China’s Supreme Court Must Stop Execution of Li Yan, Alleged Victim of Domestic Violence

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(CHRD, January 29, 2013) – CHRD joins hundreds of Chinese lawyers, rights activists and NGOs in urging China’s Supreme People’s Court (SPC) not to issue an execution order following the court’s approval of lower courts’ decision to sentence to death Li Yan (李彦), an alleged victim of domestic violence. Li killed her husband only after suffering repeated verbal and physical abuses—evidence that the courts have failed to take into serious consideration. Before the killing, she had reported the abuse to police and appealed for help to a local chapter of the All-China Women’s Federation, an organization operated by the Chinese government, but no investigations into her allegations ever took place.

The open petition, obtained by CHRD, has been signed by hundreds of prominent Chinese citizens from across the spectrum of civil society (see text in Chinese). Among the lawyers who have led the petition drive are Guo Jianmei (郭建梅), director of the Beijing Zhongze Center for Women’s Legal Counseling & Service Center, who represents Li during the phase of the Supreme Court’s review, and Teng Biao (腾彪), director of the Beijing Xingshan Institute, which closely monitors use of the death penalty in China. Some lawyers involved in the petition drive told CHRD that the killing took place on November 3, 2010, when Li’s husband, drunk at the time, beat her after instigating a quarrel and threatening to shoot her with an air rifle. Li took the rifle away and struck her husband hard with the weapon, killing him. In a panic, she cut up the body, but reportedly told someone soon afterward about the incident and asked that person to inform police. Li Yan neither fled the scene nor denied her role in the killing, which appears to have been accidental.

“The killing [by Li of her husband] was a tragedy that has to do with China’s lack of effective remedies for victims of domestic violence,” states the petition.  The citizens who openly endorsed the petition urge the SPC to abide by its proclaimed police of “using the death penalty less and using it cautiously” and act accordingly by not issuing the order to carry out the execution of Li. Chinese law allows the execution to take place upon the issuing of the execution order by the SPC following its approval of the death sentence. In this case, the Sichuan Higher People’s Court could carry out the execution within seven days of an order.

Lawyers told CHRD that both the Ziyang Intermediate People’s Court in Sichuan Province, which handed down the death sentence, and Sichuan Province People’s Higher Court, which upheld the verdict, did not examine evidence of domestic violence in a serious manner before dismissing the allegations. The courts also failed to consider the fact that Li had initiated the report to police about the killing. This judicial negligence may have subsequently led to unfair trials. Li had reported the abuses she suffered and sought help at the local chapter of the All-China Women’s Federation in Anyue County. The government- run organization, however, only filed a report but did not investigate. There were also police records of Li calling for emergency assistance after an incident of domestic violence, as well as testimonies by neighbors and family members of Li’s abuses by her husband. In calling for clemency, the lawyers have cited Li’s brother’s failed efforts at asking the courts to reconsider evidence of domestic violence after the trials. Local authorities assigned lawyers to represent Li in the first- and second-instance trials, which also may have weakened arguments supporting her defense.

“China’s highest court must send the case back for re-trial and request lower courts to fairly exam evidence of domestic violence as mitigating circumstances,” said Renee Xia, international director of CHRD. “If the court goes ahead with issuing the execution order, it would effectively take the life of a victim of domestic violence and perpetuate the legal system’s failure in protecting women in China.”

Media contact

Renee Xia, International Director, +1 240 374 8937,

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