Wednesday, September 14, 2016

China: SPC Issues New Regulations on the Release of Court Judgments Online


Written judgments from criminal and civil cases in a Yunnan court. New regulations now state that digital copies of such judgments must be released online within a week of a court’s decision. Photo credit: ynfy.gov.cn

In a bid to increase judicial transparency, including the adjudication of sensitive political cases, China’s Supreme People’s Court (SPC) recently released new regulations that unambiguously assign to courts throughout the country the responsibility for publicly releasing judgments (see translation of the regulations below). The SPC released similar regulations in 2013 and 2010, but the new regulations require courts to release more information, and with greater detail.

Article 1 of the regulations states that “People’s courts should promptly release court judgments online.” The new regulations provide a stronger mechanism for making courts comply with this provision—if the court decides not to release a judgment to the public, it must make public the reasons for not releasing it (Article 6). Courts also have a new deadline for releasing judgments under the new regulations— “Legally effective court judgments should be posted online within seven working days of taking effect” (Article 7).

The Discretion to Keep Secrets

The new regulations provide more detailed guidance to courts when they determine that judgments should not be posted online. Article 4 states that judgments are not to be released if they (1) involve state secrets, (2) involve underage suspects, (3) are resolved by arbitration, (4) concern divorce, or (5) involve custody of underage children. The regulations give unfettered discretion to keep judgments secret if the court determines that a judgment is “unsuitable for online posting.” The meaning of “unsuitable” is not clarified in the regulations.

The language of these regulations provides leeway to courts to restrict the release of court judgments in cases other than prosecutions of state secrets crimes under Article 111 of the PRC Criminal Law. Court cases that are not ostensibly political might be subject to restrictions on posting online, including but not limited to civil cases involving trade secrets (which might also be classified as state secrets), administrative cases of citizens against the government, financial fraud, and disturbing market order. The police or procuratorates, rather than courts, might possess practical authority to decide when certain cases sufficiently “involve” state secrets such that they are withheld from the public.

Regulations Having the Intended Effect?

Although the courts possess authority to block public release of judgments if they “involve” state secrets or are otherwise “unsuitable” for online posting, courts have been much more forthcoming with judgments since the previous set of regulations were issued in 2013. During the three-year period those regulations were in effect, the number of judgments involving endangering state security (ESS) cases that Dui Hua obtained from official websites increased each year: in 2014, 27 judgments were obtained, in 2015, 80 judgments, and, so far in 2016, 188 judgments. ESS crimes, which include subversion, inciting subversion, splittism, inciting splittism, espionage, and state secrets violations, are the most political in China’s Criminal Law. The decision to publicly release ESS judgments serves as a useful touchstone for assessing judicial transparency.

Considering that the number of ESS trials has declined during the same three-year period, the increase in judgments posted online is all the more surprising. Dui Hua has estimated that Chinese courts concluded more than 500 ESS trials of the first instance in 2015, compared with more than 1,000 ESS trials in 2014 and 893 in 2013. The drop is attributed to judicial authorities trying cases that used to be considered ESS cases as cases of terrorism and disturbing social order.

Restrictions on Redaction

In addition to stipulating which judgments can be released, the new regulations provide some guidance on the content that must be provided in court judgments. Article 8 of the regulations states that courts should redact the names of crime victims, juveniles, and parties to certain types of family cases. Article 10 states that courts should redact certain types of information, primarily personal, private information. The rules also give courts broad authority to redact other information that they deem “inappropriate” for public release.

The regulations’ drafters likely attempted to avoid issues surrounding the redacting of criminal defendants’ and prisoners’ names. In a change from the 2013 version, the new regulations no longer require the redacting of names of people who are not repeat offenders or who have been sentenced to three years in prison or less. Juvenile defendants should have their names redacted in online judgments owing to Article 8’s restriction on publishing juveniles’ names in general. Other than these changes, however, courts receive little guidance on how and when to publish the names of criminal defendants. Although redacting a defendant’s name can mitigate social stigma associated with a conviction, publicly releasing a defendant’s name can also help family and supporters advocate for greater judicial transparency and clemency.

New Opportunities for Tracking Court Transparency

On paper, the new regulations appear to be an improvement over the 2013 version, as they identify courts as the specific institution responsible for releasing judgments and require courts to publicly give reasons for refusing to release judgments. Judging by the increased number of ESS cases released to the public since the previous regulations took effect in 2013, regulations governing the release of judgments also appear to increase court transparency, which hopefully encourages public identification of suspects in most cases—including those involving ESS. Over the next months and years, Dui Hua plans to step up its monitoring of court websites to determine the extent to which courts are exercising their responsibility to release judgments online.

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Regulations of the Supreme People’s Court of China Regarding the Release of Court Judgments Online

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The Supreme People’s Court of China
Legal Interpretation No. 19 [2016]

August 29, 2016

The “Regulations of the Supreme People’s Court of China Regarding the Release of Court Judgments Online” was passed on July 25, 2016 at the Meeting No. 1689 of the SPC Adjudication Committee, and will become effective on October 1, 2016.

These regulations are formulated to implement and carry out the principle of public adjudication, standardize the people’s courts’ online judgment-releasing work, promote judicial fairness, raise the level of judicial credibility, bring together the practical experience of people’s courts, and they are in accordance with relevant regulations including the PRC Criminal Procedure Law, the PRC Civil Procedure Law, and the PRC Administrative Litigation Law.

Article 1: People’s courts should promptly release court judgments online according to law, in a comprehensive manner, and in a standardized fashion.

Article 2: The China Judgments Online website is the nationwide, centralized platform for releasing court judgments. People’s courts at all levels install links to China Judgments Online on their court political affairs websites and judicial transparency platforms.

Article 3: The following types of court judgments should be released online:

  1. Criminal, civil, and administrative judgments;
  2. Criminal, civil, and administrative enforcement judgments;
  3. Payment orders;
  4. Criminal, civil, administrative, and enforcement notices rejecting petitions for review;
  5. State compensation decisions;
  6. Decisions for compulsory medical treatment or decisions rejecting applications for compulsory medical treatment;
  7. Decisions to enforce or amend criminal penalties;
  8. Decisions to detain or to issue fines for obstructionist litigation activities and enforcement behavior; decisions for early release from detention; and decisions on applications for reconsideration that have been filed against orders for detentions and fines;
  9. Administrative mediation decisions and civil public interest litigation mediation decisions;
  10. Other court judgments in which there is a discontinuation or completion of the litigation process, there is an influence on a party’s material rights and benefits, or there is a major influence on a party’s procedural rights.

