China: 81-year-old inspired by Pride march to appeal rape conviction

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An 81-year-old war veteran charged with raping 11 of his fellow workers during the rise of Mao Zedong says he has been inspired by a Pride march to defend himself for having had consensual sex with men.

The man, known only by his surname, Li, said he read in the news about a Pride march in his hometown of Changsha, held to mark the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT).

Li told the South China Morning Post that he had wanted to appeal the charges against him, which date from 1969, for many years, but had always been too afraid of the potential media attention and legal fees.

Changsha’s march inspired him to talk to gay rights activists, who encouraged him to appeal the conviction.

Li served in the army during the Korean War before becoming an engineer at a geology camp in Shaanxi province. He says that while at the camp and away from his wife, he had a sexual relationship with his roommate, Deng, to fulfill “physical needs”.

“We were not the only people who were doing this,” he noted.

He claims that a supervisor, aware of Li and Deng’s relationship and under pressure from higher-ups to “purify class ranks” during the Cultural Revolution, fabricated the claim that Li had raped 11 men.

Li says he was tortured to make him confess, and subsequently charged with “raping, toying with and molesting 11 young workers from 1958 to 1968”.

He was jailed for two years, stripped of Communist Party membership, and deprived of the benefits normally given to veterans of the Korean War.

His wife and son have been “understanding” and remained by him, but Li says he has been discriminated against because of his conviction. Now retired in Changsha, he receives less of a pension because of his conviction, on top of not receiving veteran’s benefits.

Although daunted by the legal costs, he says observing changing attitudes towards sexuality in society has encouraged him to appeal. Seeing a Pride march take place in his town, speaking to gay rights activists, and reading about LGBT rights has led him to believe his case may be accepted.

“I was tortured and there was never an normal legal process,” Li said. “The verdict needs to be rescinded.”

The 17-year-old organiser of the Changsha Pride march was arrested afterwards and held for 12 days for arranging a parade without authorisation.