident and issue an apology for at least 10 days. He is also asking for 50,000 yuan ($7,300) in compensation for “psychological damage.”

“Zhong hitting the woman was wrong, for sure, but whether the sexual harassment actually happened is debatable, since no hard evidence of this was accepted by the police,” Wu told Sixth Tone. “However, whether there was any harassment doesn’t matter; Zhong still has the right to sue Li on the grounds of slander and disseminating his personal information. I don’t think Li’s chances of winning are high.”

Net users have responded to news of the lawsuit in large numbers, and with mostly indignant comments. “Hit someone and then sue them — he looks like a real bully to women,” wrote one Weibo user. “Regardless of the law and morality, the message seems to be that if a woman is sexually harassed and there are no cameras or people around, then please don’t resist,” wrote another commenter, “or you’ll get sued in the end.”

Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: Jason Lee/VCG)