Xinhua today trumpets a series of changes to the national code of conduct for prison inmates made by the Ministry of Justice in order to “show respect for the human rights of prison inmates”. Among the changes: an end to the practise of forcing inmates to squat with both hands behind their heads, a lift on the ban on dyed hair (particularly among female inmates) and the use of execution by lethal injection to replace the firing squad (we’ll still kill you but in a more humane fashion).
But what raised the most eyebrows this morning was the supposed lift on the ban on homosexuality. Xinhua reports:
[Feng Cangjian, head of the Human Rights in Justice office of the ministry’s Institute for Crime Prevention] said Thursday on the sidelines of the fourth Beijing Forum on Human Rights that a person’s sexual orientation should not make them a target for discrimination, whether that person is in prison or not. However, he also said that this does not mean that acts of homosexuality are accepted in prisons.
“The inmates will be left alone if their homosexuality remains ‘spiritual’,” Feng said. “But because prison inmates are not free persons, they can not act as freely as the rest of us.”
The official said it is an international practice not to discriminate against homosexual inmates, but to instead restrict their behavior. “I raised the question when I visited prisons in the United States. Prison officials there told me homosexual partners are separated if they attempt to remain together,” Feng said.
(Funny that China should consult the Americans on matters of prison sexuality as the United States has one of the most serious problems of prisoner sexual abuse anywhere in the developed world.)
Sociologists say prison sexuality, consensual or otherwise, is mostly “situational”, and similar to sexual behaviour in other environments, such as the military, boarding schools and other sex-segregated communities. As such, a person who engages in sexual behaviour with a fellow inmate, may not actually be “homosexual”.
While the policy-makers clearly understand there’s a difference between sexual orientation and sexual behaviour, we’re not quite sure they understand that there’s no way they can completely regulate sexual behaviour in the prisons, unless they give each prisoner their own cell with their own private bathroom attached. Anyhow, isn’t the policy still discriminatory if you’re allowing opposite-sex conjugal visits but not same-sex conjugal visits?
Whatever the case may be, the new stand that no prison inmate should be discriminated against purely based on their sexual orientation is to be applauded.