A woman who became a symbol for the groundswell of opposition to China’s labor camp system scored a rare victory Monday in an appeal for compensation in a case that generated a huge public outcry.
The Hunan Provincial People’s High Court ruled in favor of Tang Hui, who last year was sentenced to 18 months in a labor camp for petitioning for harsher penalties for the men who abducted, raped and prostituted her 11-year-old daughter.
At the time, Tang’s case drew massive public opposition and she was released within days.
The labor camp – or “re-education through labor” – system was established to punish early critics of the Communist Party but now is used by local officials to deal with people challenging their authority on issues including land rights and corruption. Cases like Tang’s last year have galvanized critics, many of them within the government, and public expectations for reform have grown.
In January, Tang sued the labor commission of the city of Yongzhou for an apology and compensation but the lawsuit was rejected four months later. She then appealed to the provincial court.
On Monday, the court ordered the labor commission to pay Tang 2,941 yuan ($500) for violating her personal freedom and causing mental damage, Tang’s lawyers said.
Tang could not immediately be reached for comment as calls to her mobile phone rang unanswered. One of her lawyers, Xu Liping, said Tang has accepted the ruling and that to a large extent, it offered comfort to her.
“To Tang Hui, this is a relatively big turning point for her. Now she can start to regain a normal life,” Xu said.
Tang’s other lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang, said the lawsuit’s significance was limited because it was focused on obtaining compensation rather than questioning the legality of the labor camp sentence she had been given.
“The court ruling is a result of a compromise between the various forces that are exerting influence over the case. Of course it’s not as though real justice or fairness has been achieved,” Pu said.
Pu said Tang had been pressured by local authorities not to file an appeal against the labor camp sentence itself and so her only avenue for redress later was to seek financial compensation.
“From the perspective of compensation, this ruling has been based on evidence and should be welcomed,” Pu said. “I personally feel that the court has done to the greatest extent what it can do under the present circumstances.”
The ruling also came across as the court’s tacit acknowledgment that Tang’s case was particularly egregious, said Zhang Ming, a China politics professor at Renmin University.
“For people like Tang Hui, it is totally unfair. Her daughter had been through a horrible experience, and you send her to labor camp? It can’t be justified,” Zhang said.
The court, however, ruled that Tang’s request for a written apology from the Yongzhou labor commission could not be granted because there was no legal basis for it.
This could be a strategy for the authorities to avoid acknowledging wrongdoing, Zhang said. “Even if the labor committee lost this lawsuit, it doesn’t mean they’re admitting that they were wrong,” he said.
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