Prosecutors in China drop case against ex-Alibaba manager accused of sexually assaulting colleague but police order 15-day detention

·4-min read

Prosecutors in China dropped the case against a former Alibaba manager accused of sexually assaulting a colleague after a business meeting. The police, whose formal arrest was not approved, handed down a 15-day detention.

“According to laws and regulations, the prosecution found that the alleged forcible assault by the suspect Wang did not constitute a crime, and we will not make a formal arrest,” prosecutors from the eastern city of Jinan said in a statement.

Police detained Wang using a regulation that allows them to hold people “who severely harass others” for 10-15 days.

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On Tuesday, Alibaba, which owns the South China Morning Post, issued a statement that read: “The facts have been presented and the legal authorities made a decision. The entire incident had a profound effect on Alibaba and each and every one of our staff. We will take it as a lesson and keep improving ourselves.”

The statement continued by saying the company needs to insist on its beliefs to overcome obstacles to embrace the future.

“We will always believe in the power of justice and kindness,” the statement concluded.

Last month, a female employee at Alibaba, surnamed Zhou, published accusations on social media that claimed she was pressured to drink excessive amounts of alcohol during a July 27 business meeting and, later that night, was molested by a client and raped by a supervisor inside her hotel room.

Zhou said she complained internally but was rebuffed by Alibaba’s human resources department.

Prosecutors in eastern China said they could not prove a crime had occurred in the hotel room. Photo: AFP
Prosecutors in eastern China said they could not prove a crime had occurred in the hotel room. Photo: AFP

Wang was fired after confessing to having had improper “intimate acts” with Zhou while she was intoxicated, the Post reported in early August.

Ge Ang, a Shanghai-based lawyer from the Yingke Law Firm, told the Post that, under Chinese law for sexual assault, “The police needs to have ample evidence to prove the suspect used violence or threat and harassed the victim against the victim’s will.”

“If there is no taped evidence or witness, it becomes difficult to cross-examine, creating a challenge to prove that the suspect’s specific behaviour constitutes sexual assault,” he said.

Alibaba issued a statement on Tuesday that said the incident had a “profound effect on Alibaba”. Photo: Getty Images
Alibaba issued a statement on Tuesday that said the incident had a “profound effect on Alibaba”. Photo: Getty Images

According to an August 14 police statement, Zhou’s team had successfully signed a deal with Jinan Hualian Supermarket and celebrated with a banquet with the client, surnamed Zhang, and his colleagues.

The police said Wang entered the woman’s hotel room four times on the night of July 27, when the alleged sexual assault took place.

It was also alleged that the client, Zhang, assaulted the woman twice that night – once at a restaurant and once at the hotel.

On August 10, police detained Zhang and Wang. On August 25, the Jinan prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for Zhang.

In the aftermath of the accusations, Alibaba Chairman and Chief Executive Daniel Zhang Yong called the incident “a humiliation for all Alibaba employees” and said it was a “tremendous sadness for the challenges in Alibaba’s culture”.

The chairman said Wang would never work at Alibaba again. It is understood that Wang had been applying to work at ByteDance before the rape allegations. ByteDance ended the recruitment process, saying it had been unaware of the allegations.

Alibaba Chairman Daniel Zhang Yong said in August the incident was “a humiliation for all Alibaba employees”. Photo: Handout
Alibaba Chairman Daniel Zhang Yong said in August the incident was “a humiliation for all Alibaba employees”. Photo: Handout

Judy Tong, Alibaba’s chief people officer, was given a demerit on her record because the human resources department failed to provide Zhou with adequate attention and care.

Alibaba updated its corporate rule books to ensure “zero tolerance” of sexual harassment, and it has set up a special team to check “inappropriate” workplace behaviour, such as “forced drinking at dinner tables” and “vulgar jokes”.

In the weeks since the allegations, multiple tech giants, including Trip.com Group and video-streaming platform iQiyi have updated their codes of conduct to create clear punishments for sexual harassment.

In 2018, a small-scale #MeToo movement erupted in China after many women went public and accused men in positions of power of sexual assault or harassment.

In response, China included rules about sexual harassment in its new civil code, which became effective on January 1, 2021.

The code obliges companies to adopt measures for preventing and responding to sexual harassment in the workplace, including proper channels for employee complaints, procedures for investigating complaints, and rules for disciplining wrongdoers.

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