A Henan man who imprisoned six women in an underground cell, used them as sex slaves for between three and 21 months and killed two of them was sentenced to death yesterday, mainland media reported.
The Intermediate People's Court of Luoyang found Li Hao, a 35-year-old former firefighter, guilty of murder, rape, organised prostitution, illegal detention and spreading pornography for profit, Xinhua reported.
It said one of the women locked up by Li had been jailed for three years for helping him murder two of the other women. Two of his other prisoners were given suspended jail terms for taking part in one of the murders, with their lenient treatment due to the extraordinary circumstances of the case.
A lawyer in Changsha who has kept a close eye on the case said Li's death sentence was predictable, but she could not agree with the verdicts for the three women.
"I was shocked when hearing of their verdicts because they were victims in this sex-slave scandal," said Zhang Yan , who had attempted to represent the women in court. "When the scandal was disclosed, I immediately headed to Luoyang to lobby the city legal office, public security bureau, women's federation, legal aid office and other departments, but none of them allowed me to take the case."
Zhang said information released by the police indicated that all the women had suffered inconceivable mental and physical torture.
The survivors were rescued in September last year after one prisoner managed to escape and reported the case to police.
"I wanted to help the women because they had worked at karaoke bars, hair salons and massage shops before being kidnapped, all areas that have been marginalised and discriminated against by our society," Zhang said.
"But the local authorities just arranged a lawyer for them who would go through the motions. That's very unfair."
Ji Xuguang , a former reporter of the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis Daily, who first exposed the case in the media, said he had sympathy with the women although he could not comment on the sentences given to them.
The court said Li had dug the dungeon himself, under a basement of a house he had bought in August 2009, and locked up the six women after tricking them into going home with him.
China Central Television reported earlier that Li offered to pay them for sex if they went home with him but then locked them up and forced them to have sex with him.
The court said Li was working as a clerk for Luoyang's technology supervision bureau when he was arrested in September last year. He was married and had an eight-month-old son, Xinhua reported.
He forced the six women into prostitution and made them appear in pornographic videos, which he uploaded to the internet and profited from.
The women's plight only came to light when his most recent victim, who had been confined for three months, escaped while being taken out to work as a prostitute.