Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Medical Parole for Li Baocheng: Increasing Judicial Transparency

Prayers at an underground home church in Beijing. Image Credit: BBC.

Li Baocheng (李保成), a 79-year-old Christian Church leader from the central province of Henan, is finally being considered for medical parole after receiving a four-year sentence for fraud and “inciting subversion” in December 2015.

As Dui Hua first reported a year ago, authorities in the city of Nanyang accused Li Baocheng of illicitly collecting “baptism fees” from members of his Huangjinduo Christian Church and organizing a political party aimed at overthrowing the Chinese Communist Party. While awaiting the results of his appeal, Li suffered a brain hemorrhage that left him seriously impaired. Recently published court documents show that judicial authorities have begun deliberating whether Li should serve the remainder of his sentence at home under conditions of medical parole.

About Li Baocheng

Li served two earlier prison sentences, one in the 1970s for “counterrevolution” and again in the 1980s for “disturbing social order.” Nonetheless, he went on to become a successful entrepreneur, winning official praise for providing material support in 1987 to Chinese troops at the Sino-Vietnam border.

Something evidently changed in recent years. Li and four fellow members of his Christian church were taken into custody in April 2015. Their arrest took place just after they led a demonstration of over 200 church members on the streets of Nanzhao County. Demonstrators chanted slogans against the police and judiciary and called for an end to “American imperialism.” Investigators tied the protests to attempts by Li and others to form a new political party that would replace the Chinese Communist Party, which Li allegedly predicted was on its way to “self-destruction.”

In December 2015, after receiving a four-year sentence followed by two years of deprivation of political rights from the Nanyang Intermediate People’s Court, Li and his defense counsel filed an appeal to the Henan Higher People’s Court. But before the higher court could issue its ruling, Li suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and was transferred from the county detention center to a hospital. In August 2016, after Li’s appeal was rejected, his lawyer filed an application for medical parole with the Nanyang Intermediate Court.

For reasons that are not immediately clear, Li’s application was reviewed by the court’s juvenile tribunal. Li underwent a court-ordered medical examination in December 2016, which confirmed that he was suffering from the after-effects of an intracerebral hemorrhage (including paralysis on the right side of his body). Li was also diagnosed with dangerously high blood pressure. A court-appointed medical forensics expert submitted an affidavit certifying that Li’s condition was serious enough to qualify him for medical parole in accordance with legal provisions. The reviewing tribunal agreed and filed the case with the court’s adjudication review tribunal at the end of February 2017. At the time the case was filed, Li Baocheng was recuperating at home.

Medical Parole

Under the current regulations governing the granting of medical release, parole and other non-custodial enforcement mechanisms, the body responsible for reviewing the request must first post details of the case online for a period of ‘public comment.’ For this purpose, courts use a central online platform hosted by the Supreme People’s Court, which is also used as a space to announce sentence reduction and parole decisions. In Li Baocheng’s case, the period of public review concluded on or about March 15.

It’s unclear when the court will issue its decision. Provincial rules stipulate a series of additional review steps before a final decision on medical parole can be made. Once the adjudication review tribunal makes its preliminary decision, it submits the case to the court’s adjudication committee for discussion and then to a division of the court at the next administrative level for review (in this case, the Henan Higher People’s Court).

Assuming that Li Baocheng’s application for medical parole is successful, he will then become the responsibility of the local community corrections unit. Every three months, Li’s health will be monitored to determine whether his condition still qualifies for medical parole. (Typically, release on medical parole is subject to review by the court adjudication committee every six months to assess whether the parolee still qualifies.) All expenses related to medical treatment and care will be Li’s responsibility.

Li’s four-year sentence is due to expire on April 15, 2019.

Greater Transparency?

The procedures surrounding sentence reduction and parole (including medical parole) have tightened considerably in recent years. The process has become more elaborate, with a number of review stages introduced at different administrative levels. In addition, there is an active effort to increase transparency through the use of the Internet and public comment periods. Both these steps have been taken in the interest of reducing the impact of corruption on judicial decision-making and reversing the perception among many in the public that individuals with wealth and power can manipulate the system in their favor.

Increased disclosure of documents related to prosecution and adjudication along with the wider release of information related to sentence reductions and parole proceedings are examples of how China’s judicial system is gradually becoming more transparent. In the process, the increased transparency helps shed light on a criminal justice system that is still quite opaque—particularly where sensitive crimes such as those falling under the category of “endangering state security” are concerned.