Bobigny (France) (AFP) – Two French youths were jailed Tuesday over a deadly attack on a Chinese tailor that sparked mass protests by the country’s Asian community.
The pair, aged 17 and 19 at the time of the attack in August 2016, left Zhang Chaolin with fatal injuries when he fell while they were mugging him.
The older defendant was sentenced to 10 years in jail and the younger to four years with an additional year suspended for violent robbery leading to death.
The younger, who has already served two years behind bars awaiting trial, burst into tears upon hearing the verdict at a juvenile court near Paris.
Prosecutors had asked that the pair be jailed for 15 years and eight years respectively.
Zhang’s death caused an outcry among Asians living in France, with thousands taking to the streets to protest what they called a rise in anti-Asian racism in poorer French communities.
The 49-year-old and a friend were on their way to a restaurant in the Paris suburb of Aubervilliers when three teenagers crossed their path.
Zhang, who has two children, fell and hit his head on a wall after being kicked in the chest.
He died five days later in hospital, while his friend sustained minor injuries.
– Acknowledging the daily abuse –
Lawyers for the victims’ families welcomed the ruling.
“It’s important for the victims and for the other victims of similar crimes,” said family lawyer Vincent Fillola.
“This will be a signal for people from the Chinese community and Asians in general,” he added.
“The courts have acknowledged the violence that they suffer on a daily basis and saw this violence for what it was — based on racist prejudice.”
Marlene Viallet, lawyer for the accused, meanwhile blasted the verdict as “a poor application of the law”.
The defence team had protested the lengthy jail terms demanded by the prosecution, saying there was no intention to murder and denying their clients were racist.
The attack, in which the assailants came away with just a phone charger and some sweets, followed a string of robberies targeting Chinese tourists and small-business owners in France’s gritty high-rise suburbs.
During police questioning, one of the suspects said the gang had targeted the Chinese pair because they had heard Asians “carry a lot of cash”.
But Viallet said that while stereotypes about Asians were rife in low-income suburbs, “there is no hatred towards them”.
The attack on Zhang, she said, was purely an act of “delinquency”.
Around 10,000 people of Chinese origin live in Aubervilliers, Europe’s biggest textile import-export hub, which has a population of 80,000.
Community leaders say security has improved since Zhang’s death.