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China: Popular Tibetan influencer’s murder caught live on camera exposes the communist country’s flawed legal system

On September 14, when Lhamo was live streaming from her Kitchen, Tang broke into her house. He poured gasoline over her and set her on fire.

30-year-old Tibetan influencer Lhamo (Chinese: Lamu) was very popular on social media, with thousands of followers on popular Chinese short-video app Douyin. However, the image she created on social media for her followers was completely different from her personal life. A victim of continuous domestic abuse, Lhamo died on September 30 after fighting for her life in the Intensive Care Unit for two weeks. Her story has intensified the debate over inadequate laws against domestic violence in China.

Lhamo was set on fire by her husband.

Death of Lhamo

As per reports, Lhamo met her ex-husband Tang when they were teenagers. She started dating him when she was 17. They got divorced, remarried, and divorced again due to his violent behaviour. She had called police countless times over domestic abuse, but her complaints mostly went unheard, and she could not get the protection she deserved.

According to Guyu Lab, Lhamo’s sister Dolma revealed that soon after their marriage, Tang started to show his violent side. The domestic violence intensified after Lhamo’s mother died. She was the only one in her family who would have supported her. Every time Lhamo tried to leave Tang, he apologized profusely and promised not to get violent again.

While talking to Guyu Lab, a police officer said Lhamo filed numerous complaints against her husband, but police took it as a private family matter. They did not intervene seriously and only warned Tang a few times not to cross lines. “We could tell that Lhamo was at a disadvantage. She’s a woman, and her dad was sick. We always sided with her, telling Tang not to use violence or cross the line. But besides that, there was very little we could do,” he said.

Lhamo left her husband’s house early this year after she suffered a broken arm. In May 2020, the couple got divorced. However, the threatening calls and messages kept pouring in. Tang had even assaulted Lhamo’s sister and threatened to harm the children. A few weeks later, Lhamo was pressurized to marry him again. However, she had again filed for divorce soon.

On September 14, when Lhamo was live streaming from her Kitchen, Tang broke into her house. He poured gasoline over her and lit her on fire. Her father, who was in another room, rushed to help and immediately sent her to hospital. Lhamo fought for her life for two weeks in the Intensive Care Unit but lost the battle to the severe burn injuries that covered almost 90% of her body. Her husband was arrested under “intentional homicide” charges.

Underreported domestic violence cases in China

The domestic violence cases in China are vastly underreported. Tsering Kyi, Project Officer at the Women Empowerment Desk (WED), said, “We have a Tibetan women helpline that helps women experiencing domestic violence in their homes. There are variations of violence in such cases; Lhamo’s case is an extreme example. Domestic, sexual, and gender-based violence have been reported to our office but it is also difficult for women to speak up against such violence. Some have even backed off after reporting a case as there is a lot of victim-blaming in our society.”

Phayul, a Tibetan news portal, reported comments of Tibetan social activists. Some have asked to set up safe spaces for Tibetan women in India who have suffered domestic violence.

Inadequate laws against domestic violence in China

China passed its first Anti-Domestic Violence Law in 2016. As per a report by SupChina, by the end of 2019, 942 cases have been reported that had resulted in 1,214 deaths. According to experts, the laws in China are not enough to provide adequate and timely protection to the victims from their violent partners. Another significant issue is that domestic violence in China is often seen as a private issue even by the police officers. They believe that such cases should be dealt behind closed doors, and there is no need to intervene.

Death of Lhamo has sparked a debate against domestic violence on Chinese social media platforms. Several experts are asking for strict laws against domestic violence but going by the nation’s history, it is not likely to happen anytime soon.

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