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China's shameful standard of justice

Exemptions for the powerful feed social disharmony

China's shameful standard of justice
A police 'wanted' card depicting the portrait of Zhou Kehua
Chen Qian, Beijing

August 27, 2012

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Two weeks ago, Zhou Kehua, alleged to have committed a series of armed robberies and the murders of 10 people, was shot dead in southwestern Chongqing. Since that time, there has been media frenzy over the issue. Certainly there is no surprise that such disturbing news makes headlines and can lead to sensationalism, but reporting on violence and crime should lead people to ponder the roots of these actions and not merely gawk at them like a bystander at the scene of an automobile accident. Behind each crime are deep-seated social issues. High crime rates indicate social dysfunction and dissatisfaction, among other things. Greater equity and justice are the best weapons against crime and important ingredients for social harmony and stability. And yet, there remains a voyeuristic quality to the way the government addresses growing criminality. Security has become a major industry in China as more areas of larger cities come under the lens of surveillance cameras. But recording crime can ultimately do little to prevent it on a larger scale if the causes continue to be unaddressed. To this end, a failure of leadership and accountability among the country’s leaders may hold one key to failures in law and order. As one blogger using the name “Xinghuoliaoyuan” noted in a recent posting, Chinese courts at all levels have increasingly overlooked job-related crimes committed by government officials, according to annual reports by the Supreme People’s Protectorate and Supreme People’s Court. According to the post, some 51.38 percent of government officials who committed such crimes were exempt from punishment or received probation in 2001. That percentage climbed to 66.48 percent in 2005. Financial crimes are among the most common among government officials, where absconding with state funds is considered a breach of Communist party discipline. Xinghuoliaoyuan further notes that according to publically available data, inspectors across China investigated 2,421 Communist party members in 2009 in cases that involved capital of 382 million yuan (US$60.08 million). A friend once told me there is great pressure to work in government departments these days. “We are often told to create phony bookkeeping with annual expenses twice or three times the actual amount,” the friend said. What lies behind such actions is the confidence that one’s position in society or within the government will maintain one’s impunity. In fact, most serious criminal cases in China do not involve the socially underprivileged but rather what might be called the criminal upper class: corrupt officials, managers of state-owned enterprises, and public security and military officers. People in these positions know that the law – at least for them – is not absolute. Their authority and their access to powerful personal networks provide a buffer to justice. One needs to look no further than the recent sentencing of Gu Kailai, wife of deposed senior Communist party official Bo Xilai, who was imprisoned for life instead of given the death penalty for her involvement in the killing of a British businessman. Analysts have already suggested that Gu Kailai could regain her freedom via medical parole in just nine years. And what of those members of society, particularly the poor and disenfranchised, who do not enjoy the privileges of power or impunity? They have no outlet to express their dissatisfaction with an increasingly corrupt society, where justice is the exception rather than the rule. They get angry. They look for other means to attain the kind of lifestyle that is out of reach through legitimate means. Such was the case with Zhou Kehua. But crime affects all segments of society. In less than 24 hours after Zhou Kehua was shot dead, a county education bureau chief in Guangxi province died from injuries sustained during a robbery. The media is full of such stories. And while they may be worthy of our reflection, they demand action on the part of state officials, who in many cases should be ashamed of the example they set. Chen Qian is the pseudonym of a Beijing-based social analyst Related reports Rule of law plays rule of man
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