Businessman linked to China Alibaba rape case gets 18 months

When a young female employee of Alibaba, one of China’s largest technology companies, accused her manager and a corporate client of sexual abuse after an alcohol-driven work dinner last summer, it seemed like a turning point for the country’s start-up #MeToo movement.

Months later, it had not turned out that way.

In September, prosecutors decided not to charge the woman’s boss because they said his behavior did not constitute a crime. In November, Alibaba fired the woman, who is identified by police and her lawyers only by her last name, Zhou. The company claimed that Zhou had damaged his reputation by spreading untruths.

But now, in the latest developments, a Chinese court on Wednesday found Zhang Guo – the corporate client whom Zhou accused of sexually assaulting her with her boss – guilty of “forced obscenity”. It ordered Zhang to serve 18 months in prison, one of the few high-profile cases of men in China being held accountable after allegations of sexual assault.

The People’s Court of Huaiyin District in eastern China wrote in its ruling that Zhang, according to the findings, had exploited Zhou’s intoxication and insulted her near the restaurant’s reception and in a private dining room. It also found that Zhang had gone to her hotel room the next day and assaulted her again.

Alibaba fired Zhou’s former boss, identified in news reports by his last name, Wang, in August after Zhou publicly accused him of rape. Alibaba did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday’s court decision against Zhang. Feng Yanqiang, Zhang’s lawyer, said the verdict was wrong and called his client innocent. Mr. Zhang stated in court that he planned to appeal the decision, his lawyer said.

Zhou said in written answers to questions that Zhang’s sentence was shorter than she had expected. She said that the episode had led to her mental and physical health deteriorating, and that she was worried that the court’s decision would discourage other women from appearing in China.

“I can not easily encourage more women to be strong and brave, because I know how painful and difficult this process is,” she said. But instead of “dying” without an answer, she added, “one should choose to fight hard and get justice.”

The incident attracted national attention last year when Zhou stood up and shouted about the sexual assault in one of Alibaba’s cafeterias. A video posted online showed her highly accusing bosses and human resources of ignoring her complaints. As the video spread on social media, it created an uproar among viewers who were angry about the many imbalances and power imbalances women in China face.

The #MeToo movement has struggled to gain momentum in the country. Women who accuse men of sexual harassment or of creating a toxic workplace are often met with vitriol online. Institutions promote messages of female empowerment, but many women say that accusations of fraudulent behavior by colleagues or superiors are often ignored.

The court said on Wednesday that the prosecution had provided “reliable and sufficient evidence” to build the case against Zhang. It said Zhang had not confessed or asked for forgiveness. Chinese news media said that neither Zhou nor Wang, who were both listed as witnesses, appeared in court during the two-day trial in early June.

Claire Fu contributed research.