Officials on suspended death sentence face life behind bars

Updated: 2015-08-26 14:00


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Officials on suspended death sentence face life behind bars

People buy books about China's criminal law at a bookstore in Yichang, Hubei province on October 29, 2014. [Photo/CFP]

BEIJING - An amendment submitted to the legislature Monday proposes that criminals convicted on serious corruption charges who have received a two-year suspended death sentence will face life imprisonment after the two years.

The proposal aims to "safeguard judicial fairness" and prevent "the most corrupt criminals from serving shorter prison terms through commutation," according to a third draft of an amendment to the Criminal Law filed at the six-day bimonthly session of the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee.

Lawmakers debated the proposal and will decide whether to adopt it later.

The proposal targets officials who illegally seek commutation, parole or non-prison sentences, said Prof. Ruan Qilin of the China University of Political Science and Law.

Such irregularities have been common. Hu Jianxue, a former Party chief from the city of Tai'an, Shandong Province, was sentenced to prison and approved for medical parole for a year, but he remained out of prison for seven years. Shi Baochun, a former official of the city of Yangshuo in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, was sentenced to ten years in prison for graft, but he bribed officials to avoid serving the sentence.

They used outside connections and personal influence to bribe prison and justice officials in order to claim commutations and evade imprisonment, said Xiu Bao, director of a law firm in northeast China's Jilin Province.

Following a number of cases of convicts who bribed their way out of prison, Chinese authorities have vowed to crack down on judicial corruption in commutations of sentences and probation.

"Terms and procedures on commutation, parole and serving sentences outside prison for medical reasons should be stringent within the framework of the law," said an instructive document released in February of last year by the Commission for Political and Legal Affairs of the Communist Party of China Central Committee.

Monday's proposal responded to a sweeping anti-corruption campaign that aims to end judicial loopholes and safeguard the authority of the law, Ruan said.

Prof. Huang Jingping of Renmin University of China said the proposal combines punishment and leniency, as the corrupt officials will face life imprisonment instead of the death penalty. It will also help reduce China' s use of the death penalty, especially for non-violent crimes.

Life imprisonment for corrupt officials demonstrates China's determination to fight graft, he added.

"The price of corruption has become higher," said Gao Bo of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, adding the amendment will serve as an effective deterrent against corruption if the top legislature adopts the proposal on Saturday.

However, some experts said the proposal is unnecessary as corrupt officials are not as dangerous as violent criminals, who will remain subject to the death penalty according to the law. They suggested that efforts should be made to rule out judicial corruption and improve law enforcement for the imprisonment of corrupt officials.

Experts also warned that life imprisonment without commutation runs counter to international treaties that say criminals have the right to commutation, and will put more pressure on prisons.