Li Tianyi: China court jails army singers' son for rape

John Sudworth explains why the Li Tianyi trial was watched so closely

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A court in China has convicted the son of two high-profile army singers of rape and sentenced him to 10 years in jail, state media say.

The court said it had shown leniency to Li Tianyi, 17, because he was a juvenile, despite the fact he was the ringleader.

Li and four others raped the woman at a Beijing hotel in February after drinks.

He had denied any sexual relations with the woman, who he alleged was working as a prostitute, previous reports say.

Li Tianyi is the son of Li Shuangjiang, who has the rank of general and is known for his renditions of patriotic songs on television. Li's mother, Meng Ge, is also a well-known singer in China's People's Liberation Army (PLA).

Many people in China have watched the case closely, shocked by the behaviour of the children of China's elite, and the way the police and courts often give them favourable treatment, the BBC's Damian Grammaticas in Beijing reports.

Chinese social media reaction

User Happy Edge Ball: "This verdict shows that China's legal system is fair and just."

User 9999jasmine: "Li's parents are both famous celebrities. He won't stay in prison for long as they have connections."

User TAR_survivor: "Public opinion hijacking the law is the biggest obstacle to rule of law in China."

In a news conference, court official Fan Jun said that it was irrelevant whether the woman was a prostitute or not, AP news agency reported.

"The key is whether the female has consented to sex," Fan Jun reportedly said.

Li, who was 16 at the time of the rape, plans to appeal against his conviction.

"I think this verdict is unjust," one of his lawyers, Chen Shu, was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency. "This decision is based on evidence that is delayed and verbal testimony. This type of verbal testimony is unreliable."

Three other teenage defendants and an older man were also found guilty by the Haidian Court in north-west Beijing.

The court said it was giving Li Tianyi a lighter sentence because juvenile offenders should be given a chance to correct and reform their behaviour.

Two of the teenagers who took part in the rape, one aged 15, had their sentences suspended because, the court said, they had confessed, showed remorse and apologised to their victim.

The one older man who took part was given a 12-year sentence because he too had regretted his actions and been co-operative.

'Public hatred'

Many observers outside the court expressed satisfaction with Li's sentence.

Just 16 years old when he led this gang rape, Li Tianyi has come to symbolise the outrageous excesses of the children of China's elites.

Convicting him, the court said security camera footage showed Li dragging his victim into a hotel lift and hitting her in the face.

When the 18-year-old refused to undress he stripped her and had forced sex with her.

His four companions, three also teenagers, then raped her too.

Li Tianyi is already notorious. Two years ago, driving a BMW car in Beijing, with no licence and no number plates, he assaulted an elderly couple who blocked his way, telling bystanders not to "dare call police".

Li Tianyi's father is an army general, famous for singing patriotic songs on television.

His mother also a singer, had insisted the woman had lured the boys into having sex.

Under pressure from the public the court has convicted Li Tianyi, but said it was giving him a lighter sentence because juvenile offenders should be given a chance to correct and reform their behaviour.

"This case represents the current social climate," observer Ma Haodong said. "Everyone is quite angry with the second-generation rich, the second-generation of officials and the second-generation celebrities."

Peng Kefang, who was also outside the court, said: "They shouldn't be able to do whatever they want."

Liu Shanying, a politics researcher from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told AP: "There has been too much public sentiment involved in this case, namely the hatred of the rich and powerful... the ruling has been directly or indirectly influenced by that."

This was not the first time that Li Tianyi, also known as Li Guanfeng, has been involved in a public outcry. In 2011, he was sentenced to detention for a year over a road rage incident.

He was behind the wheel of a BMW car with no licence plates in Beijing when he confronted a middle-aged couple in another vehicle blocking his way.

He assaulted the couple and shouted at shocked bystanders, telling them not to "dare to call the police".

His father apologised to the couple over the incident.

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