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China Letter-News and Human Rights

China human rights news with focus on the Uygur of Xinjiang, Tibetans and Tibet, Chinese mining workers, religion, corruption and censorship.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

China: Prison Reform and Candid Reporting

Two welcome signs of Reform

China Prison SystemThe China Daily, one of China's official government news organs, has published an article on prison reform that I find of considerable interest on two points.

Firstly the article announces that a nationwide investigation will be jointly launched later this month (May) by the Supreme People's Procuratorate, the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Justice investigating problems existing in China's penal system.

The investigation apparently will focus on prison officials illegal practices in an attempt to

"safeguard the justice of the law and protect prisoners' legitimate rights and interests." and to ensure "Efforts are being made nationwide to build a prison system that is just, incorruptible, free of abuses and highly efficient, and to guarantee prisoners' legitimate rights and interests."

The article claims that this initiative follows a series of prison reforms carried out of late by the Ministry of Justice to protect the rights of prisoners. These reportedly have included new protocols such as "Regulations on Reform Through Re-education in Prisons," and "Regulations on the Procedures for Applications by Prisons for Commutation and Parole" .

Focus of this new investigation will be on reforming the ways of imposing punishment in prisons and the methods of prison management.

According to the article there exists within the prison system widespread abuse of power by prison officials including corruption and the use of unlawful discretionary power with respect to issues such as reducing prisoners' penalties, releasing prisoners on parole and allowing prisoners to be bailed out for medical treatment.

China's prison system comes in from considerable criticism for it's treatment of prisoners including allegations of forced labour, torture, deaths in custody and human organ harvesting. Human rights websites such as the Laogai Organisation and the Falun Dafa carry many examples of the extent of human rights violations allegedly going on in China's prison system.

Whilst this announced investigation does not appear to have a mandate over these issues any accountability and oversight placed on the system will hopefully lessen human rights violation across the board and as such is to be welcomed.

The second point concerning the article that commanded my attention was it's closing "editorial" type statement. The China Daily respectfully reminds the govenment that

However, it should be pointed out that though no one questions the authorities' good intention in straightening out things behind the bars, problems concerning prisons cannot be solved by merely launching inspection movements.

Hence, the authorities should be mindful of the fact there is always a possibility old problems will resurface once the current initiative is concluded.

Whilst a little more circumspect than her western counterparts the China Daily comes out relatively strongly in reminding the government that it is one thing to announce reforms and investigations but another thing to carry them out.

The China Daily seems to be leading the way in bringing western, democratic style journalism to mainstream Chinese news reporting and I am often amazed at what it says and equally amazed as to how it gets away with it.

Well done China Daily and hopefully we will be able to say well done the Ministry of Justice.

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