Two of four female victims remain hospitalized 11 days after a group assault in northern China that sparked nationwide outrage, authorities said Tuesday, as they announced the firing of one police official and an investigation into the handling of criminal cases by the local police.
The Hebei province Public Security Department said in-depth investigations are being carried out into the slow response to incidents and “serious violations of laws and discipline” by police in the city of Tangshan, which is about 150 kilometers (100 miles) east of Beijing.
The assault raised concern about public safety and the mistreatment of women in society. Hundreds of thousands of people commented after videos of the attack were posted online, many calling for justice.
Police arrived at the scene 28 minutes after they received the report, and the injured had been sent to the hospital by the time they arrived, provincial authorities said in a statement. The deputy chief of the Tangshan police Lubei branch, which was responsible for the initial handling of the case, has been removed from office, though the statement did not say why.
Footage from a barbecue restaurant in Tangshan in northern Hebei province, time stamped 2:40 a.m. on June 10, showed one of the men approaching a table where a party of four women were seated and placing his hand on a woman’s back.
She rebuffed him several times before he flew into a rage and slapped her, prompting her to fight back. A brawl ensued, with a group of men entering the restaurant and brutally attacking the woman and her dining partners, including shoving them to the ground, kicking them and even throwing a chair at them.
Footage taken from outside the restaurant also showed the attackers dragging the woman who had rebuffed the man’s advances out of the establishment and beating her viciously while most passersby and patrons looked on.
Photographs of her lying on a stretcher, with a swollen and bloodied face, as well as footage of the attack, went viral online.
Nine suspects were arrested the next day. In recent days, rumors have spread online that at least one of the women had died, but the Hebei public security statement appeared to contradict that.
It said that the conditions of the two hospitalized women were improving and that they had sustained “second-degree light injuries.” The other two women were slightly injured and not hospitalized, the statement said.
While some online comments applauded the statement for refuting the rumors, more raised questions about the severity of the women’s injuries and the slow initial response of the police.
The footage of what happened both inside and outside the restaurant was just under five minutes. The Weibo user who was among the first to post the videos said in a post that it was “heartbreaking” to watch.
“Does that mean that dining out is so unsafe now, do we have to bring men with us everywhere we go?” the post read. “[These men] are no different from thugs.”
When reached, the user declined to reveal the source of the videos, stating that it was “inconvenient” to do so. By Sunday, the video of footage filmed inside the restaurant had garnered over 68 million views, while the footage showing the graphic assault outside the restaurant had been taken down.
The assault and the public outcry renewed a conversation about misogyny and mistreatment of women in China. Earlier this year, a viral video of a woman being chained to a wall in a hut drew public backlash after authorities initially denied that she was a victim of human trafficking. She was later found to have been sold as a bride.
Social media users have condemned the attack and criticized Tangshan police for being slow in arresting the suspects.
“I’m a woman, and I have a daughter,” said one Weibo user with the handle BaobaomaoDaren. “I wonder — as I’m creating value for society and spreading positive energy, will this society protect me and my child?”
State broadcaster CCTV said in an online commentary that the suspects must be arrested as quickly as possible and “punished severely in accordance with the law” in order to account to the victims and the public.
Reports of a series of gang crimes in Tangshan surfaced after the attack, along with public questioning of alleged ties between the police and gang members. The investigation into the case has been transferred to the police in another jurisdiction, the city of Langfang, which is also in Hebei province.
The Hebei province anti-corruption body said Tuesday that five police officers are under investigation, including the chief of the Lubei branch in Tangshan and at least two others from a police station under the Lubei branch.