Image credit: Amnesty.
Over 400 lawyers and activists have signed a petition to the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate calling for clemency after China’s highest court authorised the execution this month of a Sichuan woman who killed her husband after being subjected to months of domestic violence.
Li Yan, 42, had lodged numerous complaints with the local women’s federation and given statements to the police about the abuse she suffered from her husband, Tan Yong. Tan frequently beat Li, stubbed out cigarettes on her face, and once even cut off one of her fingers, according to Amnesty International.
On the night of November 3 2010, a drunken Tan began quarrelling with his wife, threatening to shoot her with an air rifle while she was washing dishes, he then began to kick her.
Li hit her husband twice with another gun that was laying nearby, killing him. She then proceeded to dismember his corpse, throwing most of his body parts in a public toilet and a dyke, before making the potentially fatal mistake of confiding in a friend, who alerted the police.
Teng Biao , director of China Against Death Penalty who launched the petition campaign, said they were calling on the judiciary to re-examine the domestic violence that led to the killing and take it into full account in a new decision showing due respect for human life.
Feng Yuan , from the China Anti-Domestic Violence Network, said she had supported the petition letter because Li was not given a fair trial and her execution would do little good for the fight against domestic violence on the mainland.
“Her tragedy should serve as a resounding wake-up call to the public, because we’ll continue to see such tragedies happen if a preventative mechanism is not put in place offering victims of domestic violence timely help before violence gets out of control,” she said.
“We’ll either see a desperate wife kill her husband, or a husband kill his wife as he gets more violent,” Feng added.
“Justice is not served by executing Li Yan. Amnesty International calls upon the Chinese authorities to commute her death sentence to a term of imprisonment,” said Roseann Rife, Head of East Asia at Amnesty International.
“Had the Chinese authorities protected Li, as they are required to under international law, this tragic outcome could have been avoided. Li’s claims should have been properly investigated and her husband prosecuted before she resorted to violence herself,” said Rife.
In common law jurisdictions (eg UK, Hong Kong, Canada), the “battered woman defence” is an increasingly accepted defence to murder, similar to that of self-defence, whereby victims of domestic violence, though not at risk of immediate death, may nonetheless act in the firm belief that there is no other way than to kill for self-preservation, and should therefore be treated as if acting in self-defence.