What do Chinese prostitutes and Chinese Protestants have in common? Both are victims of China’s administrative justice system, which gives police virtually unchecked authority to accuse, judge and punish.
The administrative justice system handles criminal acts considered too minor to be punished under the criminal code. And the decision about whether to prosecute an act under the criminal or administrative system falls to the police. Those same police are given broad powers to punish those whom they deem guilty, meanwhile stripping away legal protections given to those prosecuted under the criminal justice system. Put differently, offenders punished under administrative law do not get the benefit of judicial review. Their fate is left entirely to the discretion of police, who often lack legal education, but who can impose hefty fines, issue warnings, or deprive citizens of their freedom.
These vast police powers are especially ominous for prostitutes and Christians in China. Both— for very different reasons— feel incapable of changing their criminalized behavior, despite suffering terrible consequences.
Ye Haiyan, founder of the China Grassroots Women’s Rights Center, told me that Chinese women turn to prostitution as a last resort. Some are young women with little education and no employment prospects; others have young children to support after losing their main breadwinner.
Ye knows what she’s talking about. Advocating for prostitutes, she has occasionally sold sex herself to gain firsthand insight. Earlier this year, she worked in a brothel in Guangxi Province where women charged a mere 10 yuan— about $1.60— per encounter. The conditions were squalid: small rooms with a bed, no toilet or shower, “just a small washbasin or bucket for the women to clean themselves after,” she said.
During Ye’s stint, a police officer sent one of his friends into the brothel, she said. The man paid a prostitute, waited until she was naked, then phoned in. Citing administrative law, the officer detained the woman and fined her 3,000 yuan— the earnings of 300 sexual acts.
“You can’t fine that much to a poor woman who only makes 10 a time,” Ye said, noting officers sometimes pocket the money themselves. “All the prostitutes are very, very afraid of the policemen, even the sound of a policeman’s car.”
The prostitute in Guangxi got away relatively easy.
Administrative law also allows police to deprive Chinese citizens of their freedom for up to 20 days under “public order detention,” up to two years under “detention for education,” and up to four years under “re-education through labor.” China’s most severe administrative sanction, re-education through labor, is a punishment often imposed on Christians, according to Texas-based ChinaAid, a rights group that advocates for religious freedom.
“This system has been widely used against religious dissidents such as house church Christians, pro-Vatican clergies, petitioners and political dissidents as well as any individual whose activity is deemed disturbing so-called social, moral and political order,” said ChinaAid’s founder, Bob Fu. “It is the most abusive legal mechanism in China.”
Though religion isn’t illegal in China, the government compels Christians to register and attend only state-approved churches. Uneasy with the level of government control, many of China’s Protestants are morally driven to worship in unsanctioned “house” churches. The government ignores most, but if a house church gets too large, too influential, or too political, it cracks down. With its few restraints, administrative justice proves a convenient mechanism; it allows police authorities to punish alleged offenders without hassling with a trial.
On Jan. 13, when police raided a Christian gathering in Shaanxi Province, they detained two Protestant women, Liu Xinxing and Xue Yuxia, for “suspicion of organizing and using a cult to undermine law enforcement.” They were eventually sentenced to 18 months at the provincial Women’s Re-education Through Labor Management Center, where they remain to this day.
It’s hard to say what the conditions are like inside the camps. Historically, they were abysmal; intense physical labor was the norm, and reports emerged of hazardous conditions, torture and deaths. Consequently, re-education through labor became a subject of international criticism, prompting some reforms. Today, conditions are monitored, and camp management faces serious penalties if an inmate dies. Yet rumors about abuse in camps still emerge.
Improved conditions may offer small comfort to Xue and Liu’s families, who learned about their fates only after months of petitioning authorities. Though Liu’s family has hired a human-rights lawyer, it’s unlikely to help.
The punished can appeal the decision within the police system, but higher brass rarely modify sentences. Offenders can also appeal to the procuracy, which is— at least on paper— supposed to review the legality of police conduct. But procurators are politically weaker than the police, so they rarely challenge administrative decisions. Finally, it’s possible to sue the police in the People’s Court. But courts are only rarely willing to hear such cases, and Human Rights Watch has reported “the number of cases overturned on appeal is minuscule.” Complicating the matter, the accused may actually be worse off for pursuing judicial review; Human Rights Watch noted “there is some evidence that a challenge may be regarded as evidence of a person’s lack of amenability to re-education.”
So under the awesome power of China’s men in blue, its saints and whores remain defenseless.
Ms. Melchior has traveled extensively throughout China, reporting on Christianity as a Robert Novak Fellow with the Phillips Foundation. Chinese Yuan image courtesy of Big Stock Photo.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire