By English Editorial Staff
Published: 2008-05-28

As the Chinese government announced that earthquake relief work was moving away from being rescue-intensive into a new phase of orderly resettlement, the country's Supreme Court issued a notice listing seven sins that would garner extra attention in the post-quake era.   

China's Supreme Court on May 27 issued a notice listing seven crimes to be punished more severely in order to safeguard public order in the aftermath of Sichuan earthquake.

The seven – as published on the Court's official website – referred to seven broad types of crimes that could potentially obstruct quake relief efforts and destabilize an already traumatized society after the 8-magnitude earthquake.

The notice stated that in this "special time", "special cases" needed "special treatment" for crimes that hurt the relief and reconstruction works.

It also stressed that the crimes listed should be severely punished in accordance with the law, and cases should be tried and sentenced in the fastest possible time to warn of potential criminals and to prevent further crimes.

The notice was in line with another statement issued by the Chinese State Council's Earthquake Relief Headquarters the same day, saying the relief efforts had entered a new phase of ensuring quake victims were well settled, preventing outbreak and secondary disasters, recovering production and preparing for reconstruction. 

In the new phase of relief, the State Council listed eight priority areas, and ensuring public security was one of them.

According to the Supreme Court's notice, the first type of crimes under "seven sins" included theft, robbery, intentionally causing damage to relief materials and facilities, swindling in the name of raising relief funds, and trafficking women and children.

The second type included economic activities that destabilized the market, complicated the public's lives and impacted normal production activities in disaster zones; these included profiteering, stock piling, price gouging, and illegal trading.

The third type covered creating and spreading rumors, which affected relief and reconstruction efforts, disturbed public order, and caused crowds to attack state institutions or agencies.

The forth type targeted the production, sales or supply (in the name of aiding quake areas) of inferior products, unsafe food, and counterfeit or unsafe medicine.

The fifth type covered government officials and staff, including corruption, siphoning relief funds or materials, the abuse of power, and negligence of duty that led to harming quake relief and reconstruction works, and seriously tarnishing the image of the Chinese Communist Party and the country.

The sixth type referred to causing damages to power supply, transport and communications facilities.

The seventh type included activities that harmed public health or obstructed prevention work or spurred the spread of disease.

The notice was in tune with a statement made by the Supreme Court's Party secretary-turned-Chief Justice Wang Shengjun during a special quake focus meeting among court officials a day earlier.

In the news release section of the Court's official website, Wang was quoted as saying the courts must fully exercise their duty to trial and sentence criminals to ensure public security and provide legal protection in the disaster zone. He also listed the above seven sins as priority areas to tackle.

However, both the notice and Wang did not specify what constituted "severe punishment", nor did the notice or Wang called for maximum sentence as prescribed by the Chinese criminal law for the seven sins.

In China, the punishment stipulated by the criminal law for the same crime varied significantly depending on the situation.

For example, the crime of theft, if committed, could lead to a three-year prison sentence or a fine; but if the stolen value was 5,000 to above 20,000 yuan, the sentence could be between three and ten years with a fine; and if the amount was from 30,000 to above 100,000 yuan, or the case was very serious, the jail term could be 10 years or more, or life imprisonment with a fine or assets confiscated.

Under two circumstances – theft of extremely huge sums from financial institutions, and theft of valuable state relics– life imprisonment or the death sentence could be applied.

Late last year, a 25-year-old youth named Xu Ting in southern China's Guangzhou was sentenced to life imprisonment for theft after he had overdrawn 175,000 yuan from a malfunctioned automated teller machine (ATM) and absconded.

The severe punishment created nationwide public outcry that led to a retrial, and in March the punishment was reduced to five-year jail term.

Researched and written by Lin Li