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'Stand together': support surges in China for student accusing tycoon of rape

Hashtag campaign on social media gathers force after Liu Jingyao sued Richard Liu for sexual assault in US

Beijing (The Guardian) - China’s internet users have rallied behind a student who is pursuing a civil case against billionaire retail tycoon Richard Liu, whom she accuses of rape.

Twenty-one-year-old University of Minnesota student Liu Jingyao, who has agreed to be named, has accused the chief executive of getting her drunk at a dinner and later raping her in her apartment in the US. The company – which is China’s second-largest e-commerce site and has been included in the suit – has dismissed the claim as “meritless” and said it would defend itself vigourously.

Liu was arrested on suspicion of sexual misconduct in August last year. In December, US prosecutors dropped the charge, citing “profound evidentiary problems”.

The fresh lawsuit against Liu, who is said to be worth $7.5bn by Forbes, was filed in Minnesota and has sparked an outpouring of support, with two hashtags on Weibo gathering more than 15m views within days: #HereForJingyao and #IAmNotAPerfectVictimEither (#woyebushiwanmeishouhaizhe).

“I don’t want to analyze Jingyao, whether her actions and her personality were ‘normal’,” a Weibo user wrote. “I only hope more women can … stand together.”

“Rape culture emphasises a ‘perfect victim’,” one Weibo user wrote. “The logic is, you have to dress well, bite your tongue and die rather than be raped … No, I’m not the perfect victim you want! Why am I bullied and blamed for being imperfect?”

The surge in support also coincides with the emergence last week of videos showing Jingyao and Liu drinking together at a business dinner in Minneapolis and walking arm-in-arm to her apartment building. A lawyer for Richard Liu told the Associated Press the clips dispelled the “misinformation” circulated about his client’s alleged abuse.

Social media users have circulated an online petition in support of Liu Jingyao – who is not related to Richard Liu – which had gathered more than 1,000 signatures as of Wednesday. The petition is hosted on a Google Doc but most Chinese do not have VPNs to access Google.

Reports of attempts at censorship have emerged. Messaging app WeChat reportedly started clamping down on the conversation, an act reminiscent of the online censorship facing China’s fledgling #MeToo movement.

“Yesterday, my public [WeChat] account was permanently banned because of an article collecting signatures in support of Jingyao,” Chen Chun, a user going by the name Camus on the social media platform Douban told the Guardian on Wednesday.

Six other public WeChat accounts which have reportedly posted messages in support of Jingyao were closed, according to Douban user Emma. The accounts generally focused on topics related to women’s rights and social justice.

Since the rise of #MeToo, people’s awareness of sexual harassment has risen, and Chinese women have learned to believe testimonies of those like Liu Jingyao, said Sophia Huang, a women’s rights activist in Guangzhou.

Liu Jingyao, a business administration student at Tsinghua University in Beijing, was in the US as part of her course at the time of the alleged incident in August 2018. Richard Liu was attending a business doctoral program at the University of Minnesota, for which Liu Jingyao was a volunteer. He was briefly arrested on suspicion of criminal sexual conduct but in December prosecutors declined to press criminal charges, citing “profound evidentiary problems” that would make it unlikely to prove the assault “beyond a reasonable doubt”. said in a statement after Liu’s arrest that Liu, whose Chinese name is Liu Qiangdong, was falsely accused. “During a business trip to the United States, Mr Liu was questioned by police in Minnesota in relation to an unsubstantiated accusation,” the company said. “The local police quickly determined there was no substance to the claim against Mr Liu, and he was subsequently able to resume his business activities as originally planned,” it said.

Additional reporting by Lillian Yang.

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