2018-03-01 10:41:51

A Shanghai woman who allegedly murdered her abusive husband, fled to a new province, and adopted a new identity has been caught by police, 17 years after the man’s death.

The case has seen an upwelling of sympathy online, and comes two years after China first-ever anti-domestic violence law came into effect, which applied a legal definition to physical violence between partners — something that had long been considered a private matter.

The woman, surnamed Wei, was recently apprehended in eastern Shandong province, and is being detained by Shanghai police for killing her husband, according to Shanghai-based media outlet Kankan News. The public prosecutor has authorized police to formally arrest her for intentional homicide.

According to the report, Wei — whose age and full name were not given — married her husband, surnamed Chen, in 1999. Their relationship was abusive but worsened in January 2001.

Before the Chinese New Year celebrations that year, Wei told her husband that she wanted to return to her family home. But her husband believed that if she left their home in Shanghai, she would never come back. To prevent her from leaving, he brandished a knife and threatened to kill her family.

Wei allegedly took the knife and killed her husband, according to the report. She said that all of her depression and anger from years past had poured out during the incident, Cui Xin, a prosecutor handling the case, was quoted saying.

Wei then took a train north and finally settled down in Shandong province, where she changed her name, remarried, and had three children, the report said. She hoped to start a new life and had no plans to contact her family ever again.

“I made such a big mistake that my parents would never forgive me,” Wei told the reporter from jail. “I am so sorry to my parents.”

The case has yet to be decided and is still awaiting a court hearing.

But online, many netizens have empathized with Wei and the extenuating circumstances of her situation, calling on authorities to give her a lenient punishment — or even find her not guilty. “Nobody wants to be involved in a tragedy,” wrote one user on China’s microblogging site Weibo. “She was driven to her limits; please forgive her.”

“This was her defending herself against domestic violence,” wrote another. “During her more than 10 years on the run, she did nothing harmful to society. She should be acquitted.”

In the past, abused women who killed their partners were often given heavy punishments. In 2015, China’s four highest legal and security departments released a document ordering judges to give reduced penalties to criminals who had suffered long-term abuse. Research in 2008 found that half of the prisoners in a women’s jail in southwestern Sichuan province who had been found guilty of a domestic violence-related crime were given life imprisonment or a suspended death sentence.

After years of pressure, China finally introduced its first anti-domestic violence law in March 2016, which outlined the court’s responsibility to issue protection orders and required more public institutions, such as schools and medical facilities, to report domestic violence. Incomplete court statistics show that between March 2016 and June 2017, at least 1,284 protection orders were issued nationwide.

But there is still a lack of awareness about domestic violence in China. Male experts have called for an increase in compulsory counseling services aimed at changing abusers’ mindsets and behaviors. According to a report released Wednesday by the local women’s federation in Hangzhou, capital of eastern Zhejiang province, people are aware of sexual and physical violence but lack an understanding of economic control and emotional abuse.

Hangzhou police received 75 percent more phone calls about domestic violence in 2016 compared with the year before, but 90 percent of the callers eventually refused further help from authorities.

Editor: Julia Hollingsworth.

(Header image: E+/VCG)