When China’s highest court recently overturned the death sentence of a woman found guilty of killing her husband after suffering from months of domestic abuse, international observers cheered the decision but the reaction of Chinese netizens was decidedly more mixed.
According to various local media, the Supreme People’s Court ruled to reverse the sentence given to Li Yan, a 43-year-old woman from southwest province of Sichuan, sometime in May, but the decision wasn’t made public until this week. In November of 2010, Li’s husband, Tan Yong, beat and kicked her while in a drunken state, in addition to threatening to shoot her with an air rifle. In retaliation, Li hit him over the head with the gun’s barrel, accidentally killing Tan. Li went on to dismember Tan’s body. She was eventually arrested by police after she confided to a friend what had happened.
According to statements made by the defense, Tan had a history of abuse, which included cutting off one of her fingers, extinguishing cigarettes on her face, and locking her out on the balcony of their home in the winter.
Li Yan’s case was followed closely by local and international media, considered by many as an example of why comprehensive legislation is needed in China for victims of domestic abuse. Amnesty International, which has campaigned for Li's freedom, responded to the court’s decision by encouraging China’s government to “do more to prevent violence against women.”
In the court of public opinion, the overturned sentence has been surprisingly mixed. While most people maintain that Li was acting in self-defense and hold no sympathy for the abusive Tan, some have suggested Li should serve some time.
“This woman deserves the death sentence,” one blogger commented. “You can’t chop up a body and say it was an accident.”
“Accidental homicide may not deserve the death sentence, but cutting the body up seems cruel and intentional,” another added.
“A necessary step in the right direction,” another commenter posted in disagreement. “This is a tragic situation, but the court made the right call to overturn the sentence. After prolonged domestic abuse, she certainly acted in self-defense” another blogger added.
Others, however, blame the entire situation on officials who failed to protect Li. “Officials are who deserve to go to prison. She went to police to complain and they never did anything.”