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"Snakeheads" Jailed Prior to Human Trafficking Crusade

Fifteen smugglers of people in the city of Ningbo, in East China's Zhejiang Province, were sentenced to from six months to nine years imprisonment on Thursday for their involvement in a notorious stowaway case, just before a nationwide campaign to fight illegal immigration begins on April 1.

A local court sentenced stowaway organizer, or "snakehead," Yin Xianglong to nine years in jail plus fined him 20,000 yuan (US$2,400), while the other 14 got lesser fines and were sentenced to from six months to eight years in prison, said a Xinhua report.

On October 6, 25 stowaways suffocated in an airtight container and their bodies were thrown into the sea by the smugglers, the report said.

The country is determined to put a stop to illegal immigration activities this time.

Chinese police and frontier guards nationwide will conduct a large-scale campaign, with the focus on eliminating human trafficking on boats or in containers, as well stowaways from or through China to other nations, said Zhao Yongji, vice-minister of public security, at a national conference on stopping illegal migration early this week.

At the same time, because brisk economic development has made China a magnet and major transit nation for illegal immigrants in recent years, actions will also be taken to deal with and repatriate illegal migrants entering China, according to the ministry.

Police and frontier guards should be fully aware that illegal immigration could damage the nation's image, undermine social stability and threaten people's lives and assets, Zhao stressed.

In recent years, the once common attempts at illegal immigration have been curbed effectively as a result of the vigilant work of border administration organs and exit-entry examinations.

For example, public security departments around the nation arrested a total of 9,465 stowaways this year, a decrease of 18 per cent from the previous year. They also arrested 1,405 alleged people smugglers, of whom 229 were convicted in the courts.

However, influenced by the wave of illegal immigration worldwide and beguiled by criminal groups, many people still choose the route of illegal immigration.

The huge profits from smuggling illegal immigrants also push criminal gangs to use increasingly more devious measures, making it more difficult to catch them, said the ministry.

Thus, different measures have to be worked out to apprehend the organizers of illegal immigration, and stiff sentences should be given to the criminals through the close cooperation of police, procuratorates and courts, urged the vice-minister.

In addition, China should strengthen information exchanges on cracking down on people smuggling and cooperation between domestic public security organs and the police in other countries, he added.

Treaties on extradition and judicial assistance in criminal cases have been signed between China and other countries, and a joint crackdown on illegal immigration has been listed as a top priority in most bilateral agreements on cooperation in police affairs, according to the ministry.

For example, in November 2000 and September 2001, ringleaders Weng Jinshun and Li Xiuquan from East China's Fujian Province were jailed for life for their roles in trafficking in people.

(China Daily March 30, 2002)

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