HONG KONG — A court in China has handed down heavy sentences to members of a gang that carried out a brutal attack on several women in a restaurant three months ago that shocked the country with its violence and reignited debate over gender inequality.
Seven members were found guilty of participating in the attack and along with 21 others of committing a series of serious crimes over the past decade, according to a social media post by the Guangyang District Court in northern China’s Hebei province. They received prison terms ranging from six months to 24 years, it said.
The prison terms are expected to dampen the debate over the lack of protections for women’s rights sparked by the attack, although the court did not directly address the issue in its five-paragraph report on the case and ruling. Under Chinese law, 25 years is the maximum sentence short of life imprisonment or death. Other criminal activities carried out by the gang since 2012 included robberies, false imprisonment and operating illegal casinos.
Despite the brutality of the attack, the four women suffered minor injuries, the court post said. By convicting the perpetrators as members of a criminal gang and charging them with other crimes committed years ago, the court was able to hand down sentences that would satisfy the public, lawyers said. However, due to the opaque nature of the investigation and trial, it was also unclear how much of each sentence was due to the restaurant attack and how much to other crimes—or whether the prison terms were appropriate punishment for what each defendant had done. they said.
“Court decisions are supposed to provide guidance for social values,” said Wang Shengsheng, a lawyer specializing in criminal law with the Guangdong Times Law Firm, adding that the verdict failed to ease feelings of insecurity and anxiety felt by women in China.
Chinese officials are trying to steer public opinion about the nature of the attack by portraying it as pure gang violence rather than a women’s rights issue, said Yaqiu Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“Diverting public attention from gender-based violence to gang-related violence shows the ability of Chinese officials to manipulate public opinion,” Ms Wang said before the sentence was announced. “Many in the future may remember it only as gang violence.”
The case caused an uproar after a video began circulating online on June 10 showing several men assaulting some women at a barbecue restaurant in Tangshan, Hebei Province. In the CCTV footage, a man wearing a dark green jacket, later identified as 41-year-old Chen Jizhi, walks up to a table where three women were sitting. Mr Chen was seen putting his hand on one of them, who was wearing a white T-shirt, who then pushed him away. Mr. Chen began assaulting her and other women who came to help her. His friends joined in. The women were dragged to the floor, where the men continued to beat them—the sound of heavy punches could be heard on the video.
The video went viral and reignited public anger over gender inequality in the world’s second-largest economy, where women’s status in society has not always kept pace with decades of rising prosperity. Earlier this year, footage showing a woman chained by her neck in a shed in Jiangsu province, a relatively prosperous region in eastern China, shocked the country. Authorities later confirmed that the mother of eight had been sold into marriage and arrested her husband.
When Hebei provincial authorities in August charged the 28 with being part of a criminal gang, they also said they were investigating whether local police provided protection to criminal groups.
Friday’s court ruling ordered the seven gang members involved in the attack to pay restitution, including medical expenses and loss of income.
The verdict was widely applauded on Chinese social media. A post of the news in state media received about 1.2 million likes by early afternoon.
Write to Cao Li at firstname.lastname@example.org and Liyan Qi at email@example.com
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