Woman jailed in China over air-rifle game is freed on appeal

Case has stirred heated debate online and calls for authorities to re-examine the firearms laws

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 January, 2017, 11:48pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 January, 2017, 11:48pm

The proprietor of a shooting game stall sentenced to more than three years in prison received a complete reprieve on appeal on Thursday from the No 1 Intermediary People’s Court in Tianjin.

Zhao Chunhua, 51, was jailed last October after local police seized six air rifles used to shoot targets and score prize balloons at her booth.

Fourteen other migrants were also caught up in the crackdown and will face prosecution for keeping air guns at their stalls dotting the promenade near the Tianjin Eye Ferris wheel.

Their legal woes have stirred heated debate online and calls for authorities to re-examine the firearms laws.

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Zhao’s daughter, Wang Yanling, told mainland media this month that Zhao would not have touched the guns if she had known they were considered real guns under the law.

The appeal court said air guns were dangerous, and that Zhao possessed them without the approval of authorities.

But Zhao was granted a suspended sentence because she showed remorse in the appeal trial, and because she did not pose a serious threat to the community, state-run media service Xinhua reported.

In response to a number of terror attacks, authorities in recent years have significantly tightened the laws covering guns, to include all firearms with a muzzle kinetic energy greater than or equal to 1.8 joules per square centimetre, down from the 2001 standard of 16 joules.

Hunting rifles, once popular in the rural areas, are now effectively illegal.

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Apart from the drastically tightened standards, lawyers and academics said the government needed to better school the public in the country’s gun control laws, which were among the world’s toughest, in order that people did not unwittingly run afoul of the legislation.

One of Zhao’s lawyers, Xu Xin, also represented a Sichuan man sentenced to life imprisonment last year for buying 24 replica guns on the internet.

In a statement issued after Zhao’s appeal, her lawyers wrote: “We call on the nation’s legislative body and law enforcement to classify firearms and enact laws appropriate to the categories, as well as differentiate real guns from fakes in enforcing the laws.”

The reprieve came in time for Zhao to spend the Lunar New Year holidays with her daughter, but it is unclear if she will be able to resume operations at her shooting stall.