Article 4: People’s court judgments displaying one of the following types of characteristics should not be released online:

  1. Cases involved with state secrets;
  2. Juvenile crime cases;
  3. Cases resolved through mediation procedures or verifying the people’s mediatory agreements’ effectiveness, but not including those to protect state interests, the public interest, and other legal interests that need to be made public;
  4. Cases involved with divorce litigation or those involving the fostering or guardianship of minors;
  5. Other circumstances which cause people’s courts to believe internet release is not suitable.

Article 5: People’s Courts should, in their notices accepting cases and responses, inform the parties of the scope of release of judgments online and publicly inform people’s courts, via government affairs websites, electronic touchscreens, litigation guides, and other methods, of the relevant regulations for issuing court judgments online.

Article 6: Court judgments that are not released online should release the case number, the adjudicating court, the date of judgment, and the reasons for not releasing the judgment, except when releasing the above-described information could reveal state secrets.

Article 7: Legally effective court judgments should be posted online within seven working days of taking effect. First-instance judgments and judgments which have been appealed, or regarding which a procuratorial protest has been brought according to law, should be released online within seven working days of the second-instance court’s adjudication taking effect.

Article 8: People’s courts, when they release court judgments online, should redact the names of the following types of persons:

  1. Parties to marriage, family, and inheritance dispute cases, and their legal representatives;
  2. Crime victims and their legal representatives, collateral civil litigation plaintiffs and their legal representatives, witnesses, and expert witnesses;
  3. Juveniles and their legal representatives.

Article 9: According to Article 8 of these regulations, the redacting of names in the following circumstances should be handled accordingly:

  1. When the surname is kept, replace the given name with “X”;
  2. Regarding the names of ethnic minorities, keep the first character and replace the rest of the name with “X”;
  3. Regarding foreigners and stateless people, keep the Chinese transliteration for the first character, with the rest of the name replaced by “X”; regarding the English names of foreigners and stateless people, keep the first English letter and eliminate the rest of the name.

For repeat names resulting from redacting, use Arabic numerals after the names to distinguish them.

Article 10: When people’s courts release court judgments online, they should redact the following kinds of information:

  1. Family addresses, contact information, identification numbers, bank account numbers, health situations, vehicle license plate numbers, movable or immovable property certificate serial numbers, etc., of natural persons;
  2. Information regarding bank accounts, vehicle license plates, moveable or immovable property certificate serial numbers, etc., of legal persons and other organizations;
  3. Information involving corporate secrets;
  4. Private personal information regarding ongoing disputes involving family affairs, individual rights, etc.;
  5. Information that involves technological investigation measures;
  6. Other information that a people’s court believes is not appropriate to make public.

According to part (a.) of this Article, if redacted information influences the proper understanding of a court judgment, use the letter “X” as a partial replacement.

Article 11: People’s courts judgments that are released online should contain the following types of information regarding parties, legal representatives, entrusted agents, and defenders:

  1. Other than the handling of redaction under Article 8 of these regulations, if parties and other legal representatives are natural persons, keep the name, date of birth, sex, district and/or the county of residence; regarding parties and their legal representatives, if they are legal persons or other organizations, keep the name, residential address, organization code, and legal representative or primary responsible persons’ name and occupation;
  2. If entrusted agents and defenders are lawyers or grassroots legal service workers, then maintain the name, the professional registration number, and law firm or grassroots legal service institution name; for entrusted agents and defenders that are other types of personnel, keep the name, date of birth, sex, county or district of residence, and relationship to the party.

Article 12: If the judge handling the case believes that a court judgment involves circumstances pursuant to Article 4(e) of these regulations rendering inappropriate the release of the judgment online, then the judge should issue such opinion and the grounds for it in writing, and responsible staff from the relevant department, after conducting investigation, report to the managing court’s vice president for approval.

Article 13: The PRC Supreme People’s Court supervises and guides the whole country’s courts in work on releasing court judgments online. High-level and intermediate-level people’s courts supervise and guide district-level people’s courts in their work on releasing court judgments online.

Adjudication management offices of people’s courts at every level, or other institutions undertaking the function of adjudication management, have responsibility for the work of releasing their court’s judgments online and carry out the following duties:

  1. Organizing and guiding the release of court judgments online;
  2. Supervising and inspecting the work of releasing court judgments online;
  3. Coordinating and handling complaints and opinions from the public and society regarding court judgments;
  4. Coordinating technology departments to provide technological support and safeguarding;
  5. Other relevant management work.

Article 14: Courts at every level should rely upon information technology to take court judgments and publicly enter them into the procedures for adjudication management, reducing the amount of work in publicizing court judgments, while realizing promptness, comprehensiveness, and streamlining in releasing court judgments.

Article 15: In court judgments released online, other than the handling of technology implementation according to the requirements of these regulations, there should be consistency with the original court judgments.

People’s courts that correct the written errors of court judgments should promptly release the corrected judgment online.

The judge handling the case is responsible for the consistency between the court judgment that is released online and the original judgment, as well as the standardization of the technological processing.

Article 16: Court judgments released online that are inconsistent with the original judgment or that exhibit inappropriate technological processing should be promptly removed and released again after they have been corrected.

For court judgments that have been released online, if inspection reveals circumstances listed in Article 4 of these regulations, they should promptly be removed and then handled according to Article 6.

Article 17: People’s courts information technology service centers are responsible for China Judgments Online’s functional maintenance and upgrading, providing convenience to all of society for the use according to law of this website’s public court judgments.

In the application of different case numbers for different adjudication procedures, China Judgments Online cross-references court judgments with each other.

Article 18: These regulations are effective starting October 1, 2016. The Supreme People’s Court previously issued interpretations and standardizing documents, and in case of inconsistency, these regulations will serve as the authoritative version.


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Chinese Officials Struggle to Counter Juvenile Crime Without Relying on Harsh Punishment


A juvenile judge in Anhui speaks with young offenders. Photo Credit: Guoyang County Court

At a press conference in May, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate (SPP) announced that nearly 30 percent of juvenile arrests and over eight percent of juvenile indictments in China were not approved in 2015, compared with 18 percent and five percent in 2012 (see chart below). Between 2003-2015, 14.8% of 1.08 million individual juvenile arrests were rejected, as were 4.4% of the 1.13 million individual indictments.

Avoiding harsh measures against juveniles reflects a changing legal framework since a separate juvenile justice section was included in the amended Criminal Procedure Law (CPL), effective since 2013. In the years following the CPL amendments, Chinese courts have emphasized the importance of an independent and standardized juvenile justice system, with an “education first” approach that features practices like mentoring and criminal record sealing.

