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2019-03-18 11:41:25

A court in central China responded Monday to netizen backlash over four men convicted of gang-raping a girl in a hotel room receiving relatively lenient sentences, saying it was aware of the strong public reaction and stating that the defendants had appealed their sentences.

Previously, a lower court in Dao County, Hunan province, had sentenced the defendants — surnamed Chen, Jiang, Yang, and Tang — to between seven and 10 years in prison for raping a girl surnamed Xiong, whose age has not been disclosed, according to an article the county government published Friday on social app WeChat. The court’s judgment document has not been released to the public, so it is unclear when the sentences were handed down.

Though the county government’s WeChat article was swiftly deleted following the strong public backlash, The Beijing News posted screenshots of the article on microblogging platform Weibo on Saturday. The four men had taken Xiong to a hotel on July 30 after an evening of drinking at a bar where one of the men worked, and raped her. According to the county government’s article, she was unconscious upon arriving at the hotel. The following morning, Xiong called her friend to the hotel, where they contacted police. Tang was arrested at the scene; the three other men turned themselves in later.

Netizens have roundly criticized the court’s decision for being too lenient. “Although this [ordeal] didn’t kill her, the blow to her spirit must be more horrible than death,” wrote one netizen under The Beijing News’ Weibo post. “This is why so many people [in China] support the death penalty.”

“This is a gang rape, and the maximum sentence was just 10 years?!!” commented another.

According to Article 236 of China’s criminal law, the crime of one or more men raping a woman in succession is punishable by at least 10 years in jail, life imprisonment, or death. If the victim is under 14, the punishment can be more severe — however, all victims aged 14 and over are treated equally under the law.

“Amid media reports on this case, some netizens consider the sentence to be too light,” the Yongzhou Intermediate People’s Court in Hunan province wrote Monday on microblogging platform Weibo. “The court is also aware of the media reports and netizens’ opinions. All four defendants have filed appeals. Once the case enters the second trial, the court will conduct a fair trial in strict accordance with the law.”

When reached by phone on Monday, a public relations officer from the Dao County government who would not give his name told Sixth Tone that the original WeChat article had been deleted because it failed to explain certain details pertaining to the defendants, and said that a revised article would be published “very soon.”

“The court showed leniency because the three defendants sentenced to seven years had turned themselves in, and the one sentenced to 10 years had made a full confession,” he said, explaining that Article 67 of China’s criminal law allows for lighter punishments if the suspects surrender to police voluntarily.

But according to Yuan Zhi, a criminal lawyer at Weiheng Law Firm in Beijing, 10 years should have been the absolute minimum sentence. “For a sentence of less than 10 years, there should be circumstances for a mitigated punishment,” he told Sixth Tone. “Turning oneself in could be considered one of these circumstances, but confessing one’s crime doesn’t usually count — it’s only applicable if major damage is avoided.”

“In this case, the consequences have occurred,” Yuan said, referring to the rape. “So obviously [the full confessions] shouldn’t qualify for mitigated punishment.”

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: Multi-bits RF/VCG)