This post was originally published as part of Dui Hua’s This Month in History series in its February 2015 Digest.
Dui Hua has long advocated for greater transparency in China’s judicial system, and in particular has pushed for more trials to be open to foreigners. All Chinese trials except those involving state secrets, juveniles, or certain sensitive issues, like sex crimes, are supposed to be open, but foreign attendance is rare. After two years of applying to attend trials of disturbing public order and endangering state security, Kamm was finally permitted to attend trials in Beijing and Guangzhou in February 2006.
The first trial was one of a “small-scale mass incident” held in Beijing’s Chaoyang District People’s Court on February 17, 2006. After leaving a bar, the defendant had attacked a man, causing a crowd to gather. The defendant was arrested for “creating a public disturbance,” an offense he had been convicted of once before. At the trial, the defendant pled guilty, and due to his “genuine remorse and willingness to reform,” he was given a relatively light sentence of two years in prison.
The next trial involved was held at the Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court on February 20, 2006. A young man who had split with his girlfriend tried to reclaim a cell phone he had given to her. In the ensuing struggle, the young man, an 18-year-old migrant worker, picked up a knife and stabbed the girl to death. The girl’s family, who were in court, demanded the defendant pay compensation according to a fixed formula, but the migrant worker was from a poor family and had no resources. The judge suspended the trial to decide whether to amend the charge from robbery to murder, which he subsequently did. The young man was sentenced to death.
The judge agreed to meet with Kamm after the hearing was suspended, and Kamm opined that in the United States, the crime would probably be considered second-degree murder, as it was not premeditated and took place in the heat of the moment. After the defendant was sentenced, Kamm wrote to the judge again expressing his hope to avoid the use of capital punishment. The young man was sentenced to death with two-year reprieve on appeal, and the sentence was subsequently commuted to a fixed term.
On the same trip, Kamm was allowed to visit the verdicts room of the Chaoyang court. Foreigners can apply to read verdicts there, but permission is rarely granted. In recent years, however, more and more verdicts have become available on Chinese court websites, and they have become an important resource for Dui Hua’s work tracking political and religious crime.