China’s changing approach to domestic abuse
1 May 2015 by Charlotte Knappett
Li Yan, 44, was sentenced to death for her husband’s murder in 2011 but following a high-profile campaign, the Supreme Court in Sichuan province ordered a retrial last June. The court has now ordered a two-year reprieve on her death sentence under new guidelines, which experts say is now likely to be commuted to a prison sentence.
Li Yan was the victim of domestic abuse at the hands of her husband. Throughout the trial, evidence showed that she had been sexually and physically abused by her husband. He had begun beating and kicking her shortly after they got married in 2009. The violence escalated and Li Yan had cigarettes stubbed out on her face and had a part of her finger cut off. She killed her husband in November 2010 with the butt of an air rifle that he had threatened her with.
Those close to Li Yan say she had tried to get help before killing her husband. She had approached police and local women’s affairs officials for assistance, but even after one outburst of violence put her in hospital, she was still left her to fend for herself.
The campaign and public sympathy led to the Supreme Court unveiling new sentencing guidelines for cases involving victims of abuse. The Chinese government is also considering a draft bill on domestic abuse in an effort to tackle a widespread and often ignored problem.
Victims of domestic abuse can often feel trapped and isolated and the thought of escaping their attacker can be just as terrifying as staying. In China, the official indifference and lack of assistance make the situation even worse. Refuges that provide support for victims are few and far between with just over 400 serving a population of more than 1.3 billion.
Nicholas Bequelin, director for East Asia at Amnesty International said “It is not a precedent in the common law sense, but nonetheless it is a landmark case. It will serve as a foothold to future cases and also gives a measure of legitimacy to people who are pressing for more activism on the issue of domestic violence.”
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