A court in the central Chinese province of Hunan has awarded compensation to a mother sent to labor camp for demanding a heavier punishment for men who raped her daughter, then 11.
The decision from Hunan Provincial People's High Court on Monday overturned that of a lower court in April. Tang's case has sparked a public outcry against the controversial "re-education through labor" system of police punishments.
The judgement criticized the municipal re-education through labor commission in Tang's hometown of Yongzhou for infringing on her personal freedom and inflicting mental distress, ordering it to pay her 2,941 yuan (U.S.$480) in compensation.
However, it said Tang's behavior had still been "illegal."
Tang was sentenced to 18 months in labor camp in August 2012 for "disturbing social order," after she challenged the prison sentences of men convicted of raping her daughter, calling for their execution.
Case shows a 'certain amount of goodwill'
Tang's lawyer Pu Zhiqiang said the appeal court's decision was well-meaning, but not entirely just.
"This is an acceptable result, and we should welcome it," Pu said in an interview on Monday. "It shows a certain amount of goodwill towards Tang Hui's case from the Hunan authorities."
But he said Tang's lawsuit should never have had to go to an appeal in the first place.
"It shows us that there are huge problems within China's judicial system," Pu said. "It's hard to say whether [the judgement] is entirely fair."
The Hunan court judgement stopped short of requiring a public apology from the Yongzhou commission, as Tang had requested.
But Tang told local media earlier this month that Yongzhou police chief who headed it had apologized to her during the hearing.
Pu said there were "very regrettable" irregularities in the authorities' handling of Tang's case throughout and that her methods of complaint that led to her re-education through labor sentence had not been unreasonable.
"The methods Tang used to call for a retrial, such as staging a sit-in outside higher levels of government, weren't aimed at causing social disorder, but were the result of an obsession with stability on the part of the police, the prosecution, and the courts, who weren't doing their jobs properly," Pu said.
'No need to send her to labor camp'
Beijing-based rights lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan said Tang's labor camp sentence wasn't proportional for someone who had already tried to use official channels of complaint.
"She made use of a few actions, which the authorities probably thought were against the law," Liu said. "But there was no need to send her to labor camp."
He said there was no mechanism in Chinese law for forcing public apologies, however.
China has vowed to reform its controversial re-education through labor system of administrative punishments following a prolonged campaign by lawyers, former inmates, and rights activists to abolish it.
Lawyers argue that the system has no basis in China's current law, is a holdover from the political turmoil and kangaroo courts of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), and is a long-running violation of the rights of citizens.
But critics are skeptical of how far the changes will go, suggesting the authorities may substitute one form of arbitrary detention for another, for example, by redesignating the labor camps as drug rehabilitation centers.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.