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Rape trial casts attention on China’s elite

HONG KONG — A gang rape trial that opened in Beijing on Wednesday accompanied by a blaze of media attention has become China’s latest legal spectacle to cast attention on the lifestyles, and alleged misdeeds, of the political elite.

One of the five defendants is Li Tianyi, a 17-year-old whose privileged background and past misdeeds have made him the focus of a media and Internet uproar about what many see as the sordid ways of the offspring of the political elite. Li is the son of celebrity singers for the People’s Liberation Army.

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The prosecutors allege that the defendants — Li, three other minors, and a 23-year-old man — took a young woman they had met in a bar in February to a hotel room in Beijing, beat her, forced her to strip, and sexually assaulted her, according to a report on the website of the People’s Daily newspaper.

The case has become an intensely debated parable about the privileges and limited accountability of the Communist Party’s highborn. And accusations against the woman who says she was raped have stirred discussion about how the Chinese handle assault victims.

“The factor behind why the media and everyone is so interested in this case is that it’s about the so-called ugly officials and ugly rich,” said Lu Pin, who helps run the Media Monitor for Women Network, an advocacy group in Beijing.

Without Li’s high profile, the case probably would never have ignited the uproar. “This case caters to the Chinese people’s hatred of officials, the wealthy, and celebrities,” Chen Youxi, a lawyer, said in an interview.

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