Zhejiang's fallen business tycoon Wu Ying was resentenced on Monday in a decision likely to avert her execution for fraudulent fundraising. Her controversial death sentence was overturned last month by China's Supreme People's Court, which upheld her guilt but sent the sentence back to the provincial court for reconsideration. From Caixin:
After a serial of trials which first began in April 2009, Wu Ying was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve, according to the Zhejiang Higher People’s Court website.
Legal experts immediately interpreted the sentence as life imprisonment under China’s legal environment.
Wu’s former lawyer Zhang Yanfeng said to media, “She’s been sentenced to life imprisonment, barring any wrongdoing in the next two years.” Zhang said the verdict was expected as provincial high courts are subordinate to the Supreme People’s Court.
New York University law professor Jerome Cohen told The New York Times last month that the SPC's decision “seems a typical Chinese judicial compromise between what those who call for the death penalty wanted and what Wu’s many supporters, both popular and professional, have called for”. The new suspended death sentence may be an attempt to maintain a similar balance, compared with the lighter sentences Cohen held out as another possible outcome. But human rights researcher Joshua Rosenzweig described it as "a gutless decision, one that ignores core problems with the case". Although some supporters expressed satisfaction at Wu's likely escape from execution, questions about uneven punishment and institutional problems remain. From Chuin-Wei Yap at China Real Time Report:
The case attracted widespread media attention for the severity of the sentence and the long-running campaign in China’s blogosphere to save her.
Many of her supporters wondered aloud why she was facing death when corrupt officials found guilty of similar crimes were often granted lighter sentences ….
For the public that’s kept the issue alive for more than three years, it’s a gratifying conclusion. “It’s not just Wu Ying,” Wang Shuo, a prominent magazine editor, wrote on the Twitter-like microblogging service Sina Weibo. “If it’s non-violent financial crime, no one should die.”
“Wu Ying was unlucky to run into hole in the legal system,” added another Sina Weibo user writing under the handle Chaoxin Xinzhixing. “When will China’s legal system be more robust, so the public can be convinced?”
Tea Leaf Nation's survey of Sina Weibo reactions reveals similarly mixed views, and notes that over 3.5 million posts on the subject were culled from search results overnight [Update: TLN reports that many of the culled comments later re-appeared].
Many netizens hailed the result. @杭州恰恰 wrote, “This is…a victory for public opinion! [Responsiveness to] public opinion is progressing!” @洪陈纷纭 wrote: “The power of democracy; the power of Weibo.”
Unfortunately, many netizens felt their victory, if it was theirs at all, was a Pyrrhic one. @Q版温故‘s comment aptly captured netizen sentiment: “No matter what, the result is progress. But this time, the progress is mostly because of the contributions of public opinion, and not law itself.” Instead of law, many commenters perceived realpolitik, hard at work. @闫英士 opined, “The real meaning is this: The death sentence is to save face, the commutation is to quiet citizen rage. But it all has nothing to do with Wu Ying herself, and certainly doesn’t prove the independence of the so-called judiciary.”