Hong Mei, a reporter in China who was covering domestic violence, was killed by her husband last year.
The husband, Jing Zhu, was found guilty of assault and received a suspended death sentence at a court in the city of Ordos in Inner Mongolia on March 20, according to a write-up about the verdict posted on the court’s website (link in Chinese). Jing will also be stripped off all his political rights for life, according to the verdict. Cao Chungfeng, a lawyer for the victim’s parents told financial news outlet Caixin (link in Chinese) that the husband was charged with intentional assault, rather than murder, so a suspended death-penalty is the severest sentence available under Chinese criminal law. The suspended death sentence means that no execution will take place for at least two years; the sentence also can later be commuted to life in prison.
China’s first ever anti-domestic violence law came into effect in March 2016. Hong, 40, was a journalist with a local broadcaster in Ordos. Before her death, she was covering the implementation of that new law, according to Caixin. She was killed a month after it came into effect.
According to the court’s account, on April 5, 2016, Jing was angry at Hong when she came home late one night. After failing to contact her by phone, Jing went out to search for her and bumped into her at their housing complex. He slapped Hong, kicked her, and then pulled her into the backseat of his car. He then grabbed her hair, and knocked her head against a car window.
Hong called in sick at work the next day. Jing hit her again after another quarrel. Hong died at her bedside due to bleeding in the brain caused by blunt force trauma.
The court added that Jing is an alcoholic and had been violent to Hong many times since they got married. Jing, currently in custody, didn’t immediately say if he will appeal the court decision, according to the court. His lawyer declined to comment to Caixin.
Feng Yuan, co-founder of a Beijing-based NGO focused on domestic violence, said that it is noteworthy that the court identified the husband as a frequent abuser, instead of simply taking into account the specific abuse that led to Hong’s death when handing down its trial decision.
The anti-domestic violence law was heralded as a serious effort by president Xi Jinping’s government to tackle the problem of abuse, and came about after decades of lobbying by civil society groups. The new law, for example, gives domestic violence victims the right to apply to courts for a personal protection order. Cao, the lawyer, told Caixin that Hong didn’t apply for a protection order.
Feng, of the NGO, added that it’s hard to tell if the verdict in Hong’s case marks significant progress in the way that domestic violence cases are handled in China, as “there have been many court verdicts that were not made public.”
Maya Wang, China researcher at Human Rights Watch, described the sentence in this case as relatively harsh, and said it would serve the purpose of deterrence, as in the past crimes carried out in intimate relationships “usually carry a lighter sentence.” However, she pointed out that the future of China’s anti-domestic violence efforts looks increasingly unclear amid a broader crackdown by Xi against civil society in China, which has led to a regression on women’s rights.
Last year, for example, the Chinese government closed down (paywall) an important women’s legal rights center in Beijing run by lawyer Guo Jianmei. Wang said that NGOs continue to play an important role in China in providing shelters and other forms of support for domestic violence victims as government support is still inadequate. According to the Washington Post, police in China are still reluctant to take domestic abuse cases seriously, with investigations often beginning only after an abusive situation ends tragically in death.