Was Chinese court swayed by public to commute life sentence for loan shark killer?

Court acknowledges ‘Dishonoured Mother case’ sparked widespread attention as it slashes prison term to five years

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 June, 2017, 3:57pm
UPDATED : Friday, 23 June, 2017, 10:39pm

A Chinese court on Friday rescinded a life sentence handed to man who killed a loan shark who had sexually taunted his mother, in a case that has made national headlines and ignited heated online debate.

The government has promised to redress miscarriages of justice after several high-profile cases, including wrongful executions of people later proven to be not guilty.

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But the case of Yu Huan, who on Friday had his life sentence cut to five years following a retrial, has also prompted debate about whether widespread public anger over the initial verdict had a bearing on the much more lenient final outcome.

Yu, from Liaocheng in eastern China’s Shandong province, was sentenced to life in prison in February after he used a knife to attack four of his mother’s creditors who taunted and exposed themselves to her while demanding a 1 million yuan (US$146,000) debt be repaid in April last year, according to state media. One of the creditors died.

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In demanding repayment, one of the creditors exposed his “nether regions” and “gyrated” in front of Yu’s mother while flicking cigarette butts at her and forcing her to smell Yu’s shoes, the Shandong High Court said in its judgement.

Widely referred to in the media as the “Dishonoured Mother case”, the initial sentence evoked widespread sympathy for Yu, whose defence of his mother resonated in a country where filial piety is considered a core value.

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The court said that while Yu acted in part to protect his mother, a five-year sentence was appropriate given that his actions went beyond reasonable self-defence, and that he later resisted arrest when police arrived.

The verdict was a top-trending topic on the Weibo social media platform. While many users were pleased the court took into account he was protecting his mother, some felt a five-year jail term was too lenient.

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“Public opinion has to an extent influenced the judiciary,” a Weibo user said.

Acknowledging the interest in the case, the court released a statement explaining how it reached its verdict.

“The media coverage of the Yu Huan case has ignited widespread attention,” it said.

“Today, the Shandong High Court handed down its verdict in accordance with the law, and while the retrial process has ended, we will continue to seriously reflect on and sum up the case.”