Thursday, November 7, 2019

China’s Supreme People’s Court Releases Detailed Statistics on Trials, 1949-2016

China’s Supreme People’s Court (SPC) has compiled and released detailed statistics covering the adjudication work of China’s courts from 1949 to 2016, inclusive. The first six volumes are devoted to criminal trials of the first and second instance as well as retrials. They include breakdowns of cases and individuals in trials accepted, concluded, and held over for each article of the Criminal Law, as well as information on sentences, supplemental sentences (e.g. deprivation of political rights), age, occupation, gender, and, in recent years, ethnicity of defendants.

Records of People’s Courts Historical Judicial Statistics: 1949-2016 (Renmin fayuan sifa tongji lishi dianji 人民法院司法统计历史典籍) was compiled and edited by the SPC. It was published in September 2018 by the China Democracy and Legal System Press under the National People’s Congress. It became available in March 2019, but thus far the 12-volume set, priced at RMB 1,980, has attracted few readers and received little attention from scholars. Information is not provided on the number of volumes published.

The sets are marked “for internal release” (neibu faxing 内部发行). A small market in second-hand volumes has emerged. Dui Hua has purchased a set. All 12 volumes are available at the H.C. Fung Library of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University.

The publication of these volumes is a major step forward for judicial transparency in China and is a boon to scholars studying China’s justice system.

In the coming months, Dui Hua will release reports in its Reference Materials series which will draw on topics derived from the statistics published in the 12-volume set. Topics will include use of Article 300 to suppress unorthodox religious groups; trials of Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan residents as well as foreigners; splittism and inciting splittism; espionage and trafficking in state secrets; Cultural Revolution court trials; and treatment of juveniles, including girls, in the criminal justice system.

Counterrevolution in One Country: China, 1989

Drawing on data in Volume Two of the Records, Dui Hua Executive Director John Kamm made a presentation at the Fairbank Center of Harvard University on October 24, 2019. Entitled “Counterrevolution in One Country: China, 1989,” the presentation covered trials for counterrevolution during the years 1989-1991. This period coincided with the political unrest in Beijing and other cities that took place in the spring of 1989 and its aftermath.

Before beginning the presentation based on the data in the Records, Kamm made a few points about the crime of counterrevolution. Counterrevolution is a crime defined by motive. According to the 1979 Criminal Law, “All acts endangering the People’s Republic of China committed with the goal of overthrowing the dictatorship of the proletariat and the socialist system are crimes of counterrevolution.” In the tables in the Records there is a line for “other” counterrevolutionary crimes. Kamm related a story of a worker convicted of counterrevolutionary rape in the late 1970s. He was sentenced to death for sexually assaulting the wife of a foreign diplomat.

Although the crime of counterrevolution was removed from the Criminal Law in 1997, there are still prisoners serving sentences for counterrevolution in China. It is commonly thought that counterrevolution was replaced by the crime of endangering state security in 1997. It was not. Crimes that were included in the articles on counterrevolution, like organizing a prison break or using a cult to commit crimes of counterrevolution, found their way into different parts of the Criminal Law.

Not all individuals detained for offences committed during the protests were tried (some were placed in re-education-through-labor camps, for instance) and, of those tried, not all were tried for counterrevolution. According to Judicial and Administrative Records of Hunan Province, 1978-2002, 33 people were sentenced to prison for counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement, 43 for robbery, and 57 for hooliganism or sabotaging transportation equipment in Hunan Province for June 4 related offenses.

More than 1,700 people were tried for counterrevolution during the 1989-1991 period, the majority of whom are believed to have been detained and subsequently tried for their involvement in the political protests that took place in Beijing and approximately 300 other cities.

Of those tried for counterrevolution during the 1989-1991 period, roughly half were convicted and sentenced for counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement. Seventy-three counterrevolutionary groups were brought to court and 257 of their members were convicted and sentenced. In all, 75 percent of trials were for non-violent offenses – counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement, organizing or leading a counterrevolutionary group, and using a cult to commit counterrevolutionary crimes.

Nearly all tried for counterrevolution were male and most were 25 or older. In a surprise finding, the biggest group of tried counterrevolutionaries were farmers, accounting for 35 percent of defendants. Fifteen percent of those tried were workers, followed by government cadres and unemployed people. Students made up a relatively small number of those tried, accounting for seven percent.

Although most of those tried were found guilty, 93 were acquitted in the first instance trial during the three-year period; 131 were exempted from criminal punishment, including the labor leader Han Dongfang. In 1991, nearly 19 percent of those tried for counterrevolution were either acquitted or exempted from criminal punishment. (In recent years, less than 0.1 percent of trials have resulted in acquittal). Eleven were acquitted on appeal, and 36 had their sentences reduced on appeal. Roughly half of counterrevolutionaries sentenced during the three-year period received sentences of at least five years in prison.

As time passed, the sentences handed down for counterrevolution by courts grew shorter. The longest sentences were given before the end of 1989. According to materials collected by Dui Hua, the longest sentences were handed down in Shandong, where a student leader and a farmer were each given 18-year sentences.

Most of the names of those tried for counterrevolution in the three-year period are not known. Despite strenuous efforts by Dui Hua and other human rights groups over the past 30 years, the foundation has found only 15 percent of their names.


Look for future installments on these statistics on our Reference Materials site.