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    Sentences Extended in Case of Woman Tortured, Killed by In-Laws

    After a public outcry, the maximum sentence for a Shandong couple who beat their daughter-in-law to death because she had not become pregnant was raised from three to 11 years.

    A court in eastern China has issued a new, more severe verdict in the high-profile case of a 22-year-old woman who was tortured and beaten to death by her in-laws in 2019.

    The Yucheng People’s Court in Shandong province announced Friday that the victim’s father- and mother-in-law had been sentenced to 11 and six years in prison, respectively, for the crime of intentional injury. The husband, meanwhile, received 20 months for abuse with a three-year suspension.

    According to a now-withdrawn verdict from January 2020, the same court had initially sentenced the defendants to a maximum of three years.

    Court documents describe how the arranged marriage between the victim, surnamed Fang, and her husband, surnamed Zhang, began in January 2017 but quickly devolved as Zhang’s parents became “increasingly dissatisfied” with Fang’s supposed failure to become pregnant.

    Beginning around August 2018, the family began torturing Fang, beating her and withholding food, among other forms of physical punishment. According to a cousin, Fang’s weight plummeted to 30 kilograms.

    In late January 2019, Fang’s parents-in-law attacked her with wooden rods. She died later that night of trauma and hemorrhagic shock. “The main cause of death was physical injury, while secondary factors included frostbite and severe malnutrition,” the court said.

    The tragic domestic violence case attracted enormous attention last year after it was reported by media. In particular, the public outcry over what many saw as lenient punishments for the abusers was swift and loud.

    Both of the Yucheng court’s verdicts were partially based on the defendants having confessed and repented. Since 2014, China’s judicial system has aimed to issue lighter sentences in criminal cases if the accused plead guilty and accept punishment. Following a 2018 amendment to the country’s Criminal Procedure Law, the proportion of lighter punishments for criminal cases increased from 21% in 2019 to 87% in 2020.

    However, legal experts and social media users alike have expressed doubts about whether lenient punishment should have been applied for such an appalling crime.

    According to a 2019 joint notice from five top government agencies including the Supreme People’s Court and the Ministry of Justice, in considering lighter sentences, courts should weigh whether cases threatened national security, involved severe violence, or aroused public concerns. “This should be handled with care to avoid ruling on cases in a way that contravenes the public’s notions of justice,” the notice said.

    The Shandong court, for its part, has admitted that its first verdict was too lenient, saying it “ascertained the facts and applied the law incorrectly.”

    Editor: David Paulk.

    (Header image: People Visual)