In addition to lower rates of arrest and indictment, non-custodial measures are a major part of this approach. In 2015, Chinese courts handed down non-custodial (fei jianjin xing) or punishment exemption (mianyu xingshi chufa) measures to 48 percent of juvenile defendants. These non-custodial figures compare to 41.75 percent of defendants in 2012, as reported by the Supreme People’s Court Research Office, and 35.56 percent of defendants in 2010, according to the official compendium China Juvenile Justice (Zhongguo shaonian sifa). SPP measures on juveniles claim that this approach is designed to embody an “educational, corrective, and protective” approach.

Prosecution of Juveniles in China, 2012-2015


Sources: SPP; Dui Hua

Rising Violence Among China’s Youth

The use of non-custodial juvenile justice measures is not without its obstacles. Although it appears that juvenile crime in China has fallen overall during the past 10 years, violent crime committed by juveniles has continued to rise, offenders are getting younger, and gangs are more prevalent. According to Wang Wei, Deputy Chief of the Shanxi Province People’s Procuratorate Juvenile Division, juvenile offenders younger than 15 are increasingly common. Many procurators and scholars, Wang Wei among them, also believe that family troubles, especially social problems of “left behind children” and migrant youth, contribute substantially to these new trends in juvenile crime. Data from China’s most recent (2010) census show that over 60 million children were left behind in their rural hometowns as their parents became migrant workers in more urban areas. These children represent just under two-fifths of China’s rural child population and over one-fifth of the total child population. A report sponsored by Beijing Normal University and UNICEF concluded that left behind children are over 70% more likely to offend than other children with similar characteristics.

In July and August of 2016, provinces including Hubei and Shanxi introduced legislation and other changes to the judicial system intended to protect this at-risk population, and provinces with similarly high populations of migrants and left-behind children may well follow suit. Although increased attention towards providing more social services and monitoring to these young offenders is commendable, the disproportionate conviction rates and other persistent inequities faced by migrants and their children could indicate difficulty finding long-term, sustainable solutions for the increasing proportion of juvenile crime that is young, violent, and gang-related.

Juvenile Offenders and Media Control

Included among the responses of Chinese authorities to these broader trends in juvenile crime and justice administration are new requirements that limit the scope of juvenile crime reporting. In mid-2015, the State Internet Information Office (SIIO) promulgated a “Notice on Further Strengthening Management of Online Reporting of Juvenile Crime and Bullying Incidents,” which had followed sensationalist online reporting on upticks in serious juvenile crime. The notice lists several requirements, including that “websites shall not place reporting of juvenile crimes […] on their homepages or news channel headlines and shall not suggest related content in blogs, microblogs, forums, postings, pop-ups, navigation bars, search engines, or other such positions." Non-compliant outlets face “formal censure meetings, warnings, fines and other disposition methods, including revocation of website news service credentials, [which] may be imposed, according to the law[.]”

Unsurprisingly, major news outlets such as Xinhua and Legal Daily seem to have largely complied with the notice, removing their customary, “related content” sidebars for reports on juvenile delinquency, and they have also deleted many suggested search terms related to juvenile offending from drop-down menus. When the notice was introduced a year ago, commentators noted that its intent was to stem public fears of a juvenile violence epidemic, emphasizing that the protection of children’s privacy and dignity is paramount; however, the rules might have a pernicious side effect--silencing productive discussion on juvenile crime and infringing the public’s right to know.

A year later, the unintended effects seem to have dominated. Judging from aggregate data, the notice has had no discernable effects on either media mentions or public interest in juvenile crime, whereas it has limited access to objective reporting on the topic. Given that procuratorial officials like Wang Wei have recognized juvenile crime as a social and a legal problem, the SIIO’s restrictions go too far in limiting the discussion of potential solutions to the complex difficulties facing youth in conflict with the law.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Will China Retry Gao Qinrong in Light of Anti-Corruption Campaign?


Gao Qinrong. Photo credit: bbc.com

The case of Gao Qinrong harkens back to the earliest days of The Dui Hua Foundation, when his name was featured on many prisoner lists ahead of his early release in 2006. Ten years later, Gao is back in the news with a chance at a retrial that could clear his name.

Gao, a former investigative reporter for the Xinhua News Agency based in Shanxi Province, was sentenced in 1999 to 12 years in prison for taking bribes, soliciting prostitution, and fraud. He has long alleged that he was framed by local officials in the city of Yuncheng in retaliation for his exposure of a corrupt irrigation project. Gao sent hundreds of appeal petitions to central and provincial authorities during his eight years in prison, but he never received a reply. Some even speculated that Gao’s letters might have been intercepted before they ever reached their intended recipients.

Gao was released in December 2006 after several sentence reductions and was immediately greeted with sympathetic reports and interviews by some of southern China’s bolder news outlets—despite an apparent ban on reporting in Beijing. He continued to proclaim his innocence and petitioned for judicial authorities to reopen his case. Now, there is word that the Yuncheng Intermediate People’s Court has accepted his petition.

It remains to be seen, however, whether Gao will get that new day in court. As Dui Hua recently wrote, China’s post-conviction appeal mechanism is not clearly defined under the Criminal Procedure Law, and courts have considerable discretion over reopening cases (and often little incentive to do so).

A combination of factors connected with Xi Jinping’s assumption of power in 2012 may work in Gao Qinrong’s favor. Xi’s high-profile anti-corruption drive has brought down many current and former officials in coal-rich Shanxi, which appears to have been a particular target of the campaign. Officials with powerful backing have fallen in Yuncheng as well, possibly creating opportunities to revisit evidence of past corruption—including possible retaliation against Gao.

Righting past wrongful convictions has been another theme of Xi Jinping’s administration. But, as noted by a recent Southern Metropolis Daily editorial (translated below), many of these overturned cases have involved death sentences or life imprisonment. The editorial echoes the call of leading Chinese legal scholars for a more formal post-conviction relief system that would make it easier to get cases of all types reviewed. It also points to something that positive coverage of recent retrials fails to acknowledge: given the systemic causes that have contributed to miscarriages of justice in the past, China needs to do much more than reopen a few selected high-profile cases.

