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Rachel Lu

Mother of Rape Victim Sentenced to Hard Labor, Chinese Blogosphere Explodes in Indignation

Tang Hui, holding a flyer searching for her daughter

Street vendor Tang Hui and her family’s life took a tragic turn in October 2006, when her 11-year old daughter went missing in her hometown Yongzhou, a small city in Hunan Province. After three months of tireless search, Tang found out that the fifth-grader was repeatedly raped, beaten and forced into prostitution in a nearby spa center. This outrage made national headlines in China in 2007 and 2008. In 2008, the local court handed out death sentences to two defendants accused of rape and sex trafficking, life sentences to two accomplices, and long jail sentences to two others accused of rape. 

The tragedy did not end there. The defendants appealed. Tang and her family, on the other hand, believed that the sentencing was too lenient on the defendants who escaped the death sentence and the justice system failed to punish certain police officers who did not do their jobs or tried to cover up the crime. What’s more, one of those convicted sought to reduce his sentence based on “meritorious conduct” that the local police may have helped fabricate. As a result, Tang has continued to seek justice for her daughter and air her grievances for more than five years. (In June 2012, a higher court handed out two death sentences, four life sentences and a 15-year jail sentence to those involved.)

On August 2, however, Tang was sentenced to 18 months of hard labor for “disruption of social order” because she slept in a court room for 15 days, tried to block cars and gates at various public institutions and distributed leaflets about the case during the course of her appeal. Tang’s “labor re-education” sentence, as is often the case in China, was handed down by the police and was not subject to judicial due process.

The news exploded onto China’s social media, with most netizens expressing shock and outrage at Tang’s misfortunes. On Sina, Weibo, China’s Twitter, a recent search for mentions of the normally anonymous city of Yongzhou yielded over 4.3 million tweets. In the face of growing controversy, on August 5, Yongzhou police (@永州市公安局) released two statements on Weibo describing Tang as a vexatious woman who refused to accept court decisions. The statement attracted more than 37,000 mostly negative comments calling for Tang’s release. 

Well-known blogger Li Chengpeng tweets angrily,

Her 11-year old daughter was raped, her 11-year old daughter was forced into prostitution. She wanted to appeal the sentences but she still believed in the Party and the court. She knelt before government buildings and lied down in front of officials’ cars. You put her into labor camp for disrupting social order, but you are the ones disrupting social order. Your social order is an evil order. You have daughters and mothers too, go home and ask them whether it is humane to put into labor camp a mother seeking justice for her daughter. Hunan, release her, I’m looking at you! {{1}}[[1]]她11岁的女儿被强奸,她11岁的女儿被迫卖淫,她不服判决,可还相信党和法院,跪在庙堂之下,趴在官车轮前。竟把她劳教,以扰乱社会秩序的名义。扰乱社会秩序的正是你们,你们的社会秩序是邪恶秩序。你们有女儿有母亲吧,回家问她们,劳教一个为女儿喊冤的母亲,是不是太没人性。湖南,放人,我盯着你![[1]]

Behind the raw anger about Tang and her family’s misfortunes, many netizens have re-opened the discussion on abolishing China’s
“re-education through labor” system. According to the website of the Bureau of Reeducation-Through-Labor Administration, there were 350 labor facilities with 160,000 inmates in China as of the end of 2008. 

Writer Murong Xuecun (@慕容雪村) directs his ire at the system: “Tang’s case shows barbarism and inaction of the law enforcement agencies, but also the darkness and cruelty of the labor re-education system. A person can be thrown into prison for offending a local official, without trial or evidence. Millions have met this fate since [the system was put in place] 45 years ago, and it will continue to bring pain and suffering in the days to come. It’s not only dangerous for Tang, but for all citizens. If labor re-education is not abolished, citizens will never be secure.” {{2}}[[2]]唐慧一案,不仅要看到执法机关的野蛮、不作为和无人性,更应看到劳教本身的黑暗与残酷。只要触怒当地官员,无需审判、也无需质证就可以把人投进监牢。45年来,已有千百万人身罹此难,未来的日子,它将持续带来苦难和伤痛。这不仅是唐慧的危险,也是全体公民的危险。劳教一日不废止,则公民一日不安全。[[2]]

There is some evidence that Tang may gain her freedom soon. On August 6, the People’s Daily reports that a special committee went to Yongzhou to investigate the case and promised to punish all those responsible. The People’s Daily’s Internet portal (@人民网) conducted an “Tweet-erview” of Tang’s attorney Hu Yihua (@胡益华律师) and asked him how to improve the general public’s confidence in government and the justice system. Attorney Hu tweeted in response, “An independent judiciary, an open media, the exercise of governmental power within a legal framework. Punish all violations of the law during the exercise of governmental power. Resolve the so-called “political issues” within the legal framework, and resolve the legal issues professionally. Then you will have the people’s trust and improve the people’s confidence in the government.” {{3}}[[3]]司法独立,媒体开放,让公权力在法律框架内行使,对公权力的行使过程中发生的违法行为做到违法必究,让所谓的政治问题法律化、让法律问题专业化!自然会取得民众的信任,增强老百姓对政府的信心。[[3]]

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Rachel Lu

Rachel Lu is a co-founder of Tea Leaf Nation. Rachel traces her ancestry to Southern China. She spent much of her childhood memorizing Chinese poetry. After long stints in New York, New Haven and Cambridge, she has returned to China to bear witness to its great transformation. She is currently based in China.