Imprisonment of Chinese gay-porn writer prompts outcry against outdated judicial interpretation
A Chinese gay-porn writer was sentenced to 10 years in jail by a court in Wuhu, East China’s Anhui province, which has instantly provoked widespread public backlash on Chinese social media, with many netizens deeming the punishment to be “heavy” considering sex offenders usually get shorter prison terms.

“After causing such uproar, we further studied the case, making sure there is no erroneous judgement, and our ruling has legal ground to fall back on. So, we’re not quite concerned,” a staff with the court told the Southern Weekly, a Guangzhou-based state-run newspaper, right before the second trial in mid-December after the four defendants involved in the case appealed the previous verdict.

On October 31, nearly one year after Liu Tingting, who’s better known among fans by her penname “Tianyi”, was detained, she was given 10 years’ jail term for producing and selling obscene publications for profit. The first trial court said Liu earned a total of 150,000 yuan illegally for 7,000 copies of her book titled Seizer which was ascertained as pornographic before her arrest.

Multiple legal experts surveyed by the Southern Weekly confirmed that the legal basis for the ruling is a judicial interpretation made 20 years ago, which determines the amount of penalty mainly based on volumes and amount of money involved. They all regarded the particular interpretation as “not truly appropriate” considering over the past two decades, China’s economy has boomed and the per capital GDP has multiplied.

Tianyi has earned fame in the circle of Tanbi culture, a literary genre originating from Japan and depicting love between men. It was previously reported by the state-run China Daily that many young Chinese women who’re heterosexual were attracted to the Tanbi novels, which could be found on certain websites and post bars. Not all Tanbi books are pornographic or focus on sexual description.

Liu Tingting is not the only defendant in the case. He Zhi, 29, used to run a small printing business in Chengdu. He told the court that for providing better service, he would help arrange delivery to the book’s buyers after printing them out. He had been given the harshest punishment among all—10 years and six months in jail and a fine of 270,000 yuan.

Lin Shihui was responsible for proofreading six of Liu’s books between 2015 and 2017. She charged 500-600 yuan per book. For the income of 3,100 yuan, Lin was sentenced to four years in prison and a fine of 10,000 yuan in the first trial.

Ge Yingliang, 51, was handed 10 months in jail for selling Seizer through her online shop on the Taobao platform.

On December 17, the second trial of the high-profile “Tianyi” case was held in the local intermediate people’s court in Wuhu. The bone of contention was whether it was valid to classify Seizer as an obscene book and whether the juristic interpretation of 20 years ago was out-of-date. The public prosecutor finally suggested a retrial citing the reason the evaluation procedure of Seizer was flawed. He also stuck to the controversial judicial interpretation, adjudicating that Liu committed serious unlawful acts based on 7,000 volumes’ sales.

According to the Southern Weekly, in 2015, China’s Supreme People’s Court had scavenged 700 outdated judicial interpretations enacted between 1949 and 2011.   
 “Judicial interpretations concerning theft, fraud, corruption and bribery usually could be updated over time because they’re used in high frequency … but crimes involving obscene goods are comparatively rare to see,” Ruan Qilin, a criminal law professor with the China University of Political Science and Law, said.

Ruan warned that besides the flawed judicial interpretation, the legislative system has its own problems. “Judges’ discretionary power tends to be strictly limited,” he said, indicating the practice to restrict judicial officers is intended to prevent them from arbitrarily settling lawsuits.

A legislative system that restricts discretionary powers of judges can lead to a situation in which even if a judge knows his ruling based on prefixed criterion could stir up a public outcry, he's got no other choices.

China’s criminal law released in 1979 regulated people’s courts at various levels could make judgements based on concrete situation of cases. However, after the law was amended in 1997, the discretionary power was retracted back to the Supreme People’s Court.

“I’ve been thinking if it’s really because we’re committing felonies so we deserve all this,” Liu Tingting last said in her court statement, shedding tears.


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