The case against Li Yan, a woman who is on death row for killing her abusive husband, has sparked an outcry over her treatment and that of other domestic violence survivors in China. The Guardian has the background of her case:
Supporters say a reprieve for Li Yan would send the message that authorities are serious about confronting domestic violence. The 41-year-old from Sichuan had repeatedly begged for protection from her spouse.
According to Amnesty International, Li’s husband, Tan Yong, stubbed out cigarettes on her face, cut off part of her finger and locked her out on the balcony of their home in wintertime while she was only partially clothed.
She killed him in November 2010 by repeatedly hitting him over the head with an airgun to stop him from beating her. More than 100 legal experts and academics have signed an open letter calling for her sentence to be commuted.
The supreme people’s court has reportedly upheld Li’s death sentence, but her lawyer, Guo Jianmei, a well-known women’s rights advocate, said the defence team had not received formal notification. “Even if there is only a little hope, we want to fight for her to have a chance to live,” she said. “She killed her husband in fear that her life was seriously threatened.”
According to the South China Morning Post, more than 400 lawyers and women’s rights activists have called for a re-examination of the case against Li Yan in a petition sent to the Supreme People’s Court and Supreme People’s Procuratorate:
Teng Biao, director of China Against Death Penalty who launched the petition campaign, said they were calling on the judiciary to re-examine the domestic violence that led to the killing and take it into full account in a new decision showing due respect for human life.
He said the death sentence was flawed because it failed to take account of complaints Li had lodged with the local women’s federation and statements she gave to police in the months before the killing, as well as testimony from her neighbours, which all pointed to her having been a victim of domestic violence since the couple married about two years prior to the fatal incident.
“She had no excuse to kill her husband, but she’s nothing like a cold-blooded killer who planned the killing,” Teng said.
Human rights researcher Joshua Rosenzweig translated an article by lawyer Zhang Peihong in which he argued that there are sufficient legal grounds to reconsider Li’s punishment.
Li’s case has raised concerns about the criminal treatment of abused women who injure or kill their spouses in self-defense. The New York Times reports on the extent of the problem:
Women’s jails are filled with women who have injured or killed abusive husbands, according to the Anti-Domestic Violence Network, citing studies by local women’s federations and scholars. They account for 60 percent of inmates in one jail in Anshan, in Liaoning Province, and 80 percent of women serving heavy sentences in a jail in Fuzhou, in Fujian Province.
In a study by Xing Hongmei of China Women’s University, of 121 female inmates in a Sichuan jail who were serving time for attacking or killing abusive partners, 71 were originally sentenced to life in prison or to death (sometimes commuted, delayed or overturned on appeal), and 28 more were sentenced to at least 10 years. This means more than 80 percent received the heaviest possible sentences for murder or bodily harm, the study said.
For months before she killed Mr. Tan, Ms. Li sought help from the authorities in Anyue County, in Sichuan Province, where they lived, her brother said.
“She telephoned the police in, I think, May 2010, after a beating, but they said it was an affair between married people and hung up,” he said.
Women’s rights advocates have long fought for a domestic violence law to protect abused women. With a draft law now in the works, 12,000 people have signed a petition to the National People’s Congress which calls for transparency in the drafting process. From the New York Times blog:
Fed up with being excluded from the decision-making process, Chinese feminists not only want a law against domestic violence, they also want to know exactly what’s going into it, in a new push for accountability from their opaque government. The petition, “Asking for Openness and Transparency in the Process of the Anti-Domestic Violence Law,” spells that out.
Bai Fei, a university student from Shanghai, is one of three women behind the petition. Signatures were gathered online, the Yunnan Information News reported.
Ms. Bai grew up in a family where her father beat her mother. She wanted to know if the new law would help people like her mother, the newspaper wrote.
“When the law comes out, will my mother be able to get legal protection?” asked Ms. Bai. “What level of protection will the law afford her? If I can’t know what’s going into it, I won’t feel at all safe.”
Domestic violence was thrust into the national spotlight last year when the American wife of celebrity English teacher Li Yang posted gruesome photos on weibo of her injuries from his abuse.
Read more about domestic violence in China.