The high court of Heilongjiang province said Wednesday that it will consider the appeals of four people convicted in 2010 for raping a minor known by the alias Tang Lanlan.
The decade-old case has attracted widespread attention in China since late last month, after a report by The Paper, Sixth Tone’s sister publication, followed Tang’s mother, who was recently released after serving nearly a decade in prison for forcing her daughter into prostitution. She claims the allegations are false, and is looking to reconnect with her daughter, now 23, who has moved away and changed her name.
Although many online commenters were initially critical of media reports that implied that the girl had made up the rape allegations, public opinion has shifted toward suspicion of how the case was handled. Recent years have seen several high-profile sentences overturned as China’s judicial process has grown more professional.
In October 2008, then-14-year-old Tang wrote a letter to police in Long Town, a rural area near Wudalianchi City in Heilongjiang province, in China’s far northeast, where she went to school. Tang, who lived with her godparents, accused her father, grandfather, uncles, teacher, a local village official, and others of repeatedly raping and gang raping her since she was 7.
Two years later, the intermediate court of nearby Heihe City determined there had been at least eight instances of rape, and sentenced 11 people to prison, including Tang’s father who was sentenced to life.
All 11 appealed, saying they were innocent and that they had been forced to confess. Their lawyers also pointed to inconsistencies in the accusations and irregularities in the legal process. Nevertheless, the high court of Heilongjiang province upheld the original verdict in 2012 — though some of the convicts have had their prison sentences reduced for good behavior.
The same court’s announcement Wednesday said that it was processing another appeal by Tang’s father Tang Jihai, who is still imprisoned, and three others who have already finished their sentences.
Media reports in the last few weeks have pointed out inconsistencies in the police investigation and original verdicts, and evidence in favor of the defendants that was not accepted by the court.
In a video by newspaper The Beijing News on Sunday, two witnesses said that their written testimonies had been fabricated. Both had purportedly heard confessions from the suspects — their cellmates — while in custody for unrelated cases. One witness, surnamed Tong, told The Beijing News that he had never testified, and that he never knew the person he testified against. Another witness said he remembers signing a statement that he had not read in return for leniency but that he never had any knowledge about Tang’s case.
Tang’s mother, Wan Xiuling, told China Newsweek that she can barely read, and had been made to sign a written testimony without understanding what it said. All 11 suspects said they were forced to confess, but the high court rejected these claims in its 2012 appeal verdict. Wan also claims to have been beaten by police during interrogations, but a Wudalianchi police officer denied the allegation to The Beijing News.
Fu Jian, the father Tang Jihai’s lawyer, told The Beijing News that testimonies in favor of the defendants were not admitted as evidence. Fu said that at least three villagers said that one defendant, Liang Liquan, was working out of town at the time of the crimes. But the witnesses were not heard, and Liang was sentenced to 13 years for rape and soliciting an underage prostitute — a crime that was revised in a 2015 amendment to China’s penal code.
In the Beijing News video, a judge involved in the 2010 trial defended the verdict. “The verdict was based on multiple pieces of evidence. It’s not only based on the confession of the defendants, but also the victim’s statement and investigation notes,” said Li Yang, a judge at the intermediate court of Heihe City.
Fu, the lawyer, told The Beijing News that he spoke with officials of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, China’s highest public prosecutor, on Jan. 30, together with Liu Wanyou, one of the four appealing his conviction though he has already completed his sentence, and the wife of still-imprisoned Liu Changhai.
In a statement on Thursday, the political and legal affairs commission of Wudalianchi’s Party municipal committee accused Tang’s mother and others who have since been released from prison of seeking attention through the media to pressure local authorities. It also said that two people involved in Tang’s case — though it did not specify how — were arrested during a raid on Jan. 28 for soliciting prostitutes.
Contributions: Fan Liya; editor: Qian Jinghua.
(Header image: RM/VCG)