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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