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Gao Qinrong’s Post-Conviction Appeal: Correcting Judicial Errors Should Address More Than Just Life-and-Death Cases

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Southern Metropolis Daily editorial, July 29, 2016

Jiemian News recently reported a new development in the case of reporter Gao Qinrong, whose story created quite a stir years ago. After 18 years of petitioning to have his case reopened, Gao Qinrong has had his post-conviction appeal petition accepted by Shanxi’s Yuncheng Intermediate People’s Court: “The case has been reported up the chain of command and is slated for review…The adjudication committee has to discuss whether to initiate a new trial or reject the appeal.”

The court’s acceptance of Gao’s petition is a procedural development with next to no legal meaning. But to someone who has been unsuccessfully seeking an appeal for 18 years, this change can be seen as an exceptional, perhaps even hopeful, development.

Gao Qinrong was a reporter for Reporter’s Notes magazine, published out of the Xinhua News Service’s Shanxi bureau. In the 1990s, he exposed shocking details of a scandal involving “fake irrigation projects” in Yuncheng, Shanxi. The story was followed up by CCTV’s “Focus” newsmagazine program and Southern Weekly, and “disciplinary actions” were taken against several local officials.

Then, in December 1998 Gao Qinrong was arrested and subsequently sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment for taking bribes, soliciting prostitution, and fraud. On December 7, 2006, having lost eight years and four days of freedom, Gao Qinrong left prison insisting that his imprisonment had been an act of “retaliation.” Even in prison, Gao never gave up the effort to petition for post-conviction appeal, and several delegates to the National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference put resolutions forward on his behalf. There was media reporting at the time of Gao’s release from prison, with an editorial in Southern Metropolis Daily calling for “truth in support of the right to speak truth.” Now, a decade later, we find that Gao Qinrong’s effort to reopen his case has been unusually difficult and progress has been slow.

From today’s vantage point, there are still quite a few things that are strange about the circumstances of Gao’s case and uncertainties about the evidence that was brought against him. According to the lawyer handling Gao’s post-conviction appeal: “The evidence used to convict was unreliable and insufficient, and there were contradictions between the main pieces of evidence used to prove the facts in the case.” Key pieces of evidence were never cross-examined in court, and signatures on transcripts of witness testimony are suspected to be forgeries.

Besides these doubts about the circumstances and evidence, it’s still worth looking into the question of whether Gao’s case had any relation to his exposure of how local government spent hundreds of millions of yuan on “fake irrigation projects.” When the man who tipped Gao off about the projects was released from prison, he was beaten nearly to death less than 100 meters from the prison gate and is still unable to care for himself to this day. The special team investigating Gao Qinrong focused a great deal of its questioning on his source for the “fake irrigation” report, rather than the three crimes for which he was subsequently charged. Li Xiaolin, who served as Gao Qinrong’s defense attorney, recalls: “They dug up some things from years earlier that didn’t amount to crimes and had never been the subject of any police report.” And they really started digging, he recalls, after Gao “uncovered and was the first of many media to report on fake projects that had cost the prefecture 270 million yuan.”

Doubts about this particular case haven’t dimmed after 18 years. Neither have they been answered. The embarrassment surrounding Gao Qinrong’s case is not an isolated incident. So many miscarriages of justice that were eventually corrected were once mired in this same sort of procedural despair: one of the parties in a criminal case appeals over many years, making repeated claims but failing to make “effective progress” by getting procedurally significant review of his or her case. When it comes to miscarriages of justice, rectification or exoneration has become, to a great degree, an “unexpected moment of joy”—no one has any idea when or if it will ever come.

It’s obvious that this is not the way that rule of law is supposed to work. Criminal procedure scholar Chen Weidong has proposed reforms based on changes to the case-filing system that require courts to accept cases as long as they meet certain technical requirements. The idea is that, by putting all post-conviction appeal petitions under a formal review procedure, the process would become more litigation-based and procedural and make correction of judicial errors more transparent and predictable. In other words, it would be an attempt to prevent this “late-arriving justice” from being purely a matter of luck.

The latest round of judicial reforms has brought with it correction of judicial errors in a number of cases. From these cases, the public might get the impression that major criminal cases are being overturned all the time. But a conclusion that is consistent with judicial logic should recognize that errors occur not only in major life-and-death cases. There must also be a certain percentage of wrongly decided cases that are not so life-and-death but have similar implications for the guilt or innocence of citizens and the line between criminal behavior and non-criminal behavior.

If you consider the imprint that social and judicial standards have left on individual cases during certain periods, wouldn’t you expect there to be similarity between major and minor cases in terms of the rate of judicial error and the particular experiences of procedural injustice on citizens? Does extraction of confessions through torture and falsification of evidence only take place in cases where there’s been loss of life but somehow vanish entirely in other cases? Not all miscarriages of justice involve such life-and-death cases, so when it comes to correcting judicial errors, normal judicial logic dictates that you should correct all errors, both major and minor.

Rectifying errors in the judicial system is part of the process of seeking justice—an extremely important part. In this area, there should be no differences in the way that major cases and minor cases are handled. The process of correcting errors should look at the judicial errors in a particular case and not base the urgency or degree of rectification on the severity of the original verdict in that case.

The post-conviction appeal process in cases like Gao Qinrong’s, with its long years of petitioning without initiation of any substantive judicial review procedure, is a good example of why there is urgent need for legal reform to the system of post-conviction relief. As more and more old cases from the past are corrected and the system of correcting judicial errors starts to become more routine and institutionalized, there is one question we must take seriously: can post-conviction appeals by citizens in non-life-and-death cases receive the same sort of timely, fair, and indisputable justice from our legal system?


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Cross-Province Wage Dispute Leads to Protests, Detentions


A protesting worker holds a sign demanding the payment of wages. Source: news.jstv.com

As China’s economic boom has waned, the longstanding problem of non-payment, delayed payment, or partial payment of wages has intensified. The resulting labor disputes increase social instability, demands on government, and pressures on judicial authorities. A recent dispute concerning back pay to rural miners offers a cautionary lesson that can inform the responses of Chinese authorities to this challenge.

Iron Miners in Hebei Protest, Demand Backpay

In October 2012, labor contractors Chen Shouyan and Wei Luntian arranged for more than 100 rural laborers from Lan’gao County, Shaanxi Province, to travel over 2,000 km to work in an iron mine run by Jiangcheng Mining Company in Qinglong County, Hebei Province. By June 2013, however, the mining company had reportedly stopped paying the workers, an apparent violation of their labor contracts.

Chen and Wei were forced to borrow money just to pay workers a basic monthly living wage, approximately 1,000 yuan ($150 USD). In May 2015, money ran out entirely, and angry miners attacked Chen and Wei, trashing their office.

