Anyone holding onto the notion that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) taking office — along with his oft-publicized crackdown on corruption — would actually bring major changes should have been disabused of that dream by now. Yes, Xi is in the early days of his administration and cannot rock the boat too much until he has fully consolidated his grip on power, but the signs this summer show that in many, many ways it will be business as usual in China.
The most recent example of politically motivated sentencing proves China’s judicial system remains a farce and is unlikely to change any time soon. The latest person to fall afoul the system appears to only be guilty of the “crime” of being the brother of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo’s (劉曉波) wife, Liu Xia (劉霞).
Liu Hui’s (劉暉) 11-year prison term was upheld yesterday after he appealed his June conviction on fraud charges. The 3 million yuan (US$490,000) real-estate dispute the charges were based upon had been resolved before the case ever went to court. Prosecutors only actively pursued the case after several rights activists and foreign reporters in December last year were able to evade the guards that have kept Liu Xia basically under house arrest since her husband was awarded the Nobel.
Coincidently — or not — 11 years is what Liu Xiaobo was given for allegedly inciting subversion by seeking support for democratic reforms and co-authoring Charter 08. Compare those terms with the three-year sentence a former vice mayor of Wenzhou received yesterday for allotting a plot of land to a private company in a deal that reportedly cost the government 116 million yuan.
So if a defendant is a Chinese Communist Party official who costs the country tens of millions of yuan, he gets just three years, but a private citizen allegedly involved in a transaction that was a fraction of that amount gets almost four times the official’s sentence.
Of course China is not the only authoritarian government to use its legal system as a sledgehammer to pulverize those who do not agree with it. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s administration famously put a dead man on trial, last month convicting Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who died in prison under suspicious circumstances in 2009, of tax evasion. Russian officials said the posthumous trial was necessary to “ensure justice was done.” And three members of the punk band Pussy Riot were last year sentenced to two years in a penal colony for a protest against the Russian Orthodox Church’s support for Putin.
Taiwan’s own history is filled with questionable cases prosecuted under the former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime during the Martial Law era, something the current administration would like people to forget. There has been some judicial reform since martial law was lifted, but there have also been instances of backsliding. At least there is a chance of reform in this nation, thanks to the efforts of the Judicial Reform Foundation and others.
However, China’s vindictive and party-controlled judiciary is something that Taiwanese should be wary of as this nation is pushed closer to Beijing by the current administration. With more Taiwanese seeking employment or investing in China every day, few think about the risk they are running by working and living in a nation that does not follow the rule of law.