Thursday, January 22, 2009

Parole, Sentence Reductions Benefit Hundreds of Prisoners in Beijing Before Spring Festival

An article published today on the front page of the Legal Daily reports on the release on parole of 144 prisoners in Beijing prisons immediately prior to the Spring Festival holiday (Chinese text below). An additional 361 prisoners received sentence reductions. A special ceremony was held at Beijing Prison, the municipality’s model prison, on January 21 at which representatives of Beijing's law enforcement community watched as officials from the Beijing Number One Intermediate People's Court announced parole decisions for 87 inmates.

According to the article, Beijing party leaders have instructed law enforcement agencies to be more lenient in assessing the eligibility for parole of older prisoners, those whose crimes were committed accidentally, female prisoners, juvenile prisoners, and those whose families are facing particular difficulties. At the same time, they have been warned to be particularly careful in issuing sentence reduction and parole to those at risk of committing further crimes, such as violent criminals, serial offenders, or repeat offenders.

The types of prisoners in Beijing who received parole and sentence reductions are similar to those paroled in Sichuan in the latter half of 2008, when the Sichuan prison system released more than 1,000 prisoners categorized as "elderly, infirm, or disabled." (See Dui Hua’s Human Rights Journal entry on the Sichuan paroles posted on January 8.)

The reports from Sichuan and Beijing may point to greater use of parole and sentence reduction for Chinese prisoners who don’t pose threats to society. They coincide with a growing debate in China about making more use of the special pardon mechanisms provided for in China’s constitution, a topic that Dui Hua explores in its current issue of Dialogue.



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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Sichuan Expansion of Parole Worth Watching

An important expansion in the use of parole and other early release has been quietly taking place in Sichuan Province over the past six months, according to an in-depth report in the January 8, 2009, edition of The Beijing News (新京报). As of December 31, 2008, the Sichuan prison system had released more than 1,000 prisoners categorized as "elderly, infirm, or disabled." The article further suggests that even more releases can be expected in 2009.

This is a huge expansion in the use of parole in China. According to Sun Zeng of the Sichuan Province Prison Administration Bureau, China's annual parole rate typically does not exceed 3 percent, compared to 40 percent in some Western countries. In Sichuan, one of the most populous provinces with one of the largest prison populations in all of China, the past rate for parole has been a mere 0.2 percent. For example, in recent years only four or five prisoners from Chengdu Women's Prison were released on parole each year. Last year, 22 women either had the remainder of their sentences commuted or were released on parole.

Recognizing the challenges that thousands of prisoners who are too old or disabled to care for themselves pose to prison administration, last May provincial authorities took the initiative to draft regulations expanding the use of parole and non-custodial punishment for prisoners over the age of 65 (or 60 for women) who had served at least half of their sentences, the physically disabled, those who have difficulty caring for themselves, and those who are no longer able to perform labor. These prisoners still have to meet evaluative criteria for early release, show genuine repentance, and no longer pose a threat to society. In August, these regulations were jointly issued by the provincial higher people's court, procuratorate, public security department, and justice department.

The article notes that some have criticized the parole measure as prison authorities "casting off a burden," but Shang Aiguo of the Supreme People's Procuratorate sees parole of such prisoners as an opportunity for their families to provide them better care and medical treatment than they could receive in prison, while also allowing limited resources for correctional facilities to be deployed elsewhere. To be sure, the mass release of some of the most expensive prisoners to keep in custody has many practical benefits, but prison authorities are quick to point out that early release for these prisoners also promotes the development of a harmonious society.

Further support for the idea that parole and early release in Sichuan was intended to have wider social benefits can be seen in another group of prisoners who has benefitted recently: prisoners from the part of the province hardest hit by May 2008 earthquake. Also eligible for release under the new measures are individuals who because of losses sustained during the earthquake are needed at home to provide care to elderly parents or young or disabled children. More than 200 prisoners from Aba Prison, located in the earthquake zone, have already been released thanks to these measures.

It is important to note that this is not a relaxation of the standards for parole and early release, but rather an expansion of their application in accordance with existing laws to a broader group of prisoners. Prisoners are evaluated on their ability to admit guilt and show remorse, obey prison regulations, undergo "thought reform" and "reform through labor,"and obey work safety and personal hygiene standards. The legal procedure for parole remains unchanged: the prison makes its recommendation to the court, the court issues a decision under the supervision of the procuratorate, and after release the parolee is supervised by police.

According to Xu Haifa, who represents the Supreme People's Procuratorate at Hebei's Yancheng Prison, the biggest obstacle for the expansion of parole in China is the lack of supervisory capacity, as local police are already stretched thin carrying out other responsibilities. He points to the need for community corrections institution-building and the establishment of an agency dedicated to the supervision and guidance of parolees. This would enable more prisoners who no longer pose a threat to society to return to society without increasing the pressure on law enforcement.

