China defends human rights in judicial practice

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A more efficient and fairer justice system has improved human rights protection in China with many wrongful convictions corrected, court proceeding streamlined and lawyers' rights better protected.

The achievements were outlined in the work reports of the Supreme People's Court (SPC) and Supreme People's Procuratorate (SPP), which were submitted to the ongoing parliamentary session on Sunday.

"We tried our best to make sure every case processed through the judicial system was fair and justice was served," Chief Justice Zhou Qiang said when delivering the SPC work report to the National People's Congress (NPC).

The safety and wellbeing of women and children saw vast improvements. Chinese courts concluded the trial of about 5,400 cases involving the trafficking and sexual assault of women and children last year, with more severe sentences extended to the guilty parties, according to the SPC report.

Meanwhile, about 24,000 suspects were charged with violating the personal rights of women, the SPP report said.

The year 2015 also saw a surge of cases in which citizens sued the government. Courts heard about 241,000 cases of this kind, a year-on-year increase of 59.2 percent.


Prosecutors have strived for "constructive interaction with lawyers," said Procurator-General Cao Jianming when delivering the SPP work report at the NPC session.

An online system to support defense lawyers was established, which helped them schedule appointments with their clients and file lawsuits, while a database of digital legal documents is available to 29 provincial divisions, helping lawyers access and survey documents easily.

In about 1,000 cases, prosecutors stopped authorities from hindering the work of lawyers.

This year, Zhou promised improvements to the legal aid system, to help those who want to appeal or review their death sentence.

Chen Shu, an NPC deputy and Guangzhou-based lawyer, told Xinhua that she was impressed by the efforts from courts and prosecuting bodies.

"Lawyers still face difficulties when making appointments with clients and accessing court documents, but the situation has improved," Chen said.

It has been more and more accepted that the judicial system is to protect the rights of both victims and suspects, she said.


Courts have upheld the principle of innocence till proven guilty and worked to protect the legal rights of defendants, Zhou said, adding that a total of 1,039 suspects were found not guilty in 2015.

A number of high-profile wrongful convictions were corrected last year while the courts reviewed about 1,300 cases. One such case involved Chen Man, 53, who had spent 23 years in prison for murder and arson. Last month a court overturned his conviction after a 16-year appeal process.

"We have carefully reviewed the wrongful prosecutions in the past years and in the process have uncovered discrepancies in the arrest of suspects and lodging indictments," Cao said.

Moreover, the SPP is fine-tuning a mechanism to prevent and correct wrong cases, he said.

Prosecutors nationwide made significant efforts to ensure procedural justice. They lodged protests against about 6,600 criminal court rulings and about 3,500 civil rulings. They also pushed the police to drop about 10,000 cases and stop them from abusing their power and illegally collecting evidence in about 31,000 cases.

About 25,000 suspects were not prosecuted due to lack of evidence or facts to constitute a crime, according to the SPP report.

Prosecutors also tightened supervision on the police concerning compulsory measures on suspects. They called on the police to release or ease the custody of nearly 30,000 suspects.

The number of suspects, placed in custody for more than three years without being charged, reduced from 4,459 in 2013 to six by 2015.


Last year 31,527 prisoners were released early according to an amnesty decree, which was adopted by the top legislature and signed by President Xi Jinping on Aug. 29, 2015, before a national commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

They included nearly 2,000 war veterans as well as some very old, young or infirm prisoners.

"We released all those that are qualified for early release, no one was slipped through," Zhou said.

The amnesty was the eighth since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, and the first in 40 years after the previous one in 1975.


China's public interest litigation saw a major development last year when prosecutors were allowed to initiate public interest litigation cases.

Wu Qing, an NPC deputy from south China's Guangdong Province, told Xinhua that public interest litigation will greatly contribute to the solution of environmental problems.

"The judiciary will ensure everyone's right to enjoy clean air, water and soil," she said.

Since last July, prosecutors in 13 provincial divisions have been allowed to initiate public interest litigation cases concerning environmental protection, preservation of state assets as well as food and drug safety.

So far, 12 cases have been filed directly by prosecutors on behalf of public interest.

There was also the first victory after the revised environmental protection law took effect in January 2015.

A court from east China's Fujian Province ruled in favor of two environmental groups against four individuals for severely damaging a forest. They were ordered by the court to restore the forest, or they be fined 2.37 million yuan (364,600 U.S. dollars).


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