Comparative Perspectives on Criminal Justice in China
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Comparative Perspectives on Criminal Justice in China

Edited by Mike McConville and Eva Pils

Comparative Perspectives on Criminal Justice in China is an anthology of chapters on the contemporary criminal justice system in mainland China, bringing together the work of recognised scholars from China and around the world.
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Chapter 19: Politics and criminal justice

Jerome A. Cohen


I congratulate the authors of previous chapters in this section for not avoiding the most sensitive problem they could consider: the influence of politics on criminal justice. It is sensitive not only professionally, but also personally, to many of us. We confront a moral quandary: how should we, as legal professionals, react to the current bleak situation in China? It is especially difficult for those who live in China. Zhengfa (politics and law), the Communist Party reminds us constantly, means the Party controls the criminal justice system. This has so many manifestations that I can only touch upon a few in my closing remarks. The first question I want to raise is how do the authorities decide whether to bring a criminal investigation or to choose other sanctions at their disposition? They have several options in addition to the formal criminal process, and sometimes they combine them. Some people are punished criminally and then, like Gao Zhisheng, they are ‘disappeared’ because criminal punishment was not enough to silence them. There have been cases where people have even been acquitted of a minor crime, and immediately been again picked up by the police and given ‘reeducation through labour’ (RETL) for a longer time in confinement than they would have served had they been convicted of the crime for which they were prosecuted.

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