Calls for Stay of Execution

China appears set to execute a woman who killed her abusive husband.

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li-yan-305.jpg Li Yan shown in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of Amnesty International

Calls are growing both in and outside China this week for a reprieve for a woman sentenced to death for killing her violent husband, putting the spotlight on domestic abuse issues in the country.

Li Yan, from the southwestern province of Sichuan, was found guilty of killing her husband Tan Yong following a violent dispute in November 2010.

Her lawyer said Tan had kicked Li and threatened to shoot her with an air rifle when Li grabbed the rifle and struck Tan with it, killing him. Li then dismembered Tan’s body.

Li was sentenced to death in spite of previous complaints she had made to police and women's groups of repeated verbal and physical abuses.

Her lawyers, relatives, and human rights groups all say this evidence wasn't taken seriously by the courts that sentenced her and that upheld the sentence on appeal.

Hopes for reprieve

"The Chinese government should immediately commute the death sentence against Li Yan," the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement on Wednesday.

Li could be executed imminently if the sentence is duly approved by the Supreme People's Court in Beijing.

An employee surnamed Lu who answered the phone at the law firm hired by Li to defend her said her legal team should be given the chance to prove she was under extreme threat of physical violence from Tan.

"If we can establish the evidence that there was domestic violence, she could be considered to be suffering from 'battered woman syndrome,'" Lu said.

"We hope that the Supreme People's Court will offer her a last-minute reprieve."

"I believe that Li qualifies as exhibiting this syndrome."

Mitigating factor?

HRW called on Beijing to take its lead from other countries, in which previous acts of violence against defendants can be used as a defense or seen as a mitigating factor in sentencing.

"It is cruel and perverse for the government to impose the death penalty on Li Yan when it took no action to investigate her husband’s abuse or to protect her from it," Sophie Richardson, China director at HRW, said in a statement on the group's website.

She added: "China’s legal system needs to take account of the circumstances that can lead domestic violence survivors to resort to violence in self-defense."

The China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) group also issued a statement on Li's case, saying she had reported repeated domestic abuse at Tan's hands to police, and had appealed for help to a local chapter of the All-China Women’s Federation.

"But no investigations into her allegations ever took place," CHRD said.

Early concerns

Li's brother Li Dehuai said he had had concerns about the health of his sister's relationship with Tan right from the start.

"When I was a kid, my father hit my mother on two occasions, and I have a very strong memory of it," he said. "That's why I am against beating women."

"I was against their getting married from the start."

He said he recognized that his sister had committed a terrible crime.

"In the end, she did something very wrong, and she also chopped up his body and scattered it around," Li Dehuai said.

"Perhaps her sentence would have been lighter if she hadn't dismembered the body."

Traditional Chinese belief regards bodily integrity in a dead person as crucial for passage to the next world.

'Unhappy household'

According to Beijing-based rights lawyer Tang Jitian, Tan's own wrongdoing hadn't sufficiently been taken into account, however.

"They should consider a lighter sentence, or a sentence that differentiates this case from other [murder] cases," he said.

"This was a very unhappy household, and it would be reflect poorly on our society if we terminated a second life through judicial methods."

HRW and Lu both said there is a need in China for legislation on domestic violence along the lines of similar laws in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

"I think there are deeper, ideological and social reasons why we haven't produced such legislation yet, such as a weak legislature and judiciary," Lu said.

Hundreds of prominent Chinese citizens have signed an open petition calling for a stay of execution for Li.

They include women's rights lawyer Guo Jianmei, director of the Beijing Zhongze Center for Women’s Legal Counseling & Service Center, and Teng Biao, director of the Beijing Xingshan Institute, which closely monitors use of the death penalty in China.

Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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