A Hainan court sentenced two men yesterday to 13-1/2 and 11-1/2 years in jail for raping six primary schoolgirls last month, bringing a swift close to the high-profile trial, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
The verdict was handed down on the case's first day in the No 1 Intermediate People's Court in Haikou , sparking criticism by the public and legal sector that the verdict seemed rushed for such a high-profile and severe criminal case. Many people, including parents of the victims, said the sentences were too light.
Former school principal Chen Zaipeng and a government official, Feng Xiaosong , were convicted of raping the six girls, aged 11 to 14. Chen, who was principal of Wanning No 2 Primary School, a different school from where the girls were enrolled, received 13-1/2 years. Feng, a former clerk with the city's property administration bureau, received 11-1/2 years.
Feng sought to appeal against the verdict, while Chen said he was considering whether to appeal, Xinhua reported.
One of the three parents allowed into the courtroom said they would seek an appeal against what they considered light sentences "within 10 days".
"They should at least be sentenced to no less than 15 years," he said, declining to be named. "We send our girls to schools for education, not to get raped."
The two men were arrested on May 15 on charges of child molestation, a week after the six girls at Wanning Houlang Primary School went missing after failing to show up for school. A search launched by parents and teachers found two of the girls in Wanning and four in Haikou , and all were in a groggy state. Surveillance video confirmed they had been in different hotel rooms with the headmaster and the official.
The sentences were not well received among some in the legal sector. Wang Yu , a Beijing-based lawyer, said she suspected the court rushed the verdict to maintain social stability.
"It's inappropriate for the court to hand down a sentence so quickly without carefully examining all the facts, evidence, legal standpoints and then deliberate on the sentence carefully," Wang said, speculating that the situation could have worsened if the girls were not found when they were. "It didn't look like the court investigated all of the facts thoroughly.
Deng Shulin , a lawyer based in Zhuhai , Guangdong, who said he was one of the seven lawyers initially hired by the victims' parents before the provincial government forced the families to use different lawyers, criticised the court's sentencing as too lenient.
"Recently, an official from Henan province was executed for raping 11 girls," Deng said.
"Sentencing these two men to 13 and 11 years was way too light, especially since the principal posed a far bigger threat to schoolgirls because of his role as an educator."
Deng also said that only three parents were allowed into yesterday's hearing.
Another lawyer, Wang Quanping , from Jiangmen in Guangdong, said he was also initially hired by the victims' parents, and he echoed criticism of the hurried verdict.
"The two men should at least have been sentenced to life," Wang said. "I didn't think the verdict would come out for another two weeks; it was too rushed."