A popular erotica writer in China has been slapped with a prison sentence of more than a decade over a novel containing gay sex scenes, sparking an uproar over the severity of the punishment.
Written under the pen name Tianyi, the book Gongzhan tells the tale of an illicit love affair between a teacher and a student and sold 7,000 copies online last year. Local authorities said the book describes obscene and perverted sexual acts between males, and that the author, a woman whose surname is Liu, made "illegal" profits totaling 150,000 yuan (£16,830), according to state media.
Pornography is illegal in China, and prison sentences for producing and distributing such content for profit can vary from a few years to life. Still, the harsh sentence for Ms Liu incited public outrage as lighter sentences have been passed down for more serious crimes, including rape and murder.
Last year, two ride-hailing drivers convicted of raping and assaulting passengers were given sentences of 10 months and 3.5 years.
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In 2013, a local official in Yunnan, a southern Chinese province, was given a five-year sentence after being found guilty of kidnapping and raping a four-year-old girl; after public discontent, his sentence was raised to eight years. Another case cited by critics was a man was sentenced to 6.5 years in prison in 2009 for beating his wife to death in Beijing.
China’s judicial system is opaque, confessions are sometimes coerced, and the courts can be pressured by the ruling Communist Party, leading to uneven legal interpretations and enforcement.
Li Yinhe, a renowned Chinese sociologist, also questioned whether the sentence was too harsh: “She did violate criminal law, but even a one-year sentence is too much, not to mention 10 years,” Ms Li posted online.
She also pointed out that a typical public response to punishing serious criminals would be relief, and not outcry. “It means society does not thinks she committed a heinous crime.”
The Communist Party government is engaged in a broader crackdown on online content, concerned that rumour-mongering or other illicit information could create widespread panic or public disorder.
Information and news in China are tightly controlled by government censors, with many foreign news websites blocked online, as well as Western social media, such as Facebook and Twitter.
With assistance by Paula Jin