By Sui-Lee Wee
A Chinese court jailed the teenage son of two celebrity army singers for ten years on Thursday for gang-raping a woman in a case that has fanned resentment against the offspring of the political elite who are widely seen as spoilt and above the law.
Li Tianyi, 17, was found guilty of sexually assaulting the woman in a hotel in February. He was one of five accused.
The verdict was a strict warning to the sons and daughters of China’s top-ranked Communist Party officials, who many Chinese say can dodge punishment because of family influence. Li has become the most prominent target of these complaints.
Li’s father is Li Shuangjiang of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), a singer known for performing patriotic songs on television shows and at official events. As dean of the music department for the Chinese army’s Academy of Arts, he enjoys the same treatment as a lieutenant-general, according to the People’s Liberation Army Daily.
Li’s mother, Meng Ge, is also a famous singer in the PLA.
“I think this verdict is unjust,” Chen Shu, one of Li’s lawyers, told reporters. “This decision is based on evidence that is delayed and verbal testimony. This type of verbal testimony is unreliable.”
Chen said Li would appeal.
The case captivated China for months, even more so than the dramatic trial of ousted former senior politician Bo Xilai, and has drawn fresh scrutiny to political aristocrats – called the “second-generation rich” or “second generation of officials” – who are widely viewed as corrupt.
Outside the court, many observers cheered Li’s sentence.
“This case represents the current social climate,” said Ma Haodong. “Everyone is quite angry with the second-generation rich, the second-generation of officials and the second-generation celebrities.”
The case followed a 2011 incident in which Li drove a BMW into another car in Beijing, beat up the couple inside the vehicle and then scoffed at bystanders about calling the police. He was sentenced to a year in a juvenile correctional facility and his father made a public apology.
Another person outside the court, Peng Kefang, held up a banner that said: “Lawyer Tian, the nation’s female compatriots thank you,” referring to the victim’s lawyer.
“I’m quite satisfied with this result,” Peng said. “Because this child is not the same as other children, he is among the wealthy second-generation. They shouldn’t be able to do whatever they want.”
Li was the only one among the accused who has denied the charge, saying he was drunk and had no knowledge of the assault.
Three of the accused apologised in court and their families have given the victim 450,000 yuan ($73,500) in total in compensation, according to Li’s lawyer, Chen.
Li’s case has led to a debate about the rights of women in China. A law professor sparked an outcry after he wrote in his microblog in July that “raping a chaste woman is more harmful than raping a bar girl”. He later apologised.
President Xi Jinping has made addressing discontent over abuses by officials a main goal. Rising mistrust of the government presents a potent risk for leaders who fear social instability.
Even the People’s Daily, the party’s mouthpiece, weighed in on Li’s case when it broke, saying the failure of prominent families to educate their children could “lead to antagonism among the people”.