A man in northern China was sentenced to 24 years in prison on Friday in connection with an attack on four women at a restaurant that stirred a national conversation on gender-based violence.
The man, Chen Jizhi, was found guilty of eight charges relating to the June attack in the city of Tangshan, as well as other criminal activities uncovered during the ensuing investigation, according to a statement issued by Guangyang District Court in Langfang, Hebei Province.
The charges included picking quarrels and provoking trouble, intentional injury, and involvement in organized crime for the past decade.
The court found that Chen and four other men beat a woman surnamed Wang and three other women with punches, chairs and glass bottles inside the restaurant and in the alleyway outside after Wang resisted Chen’s advances. The attack left two of the women hospitalized.
The court also found the attackers were members of a local criminal organization whose activities dated to 2012, including kidnapping, robbery and the running of gambling operations.
The group “organized for evil, oppressed the people, disrupted the order of local economy and social life, and caused detrimental social impact,” the court statement read.
In addition to fining Chen 320,000 yuan (about $45,000), the court ordered him and six others to reimburse the four victims for medical and other costs arising from the attack.
Besides Chen, the other 27 defendants in the case were jailed for fixed terms ranging from six months to 11 years, while 19 of them were fined between 3,000 and 135,000 yuan (about $420 to $19,000).
The Tangshan attack, CCTV footage of which quickly spread online, elicited an outpouring of anger among Chinese internet users, many of whom voiced serious concerns over the treatment of women in the country.
The publicity prompted swift action from the authorities, who launched an investigation into the response by local police. The attack also resulted in the removal of Tangshan from China’s honorary list of “civilized” cities.
The verdict on Friday was cheered on Weibo, a popular Chinese social media platform, with many commenters saying Chen’s harsh sentence was well deserved.
“Don’t let his sentence be reduced — let him serve 24 years in prison, and then come out to find himself decoupled from society,” one user wrote.
Such harsh verdicts relating to gender-based violence are a rarity in China, where a fledging #MeToo movement has struggled to gain traction amid strict controls by the Communist Party on any narrative that threatens its rule.
Although the verdict was welcomed by many online, some Chinese women’s rights activists note the country still has a long way to go in addressing an entrenched disparity in attitudes toward men and women.
“When women advocated for that case, they never merely called for the punishment of a few criminals; rather, they demanded a change in the culture of violence that deprives women of a sense of safety,” Lü Pin, a Chinese feminist activist, told NBC News.
The censorship of online discussion about the attack, she added, reveals the authorities’ true attitude toward women’s rights.
“If the government had taken gender violence seriously, it would have at least permitted people to discuss it,” Lü said. “However, numerous social media accounts discussing this case have been deleted on the grounds of ‘promoting gender strife.’”
Last month, a Beijing court rejected an appeal by Zhou Xiaoxuan, the plaintiff in the country’s highest-profile #MeToo case. Zhou become the face of the movement in China after she accused a powerful television host of sexually assaulting her while she was an intern.