In November 2010, after months of abuse, Li Yan snapped. She killed her husband, Tan Yong, after he had threatened to shoot her with an air rifle. She grabbed the gun and beat him to death with it.
Ms Li has since been condemned to death and the sentence could be carried out any day now following approval by China’s Supreme People’s Court. Legal scholars and rights groups, campaigning for Ms Li’s sentence to be commuted, say her case shows that Chinese law does not adequately investigate cases of domestic abuse, or take the circumstances into account when victims turn against abusers.
According to Ms Li’s brother, Li Dehuai, Tan Yong had stubbed out cigarettes on her face and legs. He would bang her head against the wall and once dragged her down three flights of stairs by the hair. Ms Li, from Sichuan province, says she repeatedly complained about her husband’s abuse to the police and other local authorities, but none took steps to investigate. Evidence of her pleas for help was presented in court during her trial, but rights groups say they were not taken into consideration. “It is cruel and perverse for the government to impose the death penalty on Li Yan when it took no action to investigate her husband’s abuse or to protect her from it,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “China’s legal system needs to take account of the circumstances that can lead domestic violence survivors to resort to violence in self-defence.”
According to the Anti-Domestic Violence Network, China’s women’s jails are filled with women who have wounded or killed abusive husbands.