A man in China has been sentenced to death a year after he set his ex-wife on fire while she was live-streaming on the Chinese version of TikTok, in a case that prompted public outrage toward domestic violence against women prevalent in the country.
Lhamo, a 30-year-old Tibetan woman and mother of two, died in September last year after her ex-husband, Tang Lu, doused her in gasoline and burned her alive at her father’s home in Ngawa (or Aba) in the southwestern province of Sichuan.
The case infuriated Chinese women after media reports suggested that Lhamo had been suffering from Tang’s frequent beatings since the two married a few years ago. Her older sister said Lhamo called the police at least twice, but officers refused to interfere because it was a “family matter.”
After the two divorced in June, Tang sought to remarry Lhamo but was rejected. On the night of Sept. 14 last year, Tang set Lhamo on fire out of resentment, the court in Ngawa said in a statement announcing the judgement on Thursday.
The court said it had handed down a death sentence because of the brutality of Tang’s crime and the “extremely bad” social impact he had caused.
Lhamo’s videos on Douyin, the mainland Chinese version of TikTok, were widely shared following her death, as people commemorated her and demanded more protection for women against the abuse of their intimate partners.
In her videos, Lhamo documented her seasonal trips to the mountains, at an altitude of some 14,000 feet, to pick herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine. She filmed herself cooking in the wild, milking cows, and joyfully dancing while lip-syncing to Chinese pop songs.
Following Lhamo’s death, her sister Dolma took over the account to post updates about the family.
Last week, on the first anniversary of Lhamo’s death, Dolma posted a video of rising sky lanterns. “I will protect the people you worry about and love. I will make our dreams come true,” she wrote. “In our next life I will be your older brother and protect you.”
Dolma did not immediately respond to a request for comment from VICE World News.
Capital punishment for those who committed serious crimes has strong public support in China despite protests from human rights groups. The country is believed to carry out the most death sentences in the world, although the exact number of executions is unknown.
The death penalty for Tang has been welcomed on Chinese social media, with many women hoping it could set an example for future rulings on intimate partner violence, which has often been met with lenient punishment, if any, under China’s patriarchal culture.
Some commenters continued to ask why law enforcement failed to act when Lhamo first reported her husband’s beatings to the police.
“No matter how hard you work, as long as the society sees you as men’s belongings and family assets, you will not be able to change your fate,” said one of the top-voted comments on the microblogging site Weibo.
The rising awareness of women’s rights in China is putting more pressure on authorities to address domestic violence cases, especially the ones that attracted public attention.
Responding to the court judgement on Thursday, the Communist Party-run All-China Women’s Federation said the sentence showed justice had been upheld and women’s rights were being protected.
The organization warned that intimate relationships should not be an excuse to shield crimes, and that domestic violence should not be treated as family matters.
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