China - Cyber activism scores victories behind the Great Firewall

On Sept. 26, 2013, a court in Beijing sentenced Li Tianyi to 10 years in prison for his leading role in gang raping a woman. Li Tianyi is the 17-year-old son of Li Shuangjiang, an Army general and well-known singer, and Meng Ge, also a celebrity singer.

The trial garnered widespread attention from a Chinese population disgusted by what they saw as the excess and relative impunity of the country’s elite. For months leading up to the trial, netizens took to cyberspace to chastise the legal system, which they believed would treat Li Tianyi leniently because of his family’s status, and to demand justice.

The onslaught of online attention became such a significant aspect of the trial that the court eventually announced Tianyi’s guilty verdict through Sina Weibo, China’s popular microblogging platform. According to Zhejiang University law professor Lan Rongjie, the 10-year sentence was the maximum length a minor could receive. In an interview with the Guardian, Rongjie speculated that Tianyi would have received a lesser sentence had the trial not received such attention and outcry. The outcome, Rongjie said, demonstrated that the court felt its image and legitimacy was at stake.

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