On June 28, 2015, Chen and Wei led more than 180 miners, many from Lan'gao County, to deliver a petition outside the Qinglong County government offices. County officials met with representatives of the miners and the mining company and calculated that the workers were owed nearly 15 million yuan ($2.3 million USD) in back wages. The mining company responded that the miners had not been paid because they failed to deliver according to the contract. Discussions ended in stalemate.

On July 3, 2015, Chen and Wei again led more than 100 miners to demonstrate outside Qinglong County government offices and demand that the county head step in to resolve the wage dispute. Police dispatched to the scene reportedly used tear gas and detained approximately 20 protesters. Of these, Chen, Wei, and four others were placed under criminal detention for gathering a crowd to disrupt social order.

For reasons that are not entirely clear, prosecutors tried the six defendants in two separate trials. In January 2016, Chen and another defendant were sentenced by the Qinglong County People’s Court to four years and 3-1/2 years in prison, respectively, while two other defendants received suspended sentences. Three of the four defendants appealed, resulting in a trial of second instance in May 2016. At it happened, the trial of Wei and a co-defendant was also getting underway at this time.

Tensions Arise Between County Officials in Hebei and Shaanxi

Meanwhile, officials back in Lan’gao County had become aware of the dispute, believed that the miners’ claims were reasonable, and formed a special work team of county officials to look into the case. As a poor county located in a region that “exports” more than a third of its labor force, officials in Lan’gao were familiar with receiving petitions about wage arrears and other labor disputes. Led by Nie Bin, an official from the judicial administration bureau, the team traveled to Qinglong County five times in attempts to sit down with Qinglong officials to discuss the case. Each time, however, their mission was rebuffed.

Finally, the Lan’gao work team returned to Qinglong in May to observe the two trials. They brought four witnesses whose testimony had been used by the prosecution in Chen’s trial, despite the fact that their testimony had been given under the watchful eye of a Jiangcheng Mining official. Two of the witnesses appeared at Wei’s trial to recant their testimony. They were then taken into custody and charged with making false statements, preventing them from appearing in court to recant a second time in Chen’s appeal. This act compounded the tension between officials from the two counties, escalating the dispute.

Details of the case were first reported in the Chinese media in early June, around the time that the appeals court vacated the verdict against Chen and the others and remanded the case for retrial. Media attention and public outcry over the handling of the case pushed the Lan’gao and Qinglong officials to work towards paying the miners years of delinquent back wages.

Prospects for these miners, however, remain unclear. Construction booms used to mean high demand for steel and heavy investment in the iron mines of Qinglong County. Now many of these mines are shuttered and a large number of companies have been unable to pay miners their wages.

Perhaps in recognition that similar disputes will likely proliferate, Beijing Times columnist “Binglin” recently warned local government officials against too hastily resorting to criminal measures in dealing with protesting workers.

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“Use Caution with Criminal Measures against Wage Arrears Protests” (translated excerpt)

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Beijing Times, June 16, 2016


Rule by law is an important path for modern governance, but rule by law is not the same as criminal justice, and its methods do not entail the indiscriminate use of criminal measures. Local governments must realize that it is difficult to avoid some radical behavior on the part of rural laborers who are owed many years of back wages. The reasonable way to deal with them is to carry out proactive communication and negotiation in accordance with the law and come to some kind of agreement. If protesting workers engage in unlawful behavior, this must be dealt with appropriately within the scope of rule by law. But you cannot simply treat the situation as a criminal matter and be so cavalier about using the “means of last resort” to handle things.

When rural laborers seeking payment of back wages make petitions outside government offices, it is quite possible that they might block the entrance to those offices, tie up traffic, or have a negative effect on work. For those who violate the law, it may thus be necessary to use appropriate coercive measures or punishments in accordance with the law. However, before deciding that this sort of unlawful behavior constitutes the criminal offense of “gathering a crowd to disrupt social order,” you must first consider the criminal law principle of proportionality and make a careful judgment. In applying the law, you must pay particular attention to the distinction between criminal behavior and violations of public order management, giving consideration to the subjective intent of the person who has committed the unlawful act. If the circumstances are not grave and no serious damage has been done, the act should be treated as a public-order offense and be punished accordingly.


Please click here to read the full article in Mandarin.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

China Scores Low Marks on Human Rights in 14 Democracies


A recent Pew survey finds that China's favorability rating among Americans is at its lowest level since Pew began polling attitudes towards China in 2005. Photo Source: telegraph.co.uk

According to a June report from the Pew Research Center, more than 60 percent of respondents in 14 democratic countries across North America, Europe, and Asia believe that the Chinese government does not respect the personal freedoms of its people. In France, Germany, and Sweden, as many as nine out of ten people surveyed hold this view. The report comes on the heels of a Joint Statement criticizing China’s human rights record, signed by several of the countries surveyed in the poll, that was released at the meeting of the Human Rights Council in Geneva in March.

General attitudes towards China were also starkly negative—in the United States, where 80 percent of people polled think that the Chinese government does not respect the personal freedoms of its people, only 37 percent of those surveyed have a favorable opinion of China. This figure represents the lowest favorability rating since Pew began polling attitudes towards China in 2005.

Unfavorable Five-Year Trend

Negative feelings towards China have risen sharply since 2011, the year before Xi Jinping took over as chairman of China’s Communist Party. The figure below shows that in five major global powers—US, UK, France, Germany, and Japan—survey respondents with unfavorable views of China have increased since 2011.Since Xi has come to power, China’s relations with neighboring countries have likewise deteriorated—Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, for example, have all drawn closer to the US.

Percentage of Respondents with Unfavorable View of China, 2011 and 2016, by Country


Source: Pew Research Center Reports, 2011 and 2016.

These results cast doubt upon Xi’s approach to international affairs, evidenced most recently by China’s decision to refrain from any participation in the South China Sea arbitration case brought against it by the Philippines at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. Not only did the PCA reject China’s “nine-dash line” claim to rights over the South China Sea, "the ruling was unanimously in favor of the Philippines on every issue. The result is widely seen as a blow to China’s prestige, and to Xi’s leadership skills as well.

On specific issues, Pew respondents also tended to hold negative opinions of the Chinese economy. Of the ten European countries surveyed, all but one (France), now see the United States as the world’s leading economic power. In 2015, those surveyed in France, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom held the opinion that China was the world’s leading economic power. Competing with China-related economic fears, increasing numbers of Americans are “most concerned” with China’s growing military might. (Economic concerns outweigh military concerns, however, though the percentage of those who are most concerned by China’s economic might is dropping.)

