A court in Beijing has downgraded the conviction in the case of Amanda Zhao's slaying from murder to manslaughter, effectively reducing the life sentence handed her former boyfriend, Ang Li, to seven years.

Last year, 10 years after the international student went missing and was found dead in B.C., the court found Li guilty of "intentional homicide."

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Amanda Zhao's body was found stuffed inside a suitcase near Stave Lake, Mission, BC. She had been strangled. (CBC)

But in a ruling Monday, the High People's Court overturned the murder conviction on appeal. The decision means Li could be free in as little as two years.

On Oct. 9, 2002, Zhao disappeared from her Burnaby home. Nearly two weeks later, hikers found her body stuffed inside a suitcase at Stave Lake near Mission, B.C., which is approximately 80 kilometres east of Vancouver.

Family claims accused has connections

Community activist Gabriel Yu, who has been working with the family, says in the Chinese court system, there are only two levels, so there is no appeal. Yu says these trials are not open to the public and only the families of those before the court are allowed to be there.

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Ang Li fled to China shortly after Amanda Zhao's body was discovered. (CBC)

He says the family told him, that Li's father was represented in the court by a high ranking military official, who was also the father's boss.

In a written statement provided by the NDP at a news conference Monday, Zhao's mother, Yang Bao-ying, said the reduced sentence is unacceptable to the family as is the accused's connection with party brass.

We neither understand nor accept the ruling," she said. "It changes our opinion about the fairness of the law. The ruling abundantly represents that the law can be bought with power or money in China. We have no choice but to question the law in China."

Zhao, 21, had come to Canada the year before she was killed to study English and was living with Li at the time of her disappearance.

Li, who was 18 at the time, told police his girlfriend went to the grocery store and never came back.

Amanda Zhao news conference

The NDP called a news conference in Vancouver Monday to highlight the concerns of Amanda Zhao's family over the reduced sentence and downgraded verdict handed her killer in China. (CBC)

Shortly after the discovery of Zhao's body, he fled to China, leading to lengthy diplomatic and legal wrangling between Canadian and Chinese authorities over who would prosecute the case.

Canada tried unsuccessfully to extradite Li, but eventually agreed to help Chinese investigators after Beijing said it would not seek the death penalty. China maintained that it had jurisdiction because the case involved two Chinese nationals.

In 2009, police in China arrested Li based on evidence provided by the RCMP. An autopsy determined she had been strangled.

On mobile? Click here to read the family statement