Mainlanders hailed a young woman a heroine as she walked free from court despite being convicted of intentional assault in the killing of a public official.
Deng Yujiao, a manicurist at a hotel in Hubei's Badong city, was released yesterday on grounds of diminished responsibility after stabbing a local government official to death last month.
The 21-year-old claimed she acted in self-defense after the official, who was accompanied by two others, beat her and tried to force her to have sex. She also wounded one of the other men.
Deng was initially charged with murder, but it was changed to intentional assault following massive public pressure - with internet users holding her up as an icon against government sleaze.
The revised offense could still have been punishable by death, according to media reports.
Mainland websites were awash with euphoria following her release.
Citing Deng's victory, one netizen went on Sina.com to ask whether corrupt officials would dare bully ordinary citizens again.
Hailing Deng as a heroine and a warrior, another said in killing the official she has defended the dignity of all women.
"This is a victory for the people, a victory for justice," and "What she did was 100 percent self-defense," two others said.
But not everyone is happy with the verdict. One poster on jxcn.cn accused the court of abandoning its independence and dignity because it was swayed by public opinion.
Another on Sina.com said those who support the decision are "idiots," and "if such killing is justified, the law will become non-existent."
A judge at yesterday's brief trial said the court decided not to punish Deng because she had used excessive force in an act of self-defense, had surrendered to police and the officials involved had made a "major mistake."
At least 500 Deng supporters gathered outside the courthouse, though they were barred from attending the trial.
Zhang Tianyong, a Beijing-based human rights lawyer, said the court would not have freed Deng if the case had not attracted so much national attention and generated so much pressure.
"Deng Yujiao would most probably have been given a heavy penalty," Zhang said.
Hong Kong criminal lawyers pointed out that the ruling has no implications for local courts, though several thought Deng may also have walked free had the case been heard in the SAR.
It is normal for defense lawyers to raise all mitigating factors to gain the sympathy of jurors, said Law Society criminal law and procedure committee member Stephen Hung Wan-shun.
But barrister Philip Wong said the ruling appears to have been based on public views rather than the rule of law. In Hong Kong, he said, a judge and jury would have to consider whether self- defense was "reasonably proportional."
He noted too that "we have some precedents of defendants convicted of manslaughter receiving a probationary sentence."