China should drop ‘quarrel-picking’ crime, top lawyer says | China

China should abolish the catch-all crime of “seeking quarrels and causing trouble”, a political delegate has proposed ahead of next week’s big two-session legislative meeting.

Zhu Zhengfu, a member of the advisory body of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), said the law risked undermining China’s legal system and was open to “selective enforcement” by authorities, according to state media. .

“Choosing quarrels and causing trouble” is a broad crime that is widely applied in China against dissidents, media workers, lawyers and activists. The broad charge is frequently used by authorities in mass raids before political meetings or events that the government does not want to disrupt.

In 2013, it was amended to apply to people who posted or spread fake news online. It can carry a jail term of five years, or up to 10 for serious offences.

Often, the accusation seems politically motivated, to varying degrees. Among those charged in recent years are a woman who wore a kimono in public for a cosplay photo shoot, and several students arrested after the “white paper” protests. In 2020, Zhang Zhan, a citizen journalist, was sentenced to four years in prison for the crime after reporting and blogging online from Wuhan during the first Covid-19 lockdown.

The crime often appears among the aftermath of charges against individuals, such as billionaire pig farmer and farming tycoon Sun Dawu, who was sentenced to 18 years in prison in 2021 and has also been accused of “gathering a mob to attack state organs”. Critics said the prosecution of Sun, who was a friend of the dissidents, was politically motivated.

The two sessions are a simultaneous meeting of the CPPCC and the National People’s Congress, the Chinese Communist Party’s approval parliament. During the formal meeting, which often lasts a fortnight, the thousands of deputies and delegates can submit suggestions or proposals to the central government for consideration. Relevant government departments are required to consider and respond to the thousands of suggestions and proposals submitted to them, according to Chinese policy bulletin Pekingnology. This does not necessarily mean that they will be adopted.

Zhu, who was the deputy director of the All China Lawyers Association, has already proposed the change, including before last year’s meeting, saying the crime of ‘quarrel picking’ was ‘very abused’ and led to overcriminalization. In 2016, he also called for an end to TV confessions in China.

Wen-ti Sung, a political scientist and China specialist at the Australian National University, said Zhu’s chances were slim.

“Over the years, the structural conditions – the political climate – have tended to give political leaders more leeway over the judicial process, not less,” Sung said.

“Disruption of public order is about the most flexible accusation against anti-status quo political elements available to the Chinese state. It is difficult to see what they have to gain by reducing its applicability. »

Zhu’s suggestion sparked a debate on China’s closely monitored and censored social media. It was a trending topic and a related hashtag was read by more than 50 million people on Tuesday lunchtime. Proponents of the ruling said it was long overdue and the ambiguity of the law was a “serious flaw” in Chinese society.

“This crime was originally proposed for ‘convenience,'” one commenter said, calling it allowing authorities to say, “If I say you’ve committed a crime, then you’ve done it.”

Others said the crime was essential protection for women and children, noting it was one of the convictions that led to a 24-year prison sentence for an instigator of the brutal assault and high-profile women at a restaurant in Tangshan last year. .

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