The teenage son of a prominent Chinese general denied the charge of gang rape on Wednesday, inflaming public anger in a case that has stirred resentment against the offspring of the political elite who are widely seen as spoilt.
Li Tianyi (李天一), 17, is one of five accused of assaulting a woman in a Beijing hotel in February, according to state media.
Li has become the most prominent target of complaints that the sons and daughters of China’s top-ranked Chinese Communist Party officials can dodge the law because of family influence.
Li’s father, General Li Shuang-jiang (李雙江) of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), is a singer known for performing patriotic songs on television shows and at official events.
Li’s mother, Meng Ge (夢鴿), is a famous singer in the PLA.
At a closed-door trial, Li said he was drunk and had no knowledge of the alleged assault, two Beijing-based state-run newspapers said on their microblogs.
Dozens of journalists, as well as supporters of Li and the victim, gathered outside the court in northwestern Beijing. Police officers dragged away one of Li’s supporters after she was seen talking to a reporter.
Two women stood in protest outside the court, holding signs that said: “Protecting the rights of mothers, females and young girls” and “Believe in justice.”
Li’s denial generated a torrent of criticism online.
“The Li family continues to challenge the intelligence of normal people. They’re using despicable, rogue means to acquit Li,” a microblogger said. “If a heavy sentence is not imposed, it will not satisfy the people’s resentment.”
The case has dominated headlines for weeks, focusing attention again on China’s political aristocrats, who are widely viewed as corrupt and above the law.
It follows the dramatic trial of ousted former senior politician Bo Xilai (薄熙來), whose family’s lurid excesses were detailed by the court and lapped up on social media.
Li’s legal adviser, Lan He, told reporters that lawyers hoped for a fair trial.
“Celebrities are also citizens and should not be held to ransom because of emotions,” he said in a question-and-answer session with bloggers on Tuesday. “A moral judgement cannot replace justice.”
It is not Li’s first brush with the law. In 2011, he 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.
“The general public is worried that his family, because of their relationships and power, will be able to use their connections,” said Zhang Ming (張鳴), a politics professor at Renmin University.
“In China, this kind of privilege is very powerful. It’s omnipresent,” Zhang said. “The people’s fears are not groundless.”
Yesterday, “Li Tianyi” was the second-most searched topic on Sina Weibo, a Chinese microblogging site, with his name generating 9.7 million search results.
Last month, hackers attacked the Web site of one of the law firms representing Li, saying: “We just want to return justice to the client.”