It took six years for a case in which an 11-year-old girl was sexually assaulted by a gang and forced into prostitution in Yongzhou, Hunan Province to be resolved. Tang Hui, the victim's mother, made petitions on several occasions due to dissatisfaction with the judgment, earning herself a one-and-a-half-year labor reeducation sentence from the Yongzhou police. The public is livid over the issue. Yesterday, the Hunan Politics and Law Committee announced it would step in.
If Tang really disturbed the public order and deserved punishment, the process should be transparent and accepted by the public. However, the reality is that the public is questioning and opposing the punishment. Such a decision has damaged the government's image. The Hunan Politics and Law Committee quickly organized an investigation group and announced that if there were mistakes made, they will correct them. This shows that there really were some unreasonable aspects involved.
The possibility that some law enforcement officers abused power in Tang's case needs to be further investigated. The Hunan High People's Court closed the case in June by sentencing two criminals to death and four to life imprisonment. It's not a light punishment. The officials should reflect on why the case still drew public ire.
If Tang did put forward some unreasonable demands and disturbed the public order, she should be punished. The Yongzhou police listed a series of Tang's "illegal" activities disturbing social order, including appealing in front of the local courts, blocking the way of officials and making a scene at a judicial branch, and so on. But these activities didn't severely harm the public's interests.
It's worth noting that China's petition and labor reeducation system both have loopholes, and can easily lead to controversies. These systems could solve many problems if they were effectively used, but if officials abuse their power, more problems will emerge.
In the wake of Tang's case, some have suggested eliminating the labor reeducation system, arguing that it's not in accordance with the constitution for police to deprive people of their freedom without trial. These arguments pose new challenges to China's social governance structure.
China is not a society that strictly abides by the rule of law. Officials should be of high caliber and have the ability to handle complicated situations. But a minority of grass-roots officials put themselves above the public, and think they are the center of the local order. Officials should bear in mind that they are public servants, and are not above the people. In the Internet era, local public crises will easily have a nationwide influence. The officials must adapt to the new environment brought by the Internet.