Rape trial of PLA singer's son Li Tianyi prompts online dispute

Teenager's high-profile case sparks debate about freedom of speech, privacy and parental responsibilities

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 July, 2013, 3:24am

The teenage son of a prominent PLA singer remains in the media spotlight after he was charged earlier this month with taking part in a gang rape.

Li Tianyi - also known as Li Guanfeng - is among five men accused of assaulting a drunken woman in a Beijing hotel on February 17, according to Xinhua. His trial began in a Haidian district court on Friday.

Li's father Li Shuangjiang , 74, is a top official at the People's Liberation Army Art Academy with a non-command rank equivalent of major-general. Li's mother, Meng Ge, is also a well-known PLA singer.

Brought up in a wealthy artistic family, Li Tianyi , 17, has been offered many opportunities to perform on stage since he was very young, often with his parents. His father never spared a compliment when talking about his son. But a spoiled child can make trouble for his parents when he grows up.

First, Li's pictures with luxury cars began to spread on the internet. In 2011, he was sentenced to a year for juvenile delinquency after he and a friend beat up a couple near his Beijing home. At the time, Li was driving an unregistered, souped-up BMW and had a minor collision with the couple's car. After attacking the couple, he reportedly dared stunned onlookers to call the police.

The circumstances surrounding Li's current case have been even more intriguing. State media have reported that Li's parents tried and failed to make a private settlement with the victim. His family were also forced to hire a new legal team after their original lawyers quit due to "the complexity of the case and high demands of Li's mother", according to the Securities Times.

Earlier this month, Chen Shu, one of Li's two new defence lawyers, announced that Li would plead not guilty. Chen also accused the police and some media companies of violating Li's privacy by publishing his name and picture. The statements sparked much criticism as many people viewed Li's attempt to argue his innocence unacceptable. The lawyers' website was subsequently hacked by angry internet users.

"From the facts reported on media, Li and his fellows are apparently guilty," Yuan Yulai , prominent lawyer in Zhejiang province was quoted as saying by Sina.com "In such circumstance, it's not in line with professional ethics if lawyers choose to do a not-guilty defence. It violates the law if lawyers bow to the will of defendant and his family and intentionally misinterpret facts and laws," Yuan said.

But The Beijing News defended the lawyers. "It's freedom of speech to criticise the lawyers, but it's already a breach of law to hack into their website," the paper said. "We need to be cautious in online expression. We can say no to the lawyers' view, but we can't say no to the lawyers' rights of expression."

A joint survey by the Xiaoxiang Morning Post and hn.qq.com indicates that more than 70 per cent of the respondents believed reporting indentifying information about Li Tianyi does not violate his right to privacy.

The China International Broadcast Network said Li's parents had betrayed their responsibilities as high-profile celebrities by spoiling their child. They should be apologising to the public, rather than begging the public's understanding through their lawyers.

There was further outrage after media reports said that Li's lawyers had justified plea of innocence by explaining that they suspected the victim was a cocktail hostess, a woman hired to drink with male patrons.

In court on Friday, Li and his lawyers went even further, claiming that he had paid the victim 2,000 yuan (HK$2,500) for sex and that she had tried to blackmail him by threatening to go to the police, according to Sina.com The victim has denied being a hostess; her lawyer says she is a white-collar worker.