A karaoke bar waitress who won nationwide sympathy and support after killing a local official who demanded sex was freed Tuesday by a Chinese court.
The surprise decision provided fresh evidence of the power of the Internet, where Deng Yujiao had become a popular heroine and a symbol of resistance to corrupt and licentious government officials.
"If the case had not attracted so much attention, the result would have been worse," says Lan Zhixue, a member of the legal team advising Ms. Deng.
Deng was found guilty of intentional injury and using excessive force, but was not punished because she was acting in self-defense, the state-run media reported after a two-hour hearing.
"The final judgment conformed to justice and to public opinion," says Wu Gan, an Internet activist who was among the first bloggers to bring the case to public attention. "This case has had a very positive outcome."
Deng had admitted stabbing Deng Guida (no relation) after he had insisted she have sex with him in the club where she worked. According to a local government account, he reportedly pushed her down onto a sofa twice when she refused, and slapped her across the face with a wad of banknotes as he demanded "special services."
The police, whom Ms. Deng called immediately to report the incident, initially took her to a mental hospital. Early reports from the police spokesman in Badong, Hubei Province, suggested that the young woman was a depressive who had lost control of herself during an argument with the victim.
Once details of her ordeal began to leak out, however, her case drew massive attention on Internet chat rooms and other online forums.
So fiercely did ordinary citizens, academics, lawyers, and women's groups express their solidarity with Ms. Deng that the authorities feared her case was becoming a focal point for public anger at Communist party officialdom, and banned media coverage on the eve of the sensitive June 4 anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.
Contradictory local police reports, however, only strengthened public suspicions that colleagues of Mr. Deng, who worked in the local government's business promotion office, were orchestrating a cover-up. Eventually the police allowed Ms. Deng to await her trial at home.
The outpouring of sympathy for Ms. Deng, and vitriolic attacks on her tormentor, echoed similar emotions expressed on the Internet last year during the trial of Yang Jia, who was executed after admitting to the murder of six policemen.
Mr. Yang said he killed them in revenge for torture he had suffered earlier at the hands of Shanghai police officers, and his plea of mitigating circumstances won widespread public support.