China sacks official, punishes others in forced abortion case

PHOTO: China sacks official, punishes others in forced abortion case

BEIJING - Chinese officials have fired a local family planning official and punished several others after a woman was forced to abort her seven-month pregnancy, sparking a firestorm domestically and around the world, China's government-run media reported.

Feng Jianmei's abortion was portrayed in the Chinese and international press as an example of the extreme measures some officials would take to control China's population, even if it meant breaking Chinese law.

China has used strict family planning policies since the 1970s to control its population, now at 1.34 billion.

China's one-child policy is still generally enforced, although there are a number of family situations exempt from the rule. Officials have long been known to compel women to have abortions to meet birth-rate targets.

Feng, 22, was taken from her home on June 2 and forced to sign consent for the abortion, because she already had a child and could not, or would not, pay a hefty fine to have a second. She and her family say she was coerced to end the pregnancy.

"According to the investigation, while persuading Feng to receive the abortion, some staff of the township government used crude means to violate her intentions," the state-run news agency Xinhua reported late Tuesday.

"There was also no legal basis for the township government's demand that Feng and her family pay a deposit of 40,000 yuan (S$8,068) for a certificate allowing her to have her second child," the report said.

The city government of Ankang in inland Shaanxi province has fired Jiang Nenghai, head of the Family Planning Bureau in Zhenping County, and given "administrative demerits" to Yu Yanmei, deputy county magistrate of Zhenping in charge of family planning, said Xinhua.

Other local and hospital officials where the abortion took place were handed unspecified punishments, Xinhua said.

The Zhenping county government has offered Feng's family compensation, Xinhua said, without adding details.

Chinese media reported the case after her husband posted pictures online of Feng lying on a bed next to her aborted baby. The pictures stirred outrage on China's Internet and international condemnation.

However, the case has also sparked criticism of Feng and her family for being "traitors" for talking to foreign media. The family's comments to a German journalist prompted marches in Zhenping by at least a dozen protesters carrying banners denouncing Feng and her husband for "treason," according to photos circulated on Chinese microblogs.

"What the authorities did ... represents a serious violation of national and provincial policies and regulations on population and family planning," Xinhua earlier this month quoted the provincial family planning commission as saying.

Forced abortions are a sensitive issue in China. Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng rose to prominence seven years ago for campaigning against such practice done in the name of the one-child policy.

Chen, 40, one of China's most prominent rights activists, escaped from house arrest in April and fled to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, causing a diplomatic crisis that was resolved when he was allowed to travel to the United States in May.