Friday, May 16, 2008

Commentary & Translation: "Can 2008 Become China’s Year of the Special Pardon?"

In late April, The Dui Hua Foundation appealed for an “Olympic pardon” for some long-serving Chinese prisoners in a letter from Executive Director John Kamm to Wu Bangguo (吴邦国), Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. In the recent past, articles have in fact appeared in the official Chinese press about the idea of Beijing issuing pardons in 2008, a special year that marks both Beijing’s hosting of the Olympics and the 30th anniversary of the country’s economic reform and opening.

These articles have received little coverage in English-language media, but their publication may represent a sign of openness by the Chinese government on the subject of pardons. At the very least, they suggest that Beijing has felt for some time that granting pardons to prisoners, which was last done in China in 1975, is a topic worthy of renewed public attention during this important period for the country.

The most widely cited official Chinese article with a highly favorable view of issuing pardons is, “Can 2008 Become China’s Year of the Special Pardon?,” published in the Guangzhou-based Southern Weekend (南方周末)
on December 13, 2007 (PDF of Chinese article with Dui Hua’s translation). The author, Liu Renwen (刘仁文), a prominent scholar with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, presents the history of special pardons in China since 1949, the legal basis for pardons under the Chinese constitution, and their implementation by other countries that can serve as positive examples for Beijing.

Mr. Liu points out categories of prisoners who are good candidates for pardons, such as those serving what now may be seen as excessively severe sentences after their arrests during “strike hard” campaigns. He further discusses how the government can use pardons to “relieve strictness with lenience” as a way to help achieve a “harmonious society.”

Notably, the piece quotes remarks made by Xiao Yang (肖扬), President of the Supreme People’s Court, whose views provide insight, however limited, about how the topic of pardons perhaps has been part of an internal dialogue among top-level government officials. In comments on penal policy he laid out in a “Report of Achievements,” President Xiao stated, “[p]ardons are a major national policy measure and an important manifestation of civilized progress for society.” He added that “fully demonstrating the role of the pardon system certainly will have an enormously positive impact toward creating a harmonious and stable social environment and enhancing the internal unity of the people.”

At this moment in history, as Beijing looks to improve the country’s image abroad, it would be welcome to see the government re-activate its dormant pardon system for long-serving prisoners who pose no threat to society. This benevolent gesture would speak to China’s historical spirit of generosity as well as the country’s principal ambitions to build a society that integrates the ideals of harmony and rule of law.

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