Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ching Cheong in Support of 60th Anniversary Special Pardon

In the lead article of the most recent issue of the Dialogue newsletter, Dui Hua expressed support for the idea of a special pardon for prisoners as a means of commemorating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949. The article, which noted a variety of voices in China who have already raised the idea of a special pardon, has since generated considerable discussion on the proposal both inside and outside of China.

A recent supporter of the 60th anniversary pardon proposal is Ching Cheong, veteran China correspondent for The Straits Times newspaper based in Singapore, who expressed his views in a February 5 opinion piece published in the Hong Kong Economic Journal. Translated below by Dui Hua, the piece is highly personal in nature, drawing on Ching's own experience of being imprisoned in China on espionage charges from April 2005 until his release on parole in February 2008.

Invincible are the benevolent, their love boundless

By Ching Cheong
(Hong Kong Economic Journal, February 5, 2009)

February 5th marks the first anniversary of my regained freedom. It feels great to be home again! I am so happy to be free! Following the great efforts of so many Hong Kong people and the ceaseless petitioning of the Hong Kong SAR government on my behalf, the central government one year ago finally agreed to release me on parole. I shall never forget the understanding, trust, and support offered me by all sectors of society. I have pledged to transform this thanks into a guiding force working on behalf of democracy, freedom, human rights, and rule of law in Hong Kong and China.

Announcing a special pardon offers a fresh a start

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China and marks the first full cycle of 60 years since the establishment of a new China. According to the traditional Chinese calendrical system of "roots and branches," this is the beginning of a new cycle and an opportunity to reflect on original intentions and start new ventures. I propose that the central government celebrate this 60th anniversary with the announcement of a special pardon, a policy of benevolence that will offer people a fresh start.

Chinese history early on established this tradition of benevolent rule. For example, take the case of Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty. In the "Annals of the Wu Emperor" in the History of the Han Dynasty, it is written: "On the Jiazi day, in the third month of the year in spring in the first year of the Yuansu reign period [128 BCE] . . . [Emperor Wu] decreed: 'I wholeheartedly admire [the benevolent rule of] Tang and Yu [two enlightened rulers in the early history of China] as well as those found in the Yin [1600–1100 BCE] and Zhou [1100–771 BCE] dynasties. The old provides a mirror for the new. We thus declare a general pardon over the entire nation and make a fresh start with our people.'" Emperor Wu opened the way for a period of peace and prosperity such that to this day we are especially proud to refer to ourselves as "Han." This has much to do with his willingness to "offer people a fresh start."

Besides considerations of cultivating benevolent rule, a special pardon today offers more of a chance to resolve judicial errors. Over the past decade, the CPC Central Committee has committed to reform of the judicial system, twice issuing a "Five-year Reform Program for the People's Courts." This is something that helps restore people's confidence in the administration of justice. But it also highlights many of the deficiencies in past trials. These institutional problems cannot be reformed overnight; choosing to issue a special pardon on the occasion of this 60th anniversary National Day will meet the goal of resolving these errors, thereby easing feelings of social discontent.

Based on my personal experience, I feel that resolving these miscarriages of justice is especially urgent. My reasoning is as follows:

First, during the Fifth National Conference on Criminal Sentencing Work, former Politburo Standing Committee member and Central Politico-legal Committee Secretary Luo Gan noted: "We must effectively guarantee quality in handling cases and strengthen the protection of human rights in the area of criminal justice. We must strictly implement each procedure and system in the criminal justice process, and firmly grasp the central facets of facts, evidence, procedure, and use of law in each case so that every case possesses clear facts, sufficient evidence, accurate convictions, appropriate sentencing, and lawful procedure that can stand the inspection of history." From these words by a top party leader responsible for China's law enforcement work, we can clearly see that the authorities have in the past not mastered these four central facets and that this failure has been widespread. Otherwise, it would not be necessary to enact reforms.

Second, the February 8, 2007, issue of the Legal Daily reported that China's public security organs in 2006 had developed "special control measures," one of which was aimed at controlling the extraction of confessions through torture. Later, in the second half of 2007, the same paper published a series of articles examining why the problem of extracting confession through torture "had not stopped, despite repeated prohibitions." From these reports, we see that the extraction of confessions through torture is a very serious problem.

Third, in 2007, China's National People's Congress Standing Committee passed a new Lawyers' Law, explicitly including a section on the "professional rights and obligations of lawyers" and establishing clear provisions covering the rights of lawyers in the criminal justice procedure to meet with clients, view case materials, investigate and obtain evidence, and defend their clients—thereby taking a first step towards resolving the long existing problems in the profession of "difficulty to meet," "difficulty to view evidence," and "difficulty to investigate and obtain evidence." This is a great step forward, to be sure, but it also highlights the fact that defendants in the past were unable to receive proper legal protection.

Extraction of confessions through torture during the investigative phase, failure to grasp the four central facets of the trial process, and depriving defendants of their right to legal protection can only lead to miscarriages of justice.