It will be very interesting to see whether these measures in Sichuan serve as the basis for a greater expansion in the use of parole, sentence reduction, and other forms of early release nationwide. Certainly, the opportunity for China to reduce economic expenditures and promote a harmonious society could prove quite attractive to prison authorities in 2009.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Official Statistics on ESS Arrests, Indictments in Xinjiang Point to Big Crackdown on Political Crime in China in Olympics Year

At a recent news conference by procuratorial officials in Urumqi, statistics on arrests and prosecutions for endangering state security (ESS) in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) were released. Through November 2008, 1,295 suspects were arrested and 1,154 individuals were indicted in 204 separate cases of ESS crimes. The statistics were published in a Procuratorial Daily article (in Chinese) on January 3, 2009 (see Dui Hua’s translation below), and were later posted on the website of the Political and Legal Committee of the XUAR.

In addition to revealing the number of ESS arrests and prosecutions, other statistics on how the procuratorate in Xinjiang handled political crime were also released, including rare numbers for cases dismissed, erroneous verdicts and illegal use of coercive measures, including, presumably, torture. Such transparency on a politically sensitive subject is rare in China, and could portend greater openness on such topics in the future.

The numbers of ESS arrests and indictments in Xinjiang in the first 11 months of 2008—with some indictments covering suspects arrested the year prior—are roughly double the totals for all of China in 2007, when 742 ESS arrests and 619 indictments were recorded, the most in each category since 1999. On a 12-month basis, it is estimated that more than 1,400 individuals were arrested for ESS crimes in Xinjiang in 2008, with nearly 1,300 indictments for the year as a whole.

According to statistics published in the Xinjiang Yearbook for the years 1996 through 2003, approximately one half of all ESS trials in China take place in Xinjiang. The number of defendants in ESS cases tried in Xinjiang is typically more than in other parts of China, making it difficult to estimate national totals from the 2008 statistics released for Xinjiang. But, with the large number of arrests and indictments following unrest in Tibet, and the crackdown against dissent in other parts of China, it is likely that for the country as a whole the number of ESS arrests and indictments in 2008 more than doubled compared to the totals recorded in 2007 and could well exceed 2,000.

The jump in 2008 arrests and indictments follows a 50 percent increase in ESS arrests and indictments in 2007 over 2006 and a 100 percent increase in arrests and indictments in 2006 over 2005. It is virtually certain that last year’s number of arrests and indictments for ESS—a category that covers subversion, separatism, espionage and trafficking in state secrets, among other political crimes—is the largest since statistics on ESS were first released in 1998.

The big increase in arrests and prosecutions for ESS last year is reflected in an unprecedented rise of known and suspected cases of individuals imprisoned for endangering state security in Dui Hua’s prisoner database. During 2008, the number of such prisoners in the database more than doubled—going from 355 on December 31, 2007, to 763 on December 31, 2008, largely from widely applied ESS charges in Tibet for arrests related to the protests in March.

Xinjiang: Striking hard against endangering state security crimes

Lu Lifeng

Since the beginning of 2008, procuratorial organs at all levels in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region have taken on maintaining social stability as the central political task for strengthening legal supervision. [The organs] have struck hard according to law against endangering state security crimes conducted by the “three forces,”1 dispatching work groups in a timely manner and carrying out instructions that authorized arrests and prosecution for cases of violent terrorism. The following is information obtained by this journalist from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Procuratorial Work Conference convened on December 27, 2008.

In the first 11 months of 2008, procuratorial organs in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region authorized arrests according to law for 1,295 individuals and prosecuted 1,154 individuals in criminal cases of “endangering state security” (ESS). Investigative organs were supervised to file 204 cases that should have been filed but were not, and ordered to dismiss 16 cases that were filed but should not have been. [Investigative organs] were ordered to arrest an additional 61 suspects for whom no request for arrest had been issued, and also to indict 125 more in cases where orders for indictment had not been submitted. Opinions for correction against investigative organs were issued in 110 cases due to improper use of coercive measures and other illegal circumstances during the course of investigation. Appeals were filed in 51 cases in which criminal verdicts or [appeal] decisions were in error and in eight cases with errors in civil or administrative decisions. 55 cases were recommended for retrial. Corrected opinions were issued in 86 cases in which, among other illegal circumstances, sentence reductions, parole, and non-prison confinement were improperly issued [for criminals], and where penalties were not carried out according to regulation in terms of criminal handling.

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Procuratorate requests that all of its procuratorial agencies in the New Year make strengthening legal supervision their focus and make an effort to carry out supervisory work in a strict manner. At the same time, [agencies] have to further the standards for supervision of all institutions involved in law enforcement activities and the judicial process, and exert full effort to defend social stability and uphold the administration of justice.

1. Dui Hua note: The “three forces” are terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism.

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