China prosecutors drop case against ex-Alibaba employee accused of sexual assault

·3 min read
A man stands near the logo of Alibaba Group at the company"s newly-launched office in Kuala Lumpur
Alibaba group says it is staunchly opposed to forced drinking culture

Prosecutors in China have dropped a case against a former Alibaba employee accused of sexual assault.

Lawyers in north-eastern Shandong province said the "forcible indecency" committed by the man, identified as Wang, was not a crime.

The employee was arrested last month after a female employee of Alibaba said she was sexually assaulted on a business trip.

Her allegations were shared widely on Chinese social media.

Police in the city of Jinan, where the incident took place, said the investigation was closed but that Wang will remain under detention for 15 days "as punishment".

The People's Procuratorate of Huaiyin city in Jinan added that Mr Wang's arrest order was not approved.

"Alibaba Group has a zero-tolerance policy against sexual misconduct, and ensuring a safe workplace for all our employees is Alibaba's top priority" an Alibaba spokesperson told the BBC in response to news of the case being dropped.

What were the allegations?

The woman's account of the incident was published in an eleven-page document, in which she said the manager raped her in a hotel room while she was unconscious after a "drunken night".

It prompted a social media storm on China's Twitter-like platform, Weibo.

The woman alleged that the manager coerced her into travelling to the city of Jinan, which is around 900km (560 miles) from Alibaba's head office in Hangzhou, for a meeting with a client.

She accused her superiors of ordering her to drink alcohol with co-workers during dinner.

She said that on the evening of 27 July the client kissed her. She then recalls waking up in her hotel room the next day without her clothes on and with no memory of the night before.

The woman said she obtained surveillance camera footage that showed the manager had gone into her room four times during the evening.

After returning to Hangzhou, the woman said the incident was reported to Alibaba's human resources (HR) department and senior management and that she had requested the manager be fired.

She said that human resources initially agreed to the request but took no further action.

What has the response been?

Alibaba faced fierce public backlash, later firing Mr Wang. The company said two executives who failed to act on the allegation also resigned.

A memo was issued saying Alibaba was "staunchly opposed to forced drinking culture".

Alibaba had earlier said the man accused of rape had admitted that "there were intimate acts" while the woman was "inebriated".

On Tuesday, China's Global Times reported that "the police investigation showed that [the woman] drank about 350 millilitres of alcohol the previous night but no one forced her to drink excessively."

It added that the alleged victim had given Mr Wang consent to enter her room, after he was told to check on her by another colleague.

Although Mr Wang's case will not progress, prosecutors of the court have approved the arrest of the client who allegedly assaulted the victim. He has been identified by his surname Zhang.

Mr Zhang has also reportedly been fired by his company.

The latest development continues to divide opinion online. Some social media users posted that he got away too lightly while others say there wasn't enough evidence against him.

Many online users expressed confusion at how Mr Wang could be detained for 15 days if he is found not guilty.

Mr Wang's wife later put out a statement on social media platform Weibo, saying she thanked the prosecutor's office for its "fair handling of the case, and... all enthusiastic netizens for their understanding, encouragement and support."

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This story has been updated to reflect that the case was dropped by Chinese prosecutors and not a court as previously reported

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