Son of famed PLA singer denies gang rape charges
Teenage suspect disputes charges as trial begins over February attack seen by some as evidence of poor behaviour by offspring of party elite
The teenage son of a renowned army singer denied gang rape charges yesterday in a closely watched case that has aroused widespread anger over the behaviour of children of the elite.
Li Guanfeng, 17, formerly known as Li Tianyi, is the son of Li Shuangjiang, a prominent tenor with the non-command rank of major general in the People's Liberation Army. The younger Li, along with four others, has been accused of assaulting a woman in a hotel in February after they met her in a Beijing night club.
All five suspects denied the charges, the Beijing Evening News reported.
The opening of the trial at the Haidian District People's Court prompted a new public frenzy with scores of reporters and activists flocking to the court, some holding placards demanding better protection for women.
The alleged rape drew a huge public outcry as it was widely perceived as a fresh example of how children from families with influence and wealth have been spoilt and often flout the law.
This is not the first time Li has had a run-in with the law. In September 2011 he attacked a couple after his unlicensed BMW crashed into their car. That assault landed him in a juvenile correctional facility for a year.
Li's mother Meng Ge, also a famous singer, went to police earlier this month to accuse the manager of the night club of pimping and extortion, the Beijing Times reported. She also dismissed the young woman as being a part-time club hostess, a euphemism for a prostitute.
The victim's lawyer, Tian Canjun, who has described her as a part-time student and worker, told reporters that his client would not be attending the trial.
The Beijing Higher People's Court, which administers the local court, said that the suspects were questioned over the charges and judges dismissed a defence claim disputing some of the prosecution's evidence.
The Beijing Evening News reported that Li, as well as pleading not guilty, denied beating up the woman or having sex with her because he fell asleep in the hotel. However, another suspect told the court that Li did attack the woman before they entered the hotel and she was kicked by a third suspect.
The hearing continues today.
Xu Lanting, a criminal law professor in Beijing, said the public would gain little insight into the conflicting claims until the verdict was announced.
"But a verdict will have little to do with whether the woman was available for paid sex, but would depend on whether she was coerced into having sex with the suspects," Xu said. He said that under Chinese law victims can choose whether to attend a court hearing to protect themselves from publicity.
Li legal adviser Lan He told reporters that he hoped for a fair trial.
"Celebrities are also citizens and should not be held to ransom because of emotions," Lan said in a question-and-answer session with bloggers on Tuesday. "A moral judgment cannot replace justice."
Elite youths in China are commonly perceived to live extravagantly or above the law due to their connections, and the case has dominated discussion in the country's hugely popular Internet chatrooms.
Following reported remarks by Li's family that the alleged victim may have been a bar hostess, a top legal expert inflamed controversy when he said the woman's profession made the act of gang-rape less harmful.
"Even if it was rape, the harm of raping a bar hostess is less than raping a woman from a good family," Yi Yanyou, a law professor at the prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing, said on Sina Weibo.
Li Tianyi triggered public controversy in 2011 after he and another teenager, both driving expensive cars, attacked a couple who reportedly blocked their passage, while the victims' child looked on.
In another scandal involving the offspring of China's wealthy elite, the son of a police chief in 2010 tried to use his father's status to avoid any consequences for a fatal car accident.
After running over a student in the northern province of Hebei, Li Qiming shouted: "Sue me if you dare. My father is Li Gang!"
He was later sentenced to six years in prison.
Additional reporting by Reuters