BEIJING • Police in Beijing yesterday announced the arrest of a suspect believed to have attacked a woman at a hotel in full view of security cameras and multiple passers-by, three days after the incident sparked a social media firestorm.
Police said on Twitter-like Sina Weibo that they had caught the 29-year-old man, surnamed Li, on Thursday night in Xuchang city, Henan province - an eight-hour drive from Beijing. They said the investigation was still ongoing and did not reveal Li's identity, except that he is a Henan native. What motivated the assault remains unclear.
The attack on Sunday night is the latest in a series of flashpoint incidents in China, where witnesses have stood by doing nothing, sparking debate about whether the country is turning into a society of bystanders.
A woman using the screen name "Wanwan" on Tuesday posted a video of surveillance footage showing her being assaulted by a man in the hallway of a Yitel hotel, an economy chain, in Beijing.
Her assailant choked her, pulled her hair and tried to abduct her, while she shouted, "I don't know you, let go of me!", she said.
A hotel staff member, who assumed that they were a couple having a fight, observed them at close proximity for several minutes and told them to take their dispute elsewhere, but did not intervene, she added.
After a failed attempt to flee via the lifts, she was eventually rescued by a female passer-by who came to her aid, the footage showed. The man ran away via a fire escape.
"The whole incident lasted five to six minutes, in a place entirely covered with surveillance cameras, yet not a single security or hotel management staff member came out to help me," said Wanwan, who was reportedly on a business trip in Beijing.
The most popular of numerous hashtags referring to the incident had accumulated 2.4 billion views and 2.5 million comments as of last night on Weibo.
"When a man hits a woman, no matter whether they know each other or not and no matter what the reason or what the circumstances, you should always mediate and pull them apart if possible," said one comment.
Witnesses are often afraid to come to the aid of strangers in China, where there have been high-profile attempts by injured parties to try to extort money from those who have helped them.
Wanwan said she called the local police multiple times after the attack, only to be told that the matter "wasn't their business".
They opened an investigation after an outcry online. "It's true that posting on Weibo is even more effective than calling the police," one comment on Weibo said.
Yitel's parent company Homeinns apologised in a public statement on Wednesday.
It said the incident had revealed "insufficient security management and customer service", vowing to reform the hotel chain.