The Pew results were not entirely grim for China, however. A majority of people in Australia have a favorable view of China. According to a poll conducted by the Lowy Institute that was released in June, Australians now view China as their best friend in Asia, and 43 percent feel that Australia’s relationship with China is the country’s most important relationship, tied with the percentage who hold that the relationship with the United States is the country's most important relationship. Nevertheless, 86 percent of Australians surveyed in the Lowy poll stated that “China’s human rights record” exerted a negative influence on their views of the country.

Finally, in a finding that might have implications in the American presidential campaign, there is a wide disparity in American views about China based on respondents’ political affiliation and age. Republicans tend to have more negative feelings towards the country than Democrats, and young people tend to view China more favorably than older people.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Could China’s New Oversight Rules Have Avoided Arbitrary Detention of American Citizen?


The United Nations Palais des Nations. On June 29, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention recommended the release of American Sandy Phan-Gillis, who has been detained for over a year without having charges brought against her in court. Photo: www.unog.ch

Dui Hua recently found a copy of Supreme People’s Procuratorate (SPP) regulations that govern oversight of “designated-location residential surveillance” (DLRS), a form of incommunicado detention that the Chinese government frequently uses in sensitive cases involving endangering state security, terrorism, and corruption (known as “three type offenses"). Dui Hua has translated the regulations into English below (Chinese source text available here).

The SPP adopted the regulations on October 13, 2015 with the apparent intention of curtailing abuse of DLRS. During public comment periods leading up to the 2013 revisions to the Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) that established DLRS powers, many commentators heavily criticized DLRS for effectively legalizing the secret, incommunicado detentions that had existed for years in China due to ambiguities and blank spots in the law. In November 2011, the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances had also objected to the proposed CPL revisions, arguing that they would amount to the legalization of enforced disappearances.

Oversight Regulations Aim to Limit Arbitrary Detention Through On-Site Inspections

Given the importance of DLRS oversight, it is tempting to speculate whether these rules, had they been in place just a few months earlier, might have helped mitigate if not avert the arbitrary detention of American citizen Phan (Sandy) Phan-Gillis—the only American currently in a Chinese detention facility on state secrets charges. On June 29, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) published an Opinion holding that Phan-Gillis’ detention is “arbitrary”, with US State Department officials urging China to consider the WGAD’s recommendation to release Phan-Gillis. Indicating the heightened US-China tensions resulting from the case, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei issued a swift reply, referring to the WGAD findings as “irresponsible” and calling for greater respect of China’s “judicial sovereignty”.

Phan-Gillis (pictured left) was initially taken into custody by agents of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region’s state security bureau on suspicion of espionage on March 19, 2015. She was placed under DLRS until September 2015, when the six-month time limit on this coercive measure expired, and was then transferred to a detention center in Nanning and placed in solitary confinement. In March 2016, Newsweek reported on the one-year anniversary of her detention.

Phan-Gillis has not received access to effective assistance of legal counsel and continues to be held in detention in Nanning, having never had charges brought against her in court. Had the SPP’s new oversight regulations been in place when Phan-Gillis was initially detained, procurators would have possessed clear authority under Article 19 to carry out on-site inspection of Phan-Gillis’ DLRS conditions and to conduct return inspection visits once per week.

Other provisions of the oversight regulations raise the question whether procurators might also have been able to request her release or to otherwise curtail police powers. Article 20 of the regulations, for example, provides local procurators with authority to issue “rectification opinions” on procedural irregularities, several of which apply to the Phan-Gillis case: state security officials failed to notify Phan-Gillis’ family of her placement in a DLRS facility; probably failed to place her in a facility that meets the statutory requirements for DLRS (no one, including the American consular officials who conducted monthly visits, were allowed to visit Phan-Gillis in the detention facility where she is actually housed); and failed to allow her reasonable visits and correspondence with legal counsel and family as provided for under the relevant sections of the CPL, which grant discretion for the detaining authority to allow family and lawyer visits even in so-called “three type offenses.”

Unfortunately, even these minimal oversight mechanisms were not in place at the time of Phan-Gillis’ DLRS confinement. The new rules came into force weeks after the end of her transfer to a detention facility. As it stands, the abuses of discretion that marked the first case of legalized disappearance after passage of CPL revisions in 2013 are eerily similar to those apparent in ongoing cases like Phan-Gillis’. It remains to be seen whether the oversight rules translated below will yield discernible changes in future police application of DLRS procedures.


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Regulations on Oversight of Residential Surveillance in a Designated Location by People’s Procuratorates

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Adopted at the 41st meeting of the 12th Procuratorial Committee of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate on October 13, 2015

Chapter 1: General Principles

Article 1: In order to strengthen and standardize how people’s procuratorates carry out oversight regarding imposition and implementation of designated-location residential surveillance (DLRS), these regulations are hereby enacted in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Criminal Procedure Law of the People’s Republic of China (CPL) and in consideration of the realities of procuratorial work.

Article 2: When DLRS is used against criminal suspects or defendants by public security organs, people’s procuratorates, or people’s courts, people’s procuratorates shall carry out oversight in accordance with law as to the legality of imposition and implementation of DLRS.

Article 3: Oversight of decisions to impose DLRS shall be the responsibility of the investigation-oversight and prosecutorial units of people’s procuratorates; responsibility for oversight of implementation of DLRS shall reside with the criminal enforcement inspectorate units of people’s procuratorates.

Article 4: Designated locations shall possess the conditions for ordinary daily life and rest and shall be separate from places of interrogation; they shall be equipped with surveillance equipment to facilitate monitoring and management; and they shall possess security measures to ensure the security of case handling.

Chapter 2: Oversight of Decisions to Impose Designated-Location Residential Surveillance

Article 5: When a public security organ decides to impose DLRS on a criminal suspect who has no fixed residence, the investigation-oversight unit of the people’s procuratorate at the same administrative level [as the public security organ] shall conduct oversight to determine whether that decision has been made lawfully.

When a public security organ at a higher administrative level has approved a decision to place an individual suspected of endangering state security or terrorist activity under DLRS, the investigation-oversight unit of the people’s procuratorate at the same administrative level as the public security organ that issued approval shall conduct oversight as to whether that decision has been made lawfully.

Article 6: When a people’s procuratorate decides to place a criminal suspect who has no fixed residence under DLRS, the investigation-oversight unit of the people’s procuratorate immediately above shall conduct oversight as to whether that decision has been made lawfully.

