Chinese court jails college lecturer over sex parties

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A college professor accused of organising a swingers club and holding private orgies in China has been sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison, officials said, in a case that has touched off nationwide debate about sexual freedom.

Ma Yaohai, 53, was convicted and sentenced on charges of group licentiousness for participating in sex parties, an official from the Qinhuai District Court in the south-eastern city of Nanjing said. Ma, along with 21 other people, was arrested and charged last year – the first prosecution under a 1997 law, in a case that has drawn huge public interest with its titillating details. It has also generated debate about sexual freedom in a nation trying to shape its own modern morality.

Ma's lawyer, Yao Yong'an, said his client, who was the only one to plead innocent, plans to appeal the verdict. "It's definitely not a fair case. It's not based on the law... We can understand the reason behind it, but we can't accept it," he said. Three other defendants were acquitted with no penalties because they turned themselves in, Xinhua news agency reported, The remaining 18 defendants received jail sentences up to two-and-a-half years. One report said they got lighter sentences than Ma because they demonstrated "good attitudes" by pleading guilty.

Prosecutors had accused Ma, a computer science professor at Nanjing University of Technology, of organising a swingers club where members met online and gathered in private homes or hotels for group sex parties. But Ma maintained he had committed no crime, arguing that his activities involved consenting adults meeting in non-public places.

His defiance has struck a chord in an era of relative sexual freedom, where extramarital affairs and prostitution are common, and has drawn support from those who believe the government should stay out of the bedroom.

The Chinese are debating whether their laws on sexual behaviour may be outdated, in a society that has undergone stark changes in its attitudes toward sex.