My sister, on death row for fighting back

Li Dehuai is the brother of Li Yan, who is on death row in China. After years of violent abuse from her husband, she finally snapped in November 2010 and repeatedly hit him over the head with a gun, to stop him beating her. This is his story about Li Yan. Join our call for clemency.

Our mother was a teacher and our father was a factory worker. We grew up in a small village and my family was neither well off nor poor. When my sister turned 16, she started working in a factory too and she used to come back home during holidays. My sister was a smart and very practical person who yearned for a stable family life. She wanted a respected and good job. As our father worked in a state owned factory in the county, we received preferential treatment in factory recruitment. This is why my sister got the job and left the village. 

Despite me being 8 years younger, our relationship remains very strong.

Even as children we experienced domestic violence. My dad was very strict with us and he was violent towards mum. I remember once he hit mum. It wasn't a hard hit, but I can still vividly remember how loudly he was howling. My sister and I felt repulsed about family violence. 

My sister’s first marriage of 14 or 15 years ended in a divorce after her first husband, who was younger than her, got laid off in the 1990s. He became a depressed, angry and an uncaring drunkard who lacked any motivation.  Her second husband was five years older. He was working in the same factory as my sister. He pursued my sister so much that she said yes to him in spite of his violent reputation in the work place. She thought that an older man would be more caring, unlike her first husband.

The whole family was against her marriage to him because of his violent reputation and three previous divorces. My father threatened her that he would disown her if she married that man. I was against it because I felt that my sister was deceived by him. But they got married after a few months, against my eldest sister's advice of getting to know him better, before getting married in March 2009. 

I moved to another city to work.  Despite being in different towns we usually chatted over the phone a few times a month, but after her marriage, the phone calls slowly dwindled down to zero in the two months preceding the fateful night. 

She was quiet during her occasional home visits when dad was not home. I think she was upset with herself for not taking our advice. Once I asked her about the cigarette burn marks on her face. She responded and said they were from oil spatters when she was cooking. I asked her why the marks were only on her face and not her arm, but she seemed to have something that she could not disclose. I knew that she was not happy, but I didn't know it was that bad.

She was beaten very badly by her husband on the 2nd of August in 2010. She went to the local resident's committee (Juweihui) for help. They advised her to go to the hospital and the court. She went to a large hospital in the county and the doctor's report recorded that she had extensive external injuries to her chest and her left leg. Nothing came of it. On the 10th of August, she was beaten again. She went to the police and photos of her injuries were taken. But the Police thought it was just another domestic argument, a ‘private matter’. 

Male superiority is still prevalent in the Chinese society. Laws in China to address violence against women are inadequate and rarely implemented properly, with limited, if any, protection for the victim. Women in the country may even take beatings by their husbands as normal and they are even less likely or able to protect themselves due to the limited legal knowledge and the social circle they have.  Long term abuse can easily lead to extreme behaviours.

For my sister, most people do not want to give evidence to support her case for fear of antagonising her husband’s family. For those good friends and neighbours who did come forward, after being cautioned by detectives on perjury charges, their evidence was not accepted by the court.

I am very grateful for the effort of people across the world in pleading for leniency and the fight for justice on behalf of my sister. Thank you.

Help us save Li Yan from death row. To co-sign a fax calling for clemency, text SAVE LI and your full name to 70505

This is a shortened version of a blog originally published on Livewire. Find out how else to help Li Yan

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What is the cost of the text, I want to help but am unemployed, is there an easier way to sign online?

PIGWILLNOT 7 years ago

there's an online form at

markleesedixon 7 years ago

Hi PIGWILLNOT, texts cost your standard rate, no more than 10p.

EmersonStaff 7 years ago