Woman who killed abusive husband in China has death sentence commuted

BEIJING (AFP) - A Chinese court on Friday commuted the death sentence of a woman who killed her abusive husband, her lawyer told AFP, with a rights group labelling the move a "landmark verdict".

The case of Li Yan, who in 2010 beat to death her husband - who had physically hurt her and three previous wives - has thrown the spotlight on domestic abuse, a largely taboo subject in China. Her case was sent back to a court in China's south-western Sichuan province last June, her brother previously told AFP.

Ziyang Intermediate People's Court has now resentenced the 44-year-old to death with a two-year reprieve, her lawyer Wan Miaoyan said - which means the penalty is likely to be commuted to life in prison, as is the norm in China.

"I can confirm that the sentence has been changed from an immediate death sentence to a death sentence reprieved for two years," Ms Wan said. But she added that Li should have been sentenced to 12 years. "I spoke to Li shortly before the trial and she said she cherished the opportunity to have her case reviewed," Ms Wan said.

"Every night before she went to sleep, she told herself that she was only alive because of the support she received from a lot of people."

Rights group Amnesty International's China researcher William Nee said Li's reprieve "could prove a landmark verdict for future cases where domestic violence is a mitigating factor".

But he said a "dark shadow" was cast over the ruling by the "continued persecution" of five feminist activists who were held for more than a month by Beijing.

They were detained shortly before International Women's Day as they prepared to hand out leaflets about sexual harassment on public transport.

Beijing said that an anti-discrimination group which had backed their plight, Yirenping, was suspected of breaking the law and would be punished.

The contrast sent "mixed messages" over the issue, London-based Amnesty said.

In 2009 Li married Tan Yong, who US-based advocacy group Dui Hua said had bragged about abusing previous wives.

He "kicked and beat her, stubbed out lit cigarettes on her face, locked her in a room without food, kept her outside on a balcony in frigid winter temperatures and cut off part of her finger", it added.

In November 2010 he attacked her with an air gun but she grabbed it from him and used the butt of the weapon to kill him, it said.

The Ziyang court did not respond to requests for comment from AFP.

Less than two decades ago, physical abuse was not even acceptable as grounds for divorce in China, but in 2001 the marriage law was amended to explicitly ban domestic violence for the first time.

Abuse still takes place in 24.7 per cent of Chinese families, according to the All China Women's Federation, which is linked to the ruling Communist Party.

United States-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders was critical of the court's decision, saying Li "faces execution in two years".

"China once again shows its unwillingness and its empty promises to protect women," said its international director Renee Xia.

China is widely believed to lead the world in executions, with an estimated few thousand every year, although official figures are kept secret.