Chinese social media accounts supporting alleged rape victim shut down

Hashtag campaign gathers force after Liu Jingyao sues Richard Liu for sexual assault in US

Friday 03 May 2019 16:59 BST
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WeChat accounts expressing support for Liu Jingyao  have been disabled in recent days
WeChat accounts expressing support for Liu Jingyao have been disabled in recent days

A number of Chinese social media accounts have been shut down after they expressed support for a woman who has accused the founder of an online shopping company of rape.

Billionaire Richard Liu, chief of JD.com, is the most high-profile Chinese businessperson to be publicly accused of sexual assault.

University of Minnesota student Jingyao Liu alleges in a lawsuit filed in Minneapolis last month that the 46-year-old internet tycoon forced himself upon her in his vehicle and later raped her at her apartment last summer.

The two Lius are not related. Richard Liu is also known by his Chinese name, Liu Qiangdong.

Chen Chun is one six people whose social media accounts were shut down for offering public support to Miss Liu.

WeChat informed Mr Chen earlier this week that his account could no longer be used because it shared an online petition in support of Jingyao Liu which "violated regulations".

Five other accounts circulating the petition with the hashtag #HereForJingyao have also been disabled in recent days.

"This is a pretty big case," Mr Chen said. "It's quite meaningful because in China we haven't yet had a case that reaches this level."

Mr Liu was initially arrested on suspicion of felony rape, but prosecutors announced in December he would not face criminal charges because the case had "profound evidentiary problems". His defence lawyers said at the time his arrest was based on a false claim.

Jingyao Liu was 21 years old when the alleged attack took place, according to the lawsuit. She is seeking damages of more than $50,000 (£38,000).

The case has stirred intense online debate, as China's #MeToo movement grapples with the first allegation against a prominent business leader.

Advocacy for sexual assault victims has gained considerable traction despite persistent censorship, but most of those publicly accused have been university professors.

"This case is different because it involves a business mogul," said Mr Chen, who believes that Mr Liu's financial might has allowed him to press a strong defence in the court of public opinion – an option not available to most who have been accused of sexual assault in China.

Supporters of both parties have waged aggressive online public relations campaigns claiming to show the truth of what happened the night of the alleged rape.

Last Monday, two edited surveillance videos of Mr Liu and Ms Liu were posted on China's Twitter-like Weibo platform by a recently created anonymous account. The videos show the two at a group dinner, in an elevator and walking arm-in-arm that night.

A lawyer for Mr Liu, who showed the Associated Press full, unedited surveillance videos from a restaurant and apartment complex, said they provide a different account of what transpired.

"The way it gets described sounds so much more nefarious than it actually is," said attorney Jill Brisbois. "She's step-in-step with him at every point."

While the woman has alleged she was impaired and coerced to drink, she appears to be walking without assistance and linking her arm with the businessman's.

Mr Chen said Ms Liu also sent him and other supporters the full surveillance videos, which they edited themselves and posted online along with their own interpretations in support of the woman.

It is not clear who is behind the account that first posted the videos. The account, called "Minnesota Events," said it was "exposing" Ms Liu's "intimate manner" in appearing to invite Mr Liu inside her apartment. The account user did not respond to requests for comment.

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The law firm representing Ms Liu said the videos are consistent with what she told law enforcement officials and alleged in her lawsuit. The videos do not show what happened in the apartment or in the car, which are the core of her allegations.

"An incomplete videotape and the silencing of WeChat supporters will not stop a Minnesota jury from hearing the truth," said Wil Florin, a lawyer for the accuser.

AP

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