Justice for Lhamo: Man handed death sentence for live-streamed murder of ex-wife

Society & Culture

She was an internet influencer with a picture perfect onscreen life, until her husband doused her with gasoline and set her on fire in the middle of a livestream.

Tang Lu
Tang Lu during the court on October 14, 2021. Image from @人民网 on Weibo.

A Chinese court on Thursday sentenced to death a man who killed his ex-wife by setting her on fire when she was livestreaming from her home. The grisly murder took place in September 2020, spurring online discussions and anxiety about gender-based violence and toxic relationships. 

The Intermediate People’s Court of Ngawa Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture announced its verdict (in Chinese) yesterday. Táng Lù 唐路 was found guilty of murdering his ex-wife Lhamo 拉姆, a popular Tibetan video blogger, and the court noted the “extreme cruelty” of his actions, the “extreme seriousness” of his crime, and the “extremely bad” impact that it had on society.

The sentencing hearing was attended by several members of Lhamo’s family. Her older sister Droma later told the Beijing News (in Chinese) that she had hoped Tang would get the death penalty, and that she would fight to gain custody of Lhamo’s two sons, who are currently under the care of by Tang’s parents. According to the newspaper, Tang broke down in tears multiple times during the hearing and expressed remorse in his statement. As of Thursday, Tang’s lawyers had not filed an appeal.

The story of Lhamo is depressingly familiar: For years, she tried repeatedly to protect herself and her two children from Tang, whom she started dating when she was 17. After their marriage, she called the police multiple times when violence occurred, but her complaints weren’t taken seriously and she never received the protection she sought. Looking for an exit, she divorced Tang in May 2020, after he broke her arm. But a month later, under death threats from Tang, she was pressured into remarrying him, only to file a divorce again about a month later.

On Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, Lhamo had about 200,000 followers. Her videos, most of which showed her foraging, cooking, and singing in the mountains, portrayed her as a cheerful and caring mother-of-two. But hidden behind her smiles was the suffering she endured in her private life. On September 14, 2020, the uplifting image that Lhamo constructed online finally collapsed when Tang broke into her house, doused her with gasoline, and set her alight. More than 400 people were reportedly watching her livestream at the time, and heard her scream before the screen went dark. The attack caused severe burns on 90% of her body and she died two weeks later.

After her death, tens of thousands of people left messages on her Douyin page, while millions of Weibo users called for stronger legal protection for victims of domestic violence, using the hashtag “Lhamo Act” (拉姆法案 lāmǔ fǎàn), which was later censored. For many Chinese women, Lhamo’s story evoked some of their worst fears: toxic partners, the failure of the police to handle cases of intimate partner violence against women property, and the lack of legal support that for women who want to find a safe exit from an abusive situation. 

Online, Tang’s death sentence was a rare point of unanimous agreement among social media users, who said that they believed justice was served and Lhamo would never be forgotten. Some argued that Tang should be deprived of his opportunity to appeal. “Please execute him as quick as possible. He doesn’t deserve to live,” a Weibo user wrote (in Chinese).