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2019-08-14 16:28:39

A court in eastern China has sparked online backlash by sentencing a convicted rapist who received the “forgiveness” of his underage victim’s family to just four years in prison. The case has prompted heated discussion over whether the country’s judges should take absolution into account when determining their rulings.

At around 11 p.m. on Jan. 12, 2019, a man surnamed Ouyang pursued a 17-year-old girl, surnamed Yi, into the stairway of a residential building in the city of Yichun, Jiangxi province, according to multiple media reports citing court records. After grabbing Yi by the neck, dragging her into an alley, and raping her, Ouyang forced her to lead him to her apartment, where he raped her again. When the victim’s boyfriend returned home an hour after the initial assault, Ouyang tried to flee but was restrained until police arrived.

Earlier this month, the Yuanzhou District People’s Court in Yichun concluded that the defendant had committed rape. However, because he had paid the victim’s family 30,000 yuan ($4,300) in compensation, “reached an understanding” with them, and pleaded guilty to his crime, the court sentenced him to just four years in prison.

Under Article 236 of China’s criminal law, rape carries a prison sentence of 3–10 years. However, the law also calls for heavier punishments — up to life imprisonment or even capital punishment — in cases of gang rape, rape in public, or “odious circumstances,” as well as when the victim is under 14, when there are multiple victims, or when the victim is seriously injured or killed.

Following the court’s ruling, many netizens have expressed outrage over what they view as undue leniency, questioning whether “mutual understanding” should be the basis for a reduced sentence, especially where felonies are concerned.

“Even if the victim forgave him, society should not,” one user on microblogging platform Weibo commented under a related post. “What is ‘forgiveness’ in the face of a felony?” another commented under the same post. Still other Weibo users doubted whether the victim would have agreed with the light sentence, writing: “Did she really forgive him? The girl’s parents sold her out for just 30,000 yuan.”

But angry or not, netizens must accept that the judge’s ruling is within the law, says Wang Fu, a criminal defense attorney at Beijing Shang An Law Firm. “Some members of the public may be dissatisfied with the verdict, considering the victim was underage and raped twice,” Wang told Sixth Tone. “However, this is still a ‘common’ circumstance of rape and not a ‘heavier punishment’ circumstance.”

Wang described the punishment as “relatively light” but added that, under current laws and regulations, agreements between victims and those who wronged them can be considered when meting out punishment. “This verdict does not imply a trend toward lighter punishments for felonies more broadly,” the lawyer said.

Domestic media have covered several cases in recent years of rapists being served lighter punishments after being “forgiven” by their victims. In March 2015, a man who raped his 11-year-old niece in Beijing was sentenced to five and a half years in prison after the girl’s family wrote a letter asking for leniency. And in December 2017, a man who drugged and raped an underage girl in the central Hunan province was sentenced to four years after paying her 21,000 in compensation and supposedly receiving her forgiveness.

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: EyeEm/VCG)