When a people’s procuratorate at a higher administrative level has approved a decision to place an individual suspected of serious corruption under DLRS, the investigation-oversight unit of the people’s procuratorate that gave that approval shall conduct oversight as to whether that decision has been made lawfully.

Article 7: When any of the following conditions apply, the people’s procuratorate shall initiate oversight into whether a decision to impose DLRS is lawful:

(i) A criminal suspect or his/her legal representatives, close relatives, or defense counsel believe that the decision to impose DLRS is in violation of the law and file a complaint, report, or petition with the people’s procuratorate;

(ii) When, in the course of its involvement in investigation, review of arrest or indictment requests, review of criminal enforcement, or filing review, the people’s procuratorate discovers that the investigating organ (unit) may have issued a decision to impose DLRS in violation of the law;

(iii) A people’s supervisor believes that a decision to impose DLRS is in violation of the law and files an oversight opinion with the people’s procuratorate;

(iv) Other circumstances requiring initiation of oversight.

Article 8: When initiating oversight of a decision by a people’s procuratorate to place a criminal suspect who has no fixed residence under DLRS, the investigating unit shall furnish the investigation-oversight unit of the people’s procuratorate at the administrative level immediately superior with copies of the case-filing decision, the decision to impose DLRS, and main pieces of evidence within three days.

When initiating oversight of a decision to place an individual suspected of serious corruption under DLRS, the investigation unit of the people’s procuratorate that approved the decision shall furnish the aforementioned documents to its own investigation-oversight unit within three days.

When the people’s procuratorate initiates oversight into a decision to impose DLRS by a public security organ, it may request that the public security organ provide the aforementioned documents.

Article 9: Oversight into decisions to impose DLRS may be carried out in one of the following ways:

(i) Review of the relevant case documents;

(ii) Listening to the investigating organ (unit) present its reasons and factual basis for issuing the decision to impose DLRS;

(iii) Listening to the opinions of the criminal suspect or his/her legal representatives, close relatives, or defense counsel;

(iv) Other ways.

Article 10: In reviewing the legality of a decision to impose DLRS, the people’s procuratorate shall check to see whether the decision satisfies the conditions set out in Articles 72 and 69(3) of the CPL, and further review whether the decision meets the following conditions:

(i) The criminal suspect has no fixed residence in the city or county where the case-handling organ is located;

(ii) The public security organ or people’s procuratorate at the administrative level immediately superior has approved the decision to impose DLRS on an individual suspected of endangering state security, terrorist activity, or serious corruption for whom implementation of residential surveillance in his/her own residence would impede the investigation.

Article 11: The investigation-oversight unit of the people’s procuratorate should issue a decision within seven days of initiating oversight into whether a decision to impose DLRS was lawful.

Article 12: When, having carried out its review, the people’s procuratorate finds that the public security organ’s decision to impose DLRS does not meet the conditions set out by the law, it shall report those findings to the head of the procuratorate and, upon his or her approval, issue a rectification notice to the public security organ and recommend that the public security organ revoke its decision to impose DLRS.

When the procuratorate finds that a decision to impose DLRS issued by itself or the procuratorate at the next lower administrative level does not meet the conditions set out by the law, the investigation-oversight unit of the people’s procuratorate shall report to the head of the people’s procuratorate and, upon his or her decision, notify its own investigating unit or the people’s procuratorate at the next lower administrative level to revoke the decision to impose DLRS. When notifying the people’s procuratorate at the next lower administrative level to revoke the decision to impose DLRS, the procuratorate shall also circulate a notice to its own investigating unit.

Article 13: Upon receiving a rectification opinion from the people’s procuratorate at the immediately superior administrative level, the people’s procuratorate shall immediately carry out the recommendation and report on the steps taken to the investigation-oversight unit of the immediately superior people’s procuratorate.

If the people’s procuratorate believes that the rectification opinion from the immediately superior people’s procuratorate regarding its decision to impose DLRS is in error, it may request a new review by [that same superior] people’s procuratorate within three days of receiving the rectification opinion. The superior people’s procuratorate shall appoint a new procurator to review the case and issue a decision whether to amend its original opinion within five days.

Article 14: Oversight of decisions by the people’s procuratorate to impose DLRS during the indictment phase shall be carried out in accordance with these provisions by the investigation-oversight unit of the same people’s procuratorate.

Oversight of decisions by the people’s court to impose DLRS shall be carried out in accordance with these provisions by the prosecutorial unit of the people’s procuratorate at the same administrative level as the court.

Chapter 3: Oversight of Implementation of Designated-Location Residential Surveillance

Article 15: Oversight of implementation of DLRS is the responsibility of the criminal enforcement inspectorate unit of the people’s procuratorate at the same administrative level as the public security organ that implements the DLRS.

Article 16: Oversight by people’s procuratorates as to implementation of DLRS shall include the following:

(i) Whether legal paperwork, such as the DLRS decision or enforcement notice, is complete;

(ii) Whether the place, term, and personnel are in accordance with regulation;

(iii) Whether the lawful rights of the person under residential surveillance are being protected;

(iv) Whether there is any unlawful behavior, such as interrogation in the designated location, corporal punishment, or abuse of the person under residential surveillance;

(v) Other things that should be monitored in accordance with the law.

Article 17: When carrying out oversight into the implementation of DLRS, the people’s procuratorate may employ the following measures:

(i) Review of relevant legal documents; records of any meetings, correspondence, or outgoings by the person under residential surveillance; and physical examination records;

(ii) On-site inspection of whether the designated location meets the legal conditions;

(iii) Review of relevant surveillance video footage and, if necessary, physical examination of the person under residential surveillance;

(iv) Interviews with the person under residential surveillance, enforcement personnel, investigators, or other relevant personnel in order to ascertain and understand relevant circumstances.

Article 18: Within 24 hours of receiving a copy of a decision to impose DLRS from a public security organ or people’s court, the people’s procuratorate case management unit shall forward the decision to its criminal enforcement inspectorate unit.

When the investigation unit or prosecution unit of a people’s procuratorate issues a DLRS decision in the name of the procuratorate, it shall send a copy of the DLRS decision to its criminal enforcement inspectorate unit within 24 hours and notify it of the address of the designated location.

Article 19: Within 24 hours after receiving a copy of the DLRS decision, the criminal enforcement inspectorate unit of the people’s procuratorate shall appoint procurators to carry out on-site inspection and complete a record of oversight inspection. Monitoring of DLRS implementation should include return inspection visits by roving teams of no fewer than two procurators at least once per week. Inspection of the implementation of DLRS must not interfere with the ordinary work of criminal investigation.

