Uproar over 'soft' penalties in China abortion case

BEIJING - Chinese netizens and supporters of a woman forced to abort seven months into her pregnancy reacted with outrage Wednesday over the “soft” punishment meted out to officials involved in the scandal.

Local authorities forced Feng Jianmei to go through the termination this month in north China’s Shaanxi province because she failed to pay a hefty fine, and seven officials have since been given “administrative sanctions”.

“I’m not satisfied,” Feng’s lawyer, Zhang Kai, told AFP over the phone.

“(The punishment) is too soft. They should have pushed for (the officials to be held) criminally responsible.”

Authorities announced Tuesday they had sacked two officials over the scandal in Zhenping county, including the head of the county’s family planning bureau, and handed lighter penalties such as “warnings” to five others.

A report by the official Xinhua news agency posted on the website of the Ankang city government – which has jurisdiction over Zhenping – said the officials had “violated” national and provincial regulations.

Feng was forced to abort her pregnancy because she did not pay a 40,000 yuan (S$8,000) fine for exceeding China’s strict “one child” population control policy – a situation that rights groups say is common in China.

The case triggered an uproar after graphic photos emerged online of Feng lying in a hospital bed next to her baby’s blood-smeared corpse.

One of her relatives told AFP Wednesday the family was “not satisfied” with the punishments, but refused any further comment.

Netizens also reacted with outrage and the issue ranked second on the day’s list of hot topics on the Sina microblog, with more than 1.6 million posts.

“Seven people get administrative sanctions... I thought they were going to shoot several to death for murder, but now I realise I was thinking too much,” one web user said.

“How can a country protect its people and be trusted by people if it has no reverence for life?” said another.

Chinese authorities regularly crack down on people who draw too much attention to official wrongdoing, and Feng and her family have come under intense pressure since her plight was publicised online.

Feng’s husband, Deng Jiyuan, went missing on Sunday and has still not reappeared. He called a family member Tuesday to say that he was “safe", but refused to say where he was or whether he was being held against his will.