Anger as Chinese social media accounts shut down amid rape claims against founder

Six Chinese social media accounts have been closed down after advocating support for a woman who accused founder Richard Liu of rape.

Anger as Chinese social media accounts shut down amid rape claims against founder

Six Chinese social media accounts have been closed down after advocating support for a woman who accused founder Richard Liu of rape.

One of the bloggers, Chen Chun, has published articles on his public WeChat account for three years touching on politics, philosophy and current affairs - subjects that are often censored on Chinese social media.

More recently, the writer in southern China has focused on the country's growing #MeToo movement. He drew attention to several sexual assault cases and collected money for victims' families.

But it was only after he advocated support for Jingyao Liu, a woman who accused the founder of rape in Minnesota, that his account was permanently shut down.

WeChat informed Mr Chen this week that his account could no longer be used because it shared an online petition in support of Jingyao Liu which "violated regulations".

Five other accounts that were circulating the petition with the hashtag #HereForJingyao have also been disabled in recent days.

"This is a pretty big case," Mr Chen told the Associated Press. "It's quite meaningful because in China we haven't yet had a case that reaches this level."

Billionaire Richard Liu is the most high-profile Chinese businessman to be publicly accused of sexual assault. University of Minnesota student Jingyao Liu alleged in a lawsuit filed in Minneapolis last month that the 46-year-old internet tycoon forced himself on her in his vehicle and later raped her at her apartment last summer.

The two Lius are not related. Richard Liu is also known by his Chinese name Liu Qiangdong.

He was initially arrested on suspicion of felony rape, but prosecutors announced in December that he would not face criminal charges because the case had "profound evidentiary problems". His lawyers said at the time that his arrest was based on a false claim.

Jingyao Liu was 21 when the alleged attack took place, according to the lawsuit.

She is seeking damages of more than 50,000 dollars.

The case has stirred intense online debate as China's #MeToo movement grapples with the first allegation against a prominent business leader.

Advocacy for sexual assault victims has gained considerable traction despite persistent censorship, but most of those publicly accused have been university professors.

"This case is different because it involves a business mogul," said Mr Chen, who believes Richard Liu's financial might has allowed him to press a strong defence in the court of public opinion - an option not available to most who have been accused of sexual assault in China.

Supporters of both parties have waged aggressive online public relations campaigns claiming to show the truth of what happened the night of the alleged rape.

Last Monday, two edited surveillance videos of Richard Liu and Jingyao Liu were posted on China's Twitter-like Weibo platform by a recently created anonymous account. The videos show the two at a group dinner, in a lift and walking arm-in-arm.

A lawyer for Richard Liu, who showed the AP full, unedited surveillance videos from a restaurant and apartment complex, said they provide a different account of what transpired.

"The way it gets described sounds so much more nefarious than it actually is," said Jill Brisbois. "She's step-in-step with him at every point."

While the woman has alleged she was impaired and coerced to drink, she appears to be walking without assistance and linking her arm with the businessman's arm.

Mr Chen said Jingyao Liu also sent him and other supporters the full surveillance videos, which they edited themselves and posted online with their own interpretations in support of the woman.

It is not clear who is behind the account that first posted the videos. The account, called Minnesota Events, said it was "exposing" Jingyao Liu's "intimate manner" in appearing to invite Richard Liu inside her apartment.

The law firm representing Jingyao Liu said the videos are consistent with what she told investigators and alleged in her lawsuit. The videos do not show what happened in the apartment or in the car, which are at the core of her allegations.

"An incomplete videotape and the silencing of WeChat supporters will not stop a Minnesota jury from hearing the truth," said Wil Florin, a lawyer for the accuser.

- Press Association

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