China's Didi suspends car-pool service after passenger murder

Shanghai (AFP) –


Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing said Friday it would suspend its car-pool service for a week as it deals with an outcry over the murder of a flight attendant found dead after ordering a ride home.

The 21-year-old woman, identified by police only by her surname Li, was killed the night of May 6, according to police in the central city of Zhengzhou, with state media reporting that she was found half-naked and stabbed at least 20 times.

Li, who worked for Chinese budget carrier Lucky Air, had ordered a ride using Didi's Hitch service, which pairs up commuters heading in the same direction.

Police said they were searching for a 27-year-old male suspect surnamed Liu, who they say abandoned the car after the murder and fled.

The case has gone viral on Chinese social media and was the top-trending item on the Twitter-like Weibo service on Friday, generating more than 85 million reads and thousands of comments.

Didi, which issued an apology Thursday, said in a statement Friday that the suspect was driving under his father's Hitch account.

"The suspect borrowed his parent's account to take orders in violation of our terms of service," it said.

Hitch's facial-recognition feature was "defective" and the driver was able to bypass the security measure, it added.

Hitch, one of 13 services offered on Didi's platforms, "will be suspended nationwide for a week of rectification" beginning at midnight on Friday.

Didi said that a prior complaint about "verbal sexual harassment" had been lodged against the account. Its customer service department repeatedly tried to contact the account holder to follow up on the matter but was unsuccessful.

Didi said it would thoroughly review drivers "to exclude any cases involving mismatch of drivers and vehicles" and review other processes.

It was the second known murder involving Hitch. In 2016, a 24-year-old woman in southern China was robbed and murdered by a Hitch driver, who was also 24. He was subsequently apprehended.

Didi Chuxing calls itself the world's leading mobile transportation platform, saying in March that it had 21 million drivers and more than 450 million users across its various services.

Assault against women is a fraught issue for ride-hailing companies.

Allegations of female passengers being sexually assaulted by Uber drivers have dogged the US company, leading to lawsuits accusing it of conducting inadequate background checks of its drivers in order to keep up growth rates.

After a fierce battle against Didi, Uber sold its operations in China in 2016 in return for a stake in Didi's business.

In response to the Zhengzhou killing, the ruling Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily circulated notices on social media on Friday with tips for women on staying safe in situations including ride-hailing.