Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Rule of Law with Chinese Characteristics

A few legal cases moved forward in the past day or so:
Firstly, democracy advocate Liu Xiaobo who was convicted of "inciting subversion of state power" and sentenced to 11 years in jail was denied an appeal today.
The Beijing Municipal Higher People's Court upheld the conviction which many high profile international intellectuals including Vaclav Havel, Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama are now calling for Liu to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
American Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman Jr quickly denounced the verdict, saying in a statement: "We believe that he should not have been sentenced in the first place and should be released immediately."
While the verdict was somewhat expected, Liu could now take his appeal to the Supreme People's Court.
If he does so, this will put the government in an interesting position where the government could either reconsider his sentence or face further uproar from human rights groups around the world.
Secondly, China has now formally charged the four Rio Tinto employees with accepting bribes and stealing trade secrets.
It was back in early July when the four were arrested and only now do they know what charges they are facing, though no trial date has been set.
Previously they were accused of spying and without any concrete evidence, the authorities changed the charges to accepting bribery and stealing trade secrets that allegedly damaged the interests of China's state-owned steelmakers. This is puzzling as they are not charged with handing out bribes, as one would expect.
According to Xinhua, the four employees, on many occasions, "requested and received" a huge amount of bribes from state-owned steel producers. The statement said they had gained trade secrets from Chinese steel companies by "luring [them] with valuable goods and other illegal methods."
Rio Tinto has responded, strongly denying that its employees were involved in any kind of wrongdoing.
The Australian government is also following the case closely, as one of the employees, Chinese-born but naturalized Australian citizen Stern Hu was held for more than a month without any access to a lawyer or his family, or was even formally charged.
"We continue to emphasize to the Chinese authorities the need for the case to be handled transparently and expeditiously," said a spokesman for Foreign Minister Stephen Smith in a statement.
Thirdly, a Chinese activist trying to document the shoddy buildings that led to more than 80,000 deaths of so many people in the May 2008 Sichuan earthquake was jailed for five years for subversion on Wednesday.
Supporters and human rights groups say Tan Zuoren was going to publish an independent report on the collapse of school buildings.
His trial was held in August in Chengdu, but no verdict was announced until now. At that time artist and activist Ai Weiwei tried to attend the trial and testify for Tan. Instead Ai was beaten up and prevented from leaving his hotel room. The beating was so bad that he later had to have emergency surgery in Germany to relieve the pressure on his brain from a blood clot.
He has also compiled a list of names of the students who died in the 8.0-magnitude quake.
And at yesterday's verdict, Hong Kong journalists were barred from entering the courtroom and their hotel rooms were searched on the pretext of looking for drugs. The reporters were held up in separate rooms and were not allowed out until the verdict was read out.
"I think this is a very important case for China, more important than that of Liu Xiaobo," said Ai. "It shows the Chinese legal system has taken a big step backwards. Tan's 'crime' was entirely one of speech, of conscience."
While the Chinese government says some 80,000 people died, it says only 5,335 children perished in the earthquake.
It's interesting to note that these three cases have moved forward or closed within the last few days of the Year of the Ox. Perhaps the Chinese courts want to start fresh after the Spring Festival?
The courts hardly seem to be following the rule of law, but rather Chinese traditions.
Doesn't sound like using a "scientific outlook on development", using President Hu Jintao's words.

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