Li Yan one of thousands facing death or jail as abuse victims denied justice

Li Yan is one of many women facing execution or jail terms as courts ignore previous assaults

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 February, 2013, 6:19am

Li Yan is just one of thousands of abused wives in mainland jails who face execution or heavy jail terms for killing or wounding their husbands, women's rights advocates say.

Li was sentenced to death in August 2011 for murdering her husband. Since the Supreme People's Court in Beijing approved her death sentence last month, hundreds have signed a petition to call for a halt of the execution.

Supporters worry that the execution might come before the Lunar New Year next Sunday. She turns 42 today.

In a letter to a top judge to appeal against her death sentence last year, Li described how she endured her husband's violence before she killed him - and how her repeated calls for help were ignored.

Tan Yong frequently beat her, pulled her hair, banged her head against the wall, stubbed cigarettes out on her face and even hacked off one of her fingers.

One night in August 2010, after she was beaten severely, she went to the police, who snapped pictures of her injuries but took no action. She also went to her local women's federation and neighbourhood committee, but they didn't intervene either.

"They said that was just a family dispute [but] he treated me so brutally, why wasn't that domestic violence?" she asked in an appeal letter to the head of the Sichuan Supreme Court dated April 1 last year.

Three months after she pleaded for help, she killed him. After an argument on the night of November 3, 2010, her drunken husband threatened to shoot her, then he beat and kicked her. She hit him over the head with the gun barrel, accidentally killing him.

She dismembered his body and boiled some of the parts, then asked a friend to report the killing to the police.

Domestic violence is widespread on the mainland.

According to a 2011 survey by the official All-China Women's Federation, one in four women have experienced abuse within marriage.

A 2011 paper by law professor Dr Xing Hongmei at the China Women's University noted a relatively high number of female inmates who were jailed for killing or wounding abusive husbands after putting up with years of domestic violence.

About 80 per cent of female prisoners in Fuzhou and 60 percent of women inmates in Anshan , Liaoning , convicted of injuring or killing their partners have suffered domestic violence, according to media reports in 2008 citing local women's federations.

In Xing's study of 121 women in a Sichuan prison who were convicted of killing or injuring their husbands, 93 were convicted of intentional homicide. Among them, 71 were given suspended death sentences or life imprisonment while 28 were jailed for more than 10 years.

Lawyers and rights campaigners say judges rarely take into account prolonged abuse.

"In [Li Yan's] case, the judges … did not take into account that the wife had been abused for a long time and the husband was at fault," said Teng Biao , director of China Against Death Penalty. "We see Li as the real victim."

Judges also tend to overlook the mental state of the defendants when they committed crimes, legal experts say.

"[Li] displayed abused women's syndrome … she was not in her normal state of mind, she should be given psychiatric evaluation immediately," said Guo Jianmei , a women's rights lawyer.

And Li's case showed that the lack of legal or societal intervention could lead to disastrous consequences, said Feng Yuan of the Beijing-based Anti-Domestic Violence Network. Rights groups say Li's husband should have been prosecuted before she had to resort to violence.

"Domestic violence could lead to this kind of tragedy," she said. "The lesson from this case is that we need to intervene early, the authorities should provide timely and effective assistance, otherwise, the violence will continue or escalate."

Li's brother, Li Dehuai, said the authorities saw domestic violence as a private affair and did not like to take action. "There is no law to say the police must take action against domestic violence. [But] if the authorities had acted promptly, perhaps the outcome would have been very different."

There have been growing calls for legislation on domestic violence. Last month, a petition with more than 12,000 signatures was submitted to the National People's Congress. State media said last month that the Supreme People's Court was planning to issue guidelines on how the authorities should handle criminal cases involving domestic violence and would push for legislation.

"I hope there will be legislation soon - today it's my sister, tomorrow it might be someone else's sister. It's all too painful for the family to bear," Li Dehuai said.