Article 20: When oversight of DLRS implementation by the people’s procuratorate uncovers one of the following, the people’s procuratorate shall issue a rectification opinion to the enforcement or investigating organ in accordance with the law:

(i) Failure of the enforcement organ to appoint enforcement personnel or failure to appoint enforcement personnel in a timely manner upon receipt of the DLRS decision and implementation notice;

(ii) Except when it is impossible to provide notice, failure to notify the family of the person under residential surveillance within 24 hours of implementing DLRS;

(iii) Implementation of residential surveillance in a detention center, administrative jail, prison, holding cell, case-handling area, or other location not meeting the statutory conditions for a designated location;

(iv) Arranging meetings or correspondence between defense lawyers and the person under residential surveillance in ways that violate regulations or illegally restricting the person under residential surveillance from meeting or corresponding with a defense lawyer;

(v) Failure by a new case-handing organ to issue a new DLRS decision in a timely manner when there is a change in the phase of the criminal process;

(vi) Failure of the enforcement organ to lift residential surveillance in a timely manner and notify the person under residential surveillance in a timely manner when the case-handling unit issues a decision to lift or change the DLRS conditions and notifies the enforcing organ of such;

(vii) Demands for payment by the person under residential surveillance or his or her family;

(viii) Other illegality.

When the criminal enforcement inspectorate unit of the people’s procuratorate discovers that the investigation or prosecutorial unit of its own procuratorate has violated one of the above conditions, it shall seek approval from the head of the procuratorate to issue a rectification opinion.

Article 21: When the criminal enforcement inspectorate unit of the people’s procuratorate finds irregularities in enforcement or security risks in the implementation of DLRS, it shall seek approval from the head of the procuratorate to issue a procuratorial recommendation to the enforcement organ or case-handling organ.

Article 22: When a rectification notice or procuratorial opinion has been issued, a copy shall be sent to the procuratorate at the administrative level immediately superior as well as to the unit immediately superior to the enforcement unit or case-handling unit.

Article 23: When a person under residential surveillance dies while under DLRS, the case shall be handled with reference to the Supreme People’s Procuratorate procuratorial procedures for death of a person in custody in a detention facility.

Article 24: When a people’s court or people’s procuratorate assigns judicial police officers to assist the public security organ with implementation of DLRS, the criminal enforcement inspectorate unit of the people’s procuratorate shall carry out oversight of those officers’ assistance with implementation.

Chapter 4: Additional Provisions

Article 25: The people’s procuratorate shall process and provide responses in a timely manner to complaints, reports, or petitions regarding imposition or implementation of DLRS from criminal suspects or their legal representatives, close relatives, or defense counsel.

Article 26: When the investigation-oversight or prosecutorial unit of the people’s procuratorate discovers the possibility of illegality in the implementation of DLRS, they shall report their findings in a timely manner to the criminal enforcement inspectorate unit. When the criminal enforcement inspectorate unit discovers the possibility of illegality in imposing a DLRS decision, it shall report its findings in a timely manner to the investigation-oversight or prosecutorial unit.

Article 27: If, in the course of its oversight of imposition or implementation of DLRS, the people’s procuratorate discovers violations of disciplinary rules or the law by case-handling personnel or enforcement personnel, it shall seek a decision from the head of the procuratorate to send the case in a timely manner to be handled by the appropriate unit; if the wrongdoing constitutes a criminal offense, it shall pursue criminal responsibility in accordance with the law.

Article 28: If there are violations of disciplinary rules or violations of the law by procuratorial personnel overseeing imposition or implementation of DLRS, responsibility shall be pursued in accordance with the relevant provisions; if the wrongdoing constitutes a criminal offense, responsibility shall be pursued in accordance with the law.

Article 29: Oversight of imposition or implementation of DLRS by the people’s procuratorate shall be handled as part of the unified system of duties of the people’s procuratorate. The case-management unit of the people’s procuratorate shall conduct periodic statistical analysis and quality assessment and report results in a timely manner to the relevant units.

Article 30: These measures take effect from the date of promulgation.




Thursday, June 9, 2016

Can Recognizing Poverty Reduce Executions in China?


Photo credit: sn.ifeng.com

Dui Hua has obtained 525 reviews of death penalty decisions by China’s Supreme People’s Court (SPC) between 2013 and 2015. Of the 525 SPC reviews in the Dui Hua sample, only two percent were reversed--a figure considerably lower than that provided by SPC officials in 2014, when it was estimated that the SPC reversal rate was near 10 percent.

In carrying out its reviews, the SPC may consider several mitigating factors, including the defendant’s remorse, good behavior, and role in the crime, as well as the severity of the crime. Poverty is another mitigating factor that, while sometimes ignored, has the potential to decrease the number of executions China carries out each year. A collection of drug-related death penalty cases the SPC overturned between 1997 and 2015 demonstrates the court’s willingness to take economic factors into account.

In 2007, Li Budu (李补都), a native of Sichuan Province, was sentenced to death for transporting over 1,000 g of heroin—20 times the 50 g threshold making drug transport a capital crime. After Li’s loss on appeal, the SPC ultimately found that, while Li should be severely punished due to the quantity of drugs involved in his case, the poverty level of Li’s family and other mitigating factors were sufficient to reverse the sentence.

In advocating leniency in Li’s case, the SPC noted that the people sentenced for transporting drugs—as opposed to smuggling, trafficking, or manufacturing them—are usually “farmers, people living in border regions [which have higher rates of poverty], or people experiencing unemployment, whose motives are to solve economic difficulties.”

Recognizing poverty in death penalty decisions is just and equitable because it takes into account the circumstances affecting individuals’ choices to engage in criminal activity. It is also economical: as an infographic from Chinese news portal NetEase makes clear, the cost of the death penalty is rising. These costs include travel reimbursements for SPC judges’ traveling from Beijing to local jurisdictions to interview defendants, defense attorney fees, equipment necessary to shift from firing squad to lethal injection as the preferred method of execution, and state compensation in the event of wrongful execution.

Costs are likely to add up during the period before a capital case ever reaches the SPC for final review. It now it takes an average of six months for a death sentence to reach the SPC after pronouncement by an Intermediate People’s Court and review by a High People’s Court.

China has committed to gradually reducing use of the death penalty, but downward trends have stalled in recent years. Dui Hua estimates that China executed about 2,400 people per year in 2013, 2014, and 2015, after marking annual declines in the previous three years and a precipitous drop from 6,500 executions per year in 2007—the year the SPC regained final authority to review death sentences.