China Charges 28 People, Months After Brutal Beating of Women
HONG KONG — A group of men caught on camera violently beating several women at a barbecue restaurant in June were charged on Monday, part of a wider investigation into the criminal activities of a local gang in the Chinese city of Tangshan.
More than a dozen officials and police officers are also under investigation for corruption, more than two months after the brutal attack unleashed a torrent of outrage over violence against women.
The government has emphasized that the episode, which shocked the nation, was related to broader “evil forces” involving gang activity and played down the gender-based aspect of the attack, which appeared to have begun when one woman rebuffed a man who approached and touched her.
Security camera footage of the beating, in which four women were hit repeatedly with chairs, kicked in the stomach and dragged by their hair, was widely shared online in June and prompted a national conversation online about abuse of women in China.
Some people commenting worried that the women had been sexually assaulted. Others feared they were dead. Many criticized how slow the authorities had been to act, and raised concerns about underlying misogyny in Chinese society.
These conversations were soon censored, and the narrative began to shift away from the politically divisive topic of sexual violence to focus on the problems of gangs. Under increasing pressure to respond to a steady flow of recent cases of gendered violence, China’s Communist Party has sought to silence voices that could cause social unrest.
“For the C.C.P. today, protests over social issues and grievances are seen as a threat to the regime,” said Jennifer Pan, an associate professor at Stanford University who looks at political censorship in the digital world. “For issues that gain widespread attention, the C.C.P. works to ‘guide public opinion’ and sees social media, along with state media, as important channels to do so.”
Authorities announced several arrests a few days after the attack and said they were widening the case to look at broader gang violence, and then went silent.
On Monday, the authorities broke their silence to say that after concluding an extensive investigation, they had charged 28 people involved in 11 crimes dating back to 2012 that ranged from robbery, operating illegal casinos and assault to picking quarrels and provoking trouble. In their statement, the authorities also said that the criminal syndicate had wreaked havoc on local social life and the economy.
The statement mentioned the beating at the barbecue restaurant in June but did not say which of the charges were specifically related to that. It also said that any accounts of sexual assault and rumors of other violence associated with the restaurant attack were “false information.”
In a separate investigation that remained open, the authorities said they had detained eight civil servants, including the head of one district police station in Tangshan, on suspicion of offering protection to the defendants and accepting bribes. They were also investigating several others, they said.
Two of the women who had been attacked on June 10 had remained in the hospital until July 1, the authorities said.
On Monday, Chinese state media broadcaster CCTV also released an 11-minute segment that reconstructed events on the night of the beatings. It featured several police officers and provided more details about the investigation, offering the government’s version of what happened.
Much of the segment featured police officers detailing the painstaking work they undertook and boasted of some 3,000 pieces of evidence that had been seized by the authorities.
One of the victims was briefly on the screen. Her body was facing away from the camera and just part of the back of her head was visible as she described being harassed and then slapped by one man and later beaten in an alley.
“Several people beat us. After the beating, they told us not to call the police or find anyone else — otherwise they would kill us. Then they ran away,” the victim said in CCTV’s interview.
The man who slapped her was also interviewed and identified by his last name, Chen.
“We beat up several women,” Mr. Chen said.
Online, people expressed shock and anger, mostly at the news that the police had offered protection to the criminals. A few comments asked why the female victims, who have not been heard from since June, were not featured more prominently in the state media report.
One commenter wondered whether there would have been any investigation or arrests if the episode had not become widely known.
“If there was no camera, if there was no netizen who posted the video online, if there was no release of the video, would no one care about this matter and the girl would have been beaten for nothing,” one person wrote in the comments section of the CCTV video.