Make more use of parole to resolve contradictions

Fourth, the present criminal code offers criminals who have served at least half of their sentences the possibility of leniency through parole. But in practice, only a handful of individuals who have served half of their sentences are actually paroled. According to statistics from China's Ministry of Justice, in the decade from 1996 to 2005, the rate of parole never exceeded three percent. This effectively negates the leniency built into the criminal code. According to data from the Asian and Pacific Conference of Correctional Administrators, in 2005 China lagged far behind other countries and regions in the Asia Pacific region with respect to implementing parole. (In that year, China's rate of parole was 2.3 percent, whereas Australia's was 39.7 percent, New Zealand's 39.4 percent, Canada's 32.7 percent, Thailand's 37.9 percent, Japan's 5 percent, and Hong Kong's a high 40.4 percent.) Since the rate of parole use is so low, many mainland legal experts have suggested that parole ought to be used more to resolve social tensions and fulfill the government's criminal justice policy of "lenience mixed with severity."

These four errors that exist in law enforcement were created by the existing justice system, so we must rely on judicial reforms to solve them completely. But the social grievances that have accumulated as a result of this must be resolved in a timely manner if there is to be social harmony. As there are a wide range of such injustices that cannot be easily resolved one by one in a short period of time, I propose issuing a special pardon in order to resolve a larger portion of them. Only in this way can society's grievances be effectively defused.

Thirty years ago, Deng Xiaoping passed a "Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party Since the Founding of the State,"resolving serious contradictions within the Party and clearing the way for 30 years of prosperity. Today, if Hu Jintao were to issue a special pardon, expressing the government's sincerity in healing old wounds and granting people a fresh start, resolving historical difficulties and enhancing the peaceful atmosphere of society, who would object? Invincible are the benevolent, their love boundless. I hope that the parties concerned can give this idea serious consideration.

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Monday, February 9, 2009

Olympics Six Months On: No Lift for China’s Image

Six months after the dazzling ceremony that opened the Summer Olympics in Beijing, the first post-Games poll of international opinion toward China has been released by the BBC World Service. The results indicate that China’s image has worsened over the past year among most countries polled. The release of the poll coincides with the first Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of China’s human rights record this week at the United Nations in Geneva.

According to the BBC poll of views in 21 countries released on February 6 this year, the percentage of people outside China who think the country exerts a positive influence in the world has slipped six percentage points to 39 percent from 45 percent a year earlier. Forty percent think China exerts a negative influence, up from 32 percent in 2008. Last year, 16 countries had a predominantly positive view of China and five held a negative view. In the most recent poll, 10 countries have a negative view and 10 countries have a positive view.

The most recent poll indicates a modest improvement in the United States’ image since the low point recorded in late 2006, when only 30 percent of those polled outside the United States thought that the country wielded a positive influence. Those who have a positive view of the United States now account for 40 percent of those polled, while those who hold a negative view stand at 43 percent—a decrease from 51 percent in late 2006. The most recent poll was conducted after the November 2008 election of the first black US president, who campaigned on a platform of taking steps to improve America’s battered image by closing Guantánamo’s detention center, outlawing torture of detainees, and promoting better relations with countries that have strained ties with the United States.

Over the past year, positive opinion toward China has dropped sharply in Europe and in parts of Asia (including in the Philippines, where China’s negatives rose from 30 percent to 52 percent) and the Muslim world (with double-digit drops in positive ratings recorded in Egypt, Indonesia, and Turkey). It has remained negative in the United States and Canada, but has improved in Latin America and Africa. Opinion toward China in Russia remains positive. In sharp contrast to international opinion, more and more Chinese—92 percent in the most recent poll—believe that China exerts a positive influence in the world.

The recent poll reveals views of China from eight of the 12 top medal-winning countries at the 2008 Olympic Games. Excluding responses from China, an average of 52 percent of those polled among the top medal winners felt that China exerts a negative influence—up from 44 percent a year ago—and the percentage of those who think that China has a positive influence dropped to 28 percent from 37 percent. Among audiences likely to have watched the Games, China’s image appears to have deteriorated.

Opinion toward China suffered some of its biggest losses in countries that hosted a leg of the around-the-world torch run. Positive views of China dropped to 39 percent from 48 percent in Great Britain, and negative views rose to an astonishing 70 percent in France (up from 46 percent a year ago). In Turkey, where sympathy for the Uyghur people is high, 64 percent now have a negative view compared to a mere 18 percent who see China in a positive light. In Australia, where a year ago 60 percent of the population felt that China exerted a positive influence, the number which does so now has dropped to 47 percent. The Japanese already had a very negative opinion of China’s role in the world, but even here the country’s positive numbers dropped from 12 percent in the 2008 report to 8 percent in this year’s report.

This week in Geneva China’s human rights record is being examined by the UN’s Human Rights Council. The Chinese government will field many questions about its human rights record, but one question should be directed at to the Chinese people: Why do an increasing number of people around the world view China so negatively, even after the hard-won triumph of the Summer Olympics, the outpouring of international support after the Sichuan earthquake in May and the realization that China’s economy and foreign exchange reserves are vital to repairing the damaged world economy?

A principal reason is doubtless the perception that the human rights situation in China is worsening, with reports of a sharp increase in arrests for political crimes, tightened controls over expression on the Internet, increased repression in Xinjiang and Tibet, and continued support for some of the world’s worst rights abusers in Sudan, Myanmar, and North Korea. As the United States and others have learned the hard way, the way power treats people, at home and abroad, counts heavily in the court of public opinion.

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