A temporary "tent court" in quake-hit Shifang in southwest China has sentenced a man to 7.5 years in jail for stealing from collapsed buildings.
The sentence was the first of its kind since the 8.0-magnitude earthquake rocked the southwestern Sichuan Province on May 12, the Supreme People's Court said Thursday.
The defendant, Mao Fanglin, was also fined 20,000 yuan ($2,875). What he had stolen would be confiscated, according to the verdict made on Tuesday.
Mao, from Gongxing Town of quake-hit Mianzhu in Sichuan, fled to Hongbai Town of Shifang after the quake struck. Residential buildings and shops there were also razed and evacuated after the quake.
Between May 13 and 16, Mao collected 2,111 yuan in cash, 25 cartons of cigarettes, nine mobile phones, two digital cameras, one motorcycle and a large amount of jewelry from the collapsed buildings, the court said.
He was caught by patrol police on May 16 in Shifang while trying to flee with the stolen cash and goods worth about 19,388 yuan.
The court said Mao's deeds were "very vile in nature" because he stole from people who had already suffered great losses in life and assets from the quake, and thus gave him a relatively harsh sentence according to the law.
The Sichuan Provincial Court had recently issued a notification on strengthening the administration of trials after the quake in view of the fact that civil disputes and criminal cases had been on the rise since then.
The notification urged local courts province-wide to give priority to the trial of quake-related cases to ensure they could be settled effectively and in a timely way.
The provincial court also directed the local courts to extend their legal services, including setting up "tent courts," "vehicle courts" and "legal counseling centers" at temporary settlements for quake survivors to help them settle disputes and answer their enquiries.
The death toll in the massive earthquake rose to 69,127 as of Thursday noon, according to the Information Office of the State Council, China's Cabinet.
A total of 373,612 people were injured and 17,918 others remained missing, while 45.71 million were affected by the disaster.
(Xinhua News Agency June 6, 2008)