Senior police officer dismissed, many under investigation after Tangshan assault

Society & Culture

As calls for answers and accountability continue, local authorities in Tangshan finally updated the public on the latest about its investigation into a violent attack on women that has outraged the nation.

Oriental Image via Reuters Connect

Amid growing scrutiny and pressure regarding its handling of a vicious, misogynistic attack that has held the attention of the media and the public in China for weeks, authorities in the northeastern city of Tangshan, Hebei Province, have finally released an update on its probe into the assault, saying that multiple law enforcement officers were under investigation over different acts of misconduct.

The announcement (in Chinese) comes almost two weeks after the horrific attack occurred at a barbecue restaurant in Tangshan, where a woman and her three female friends were brutally assaulted by a group of men after she turned down unwanted sexual advances from one of them. Security camera footage showing the assault surfaced on the Chinese internet on June 10 and immediately went viral, unleashing a wave of anger and debates over male violence against women in the country.

A day after the incident, the Tangshan police issued an announcement saying that all nine suspects involved in the attack — including two female partners who were with the men but didn’t directly engage in violence — had been apprehended. At least five of the suspects were found to have criminal records, ranging from offenses of intentional infliction of harm on others to running an underground online gambling ring.

In the announcement, officials also said that the two women who required hospital treatment following the attack had been moved out of intensive care and into a regular patient room, where they were recovering from non-life-threatening injuries and were in stable condition. 

But in the days that followed, no further information from official sources was made public, while the victims and their families remained out of the public eye. The swift arrest of suspects and a two-week campaign announced by Tangshan authorities to crack down on organized crime dominated domestic headlines, with photos and videos of police officers patrolling and standing guard behind customers at restaurants making the rounds on social media. 

The latest update, unveiled today by the public security department of Hebei Province, brought a temporary sigh of relief from many concerned critics who feared that the investigation would go cold as the news cycle and public attention shifted focus, or the slow response was an indication of a potential cover-up of police misconduct in Tangshan. According to the report, the deputy chief of the Tangshan police Lubei branch, which was responsible for the initial handling of the case, has been removed from his post, though no specific reason was provided for the dismissal. The scope of the investigation goes beyond the attack itself, officials said, as a review of various forms of police misconduct was underway, including unresponsive policing and irregular law enforcement.

The announcement also contained an update on the medical condition of the victims. Citing a forensic report, police authorities said that the two hospitalized women suffered “second-degree minor injuries,” a categorization that ranks second-to-last on the scale of injuries used by the Supreme People’s Court of China. 

Although some law experts defended the assessment (in Chinese), saying that legal definitions of various degrees of physical harm were different from people’s perceptions, many internet users took to social media to protest the evaluation, saying that it was an underestimation of the pain that the injured women seemed to suffer in the video and a total disregard of the emotional distress caused by the violence. 

“I’ve seen so many experts telling the public that ‘minor injuries’ aren’t actually insignificant in the language of law. Okay, I get it. But why didn’t you redesign the scale?” a Weibo user fumed (in Chinese). Another one said (in Chinese), “Inflicting second-degree minor injuries on someone carries a maximum penalty of three years of imprisonment. This is far from enough for those scumbags in Tangshan.”