A court yesterday sentenced the teenage son of a Chinese general to 10 years in jail for rape, court authorities said, after his trial spotlighted extravagant lifestyles among the Chinese elite.
Li Tianyi (李天一), 17, and four other males were found guilty of raping a woman in a Beijing hotel in February, court authorities said on a verified social media account.
The case drew widespread scrutiny in the country, where the children of the elite are often seen as living lavishly or above the law due to their connections.
Li’s father, Li Shuangjiang (李雙江), holds a rank equivalent to general in China’s military as dean of the music department for the army’s Academy of Arts, and is known for singing patriotic songs. His mother, Meng Ge (夢鴿), is also a prominent singer.
Li Tianyi had previously triggered controversy in 2011 after he and another teenager, both driving expensive cars, attacked a couple who reportedly blocked their passage, while the victims’ child looked on.
The court did not state clearly how Li had pleaded during his trial last month. During the hearings, Beijing News reported that he “did not admit to the sexual assault and did not admit to a relationship, saying he was drunk and did not know anything” about what happened.
The other four defendants, also minors, in the trial were sentenced to between three and 12 years in prison, with two of them receiving probation, the court authority said.
A court spokesman rejected via the official social media account online chatter that family background had led to a lighter sentence.
Internet users had speculated that Li would escape without a prison sentence, and some celebrated the verdict yesterday.
“To be honest, the conviction is fair enough because of the public attention,” said one user of Sina Weibo, a Chinese microblogging site.
Others decried what they saw as too light a sentence.
“How much do other gang rapists get? In 10 years he will be released and will be considered a great boy,” one post said.
Another user criticized authorities, writing: “The rights that people give you are not for protecting animals like them.”
It was not immediately clear if Li would appeal the charge. State media quoted Li’s legal adviser, Lan He (蘭和), as saying ahead of the trial that his family would appeal if the court gave a guilty verdict.
China’s new leadership under President Xi Jinping (習近平) has pledged to clean up government, amid public perceptions that officials enjoy increasingly immense wealth and privilege the higher they rise. In another high-profile scandal in 2010, the son of a police chief tried to use his father’s status to avoid any consequences for a fatal car accident.
After running over a student in the northern province of Hebei, Li Qiming (李啟銘) — who is not related — shouted: “Sue me if you dare. My father is Li Gang (李剛).”
His words became a catchphrase used to refer to children of powerful families who appeared to act with impunity.