Chief Justice Zhou Qiang.
Looking back on another eventful year for the rule of law in China, a top Chinese judge pointed to the jailing of a prominent human rights lawyer as one of the Chinese legal system’s key achievements of 2016.
In an annual report submitted to China’s rubber-stamp legislature, Chief Justice Zhou Qiang praised Chinese courts for severely punishing crimes against state security and violent terrorism, specifically singling out the “severe punishment” given to lawyer Zhou Shifeng for “the crime of endangering state security” as worthy of much praise, ranking the case as the top item in a list of measures taken to “safeguard human rights” in China last year.
Last August, Zhou Shifeng, whose Fengrui law firm was known for taking poltically sensitive cases, defending dissident scholars, sexual abuse victims and religious minorities, was sentenced to seven years in prison for subverting state power, igniting criticism from international human rights group.
His case was the only one specifically highlighted in Zhou Qiang’s report. It was part of a widespread crackdown against human rights lawyers and activists which began in July 2015. Most of the hundreds detained are still awaiting a trial.
Zhou Qiang also spent some time praising Chinese President Xi Jinping’s long-running anti-corruption crackdown, which scaled up a bit last year. Chinese courts heard 45,000 corruption cases in 2016 involving 63,000 people, up from 34,000 cases the previous year, according to figures given by Zhou.
Meanwhile, the chief justice also highlighted how the Supreme People’s Court had heard 23,000 cases in 2016 with just 1,076 defendants being found not guilty. Not great for a country where the conviction rate is 99.92%.
Finally, Zhou boasted about how China had only meted out the death penalty on “an extremely small number of criminals for serious offenses.” He did not say how many people met their end via capital punishment in 2016. That data is considered a state secret. However, human rights observers believe that China executes more people each year than the rest of the world combined.
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