This post was originally published as part of Dui Hua’s This Month in History series in its September 2014 Digest.
On September 15, 2003, Executive Director Kamm was invited to tour Xiamen Prison in Fujian Province along with representatives of the Ministry of Justice and the Fujian Province Prison Administration Bureau. Kamm had the opportunity to view all sections of the facility—one of China’s so-called model prisons—including the solitary confinement cells that are seldom open to visitors. At the time of his tour, the five-year old prison held about 2,000 prisoners and 200 administrators and staff within its 16-acre plot in the Dongan District. Many of the prisoners were officials convicted of corruption. (Fujian gained notoriety as being the location of one of the largest corruption cases in the past 50 years, involving a $6 billion smuggling operation run by business mogul Lai Changxing.)
The prison tour enabled an in-depth examination of the eight-step process of sentence reduction and parole. Back in early 2003, in a response to Dui Hua, the Supreme People’s Court stated that sentence reduction and parole for endangering state security (ESS) prisoners—including prisoners sentenced not to ESS crimes but their predecessor, counterrevolutionary crimes, which were removed from Criminal Law in 1997—is to be “strictly handled.” When Kamm asked the Xiamen warden when strict handling is applied, he answered “at every step,” during reviews by fellow inmates, correctional officers, committees, and courts.
Such scrutiny, in accordance with national and provincial regulations, ensures longer waits and unequal treatment for ESS prisoners who tend to be political prisoners. Enlightened by the trip to Xiamen, Kamm urged the United States and China to hold a Legal Experts Dialogue on sentence reduction and parole. The first round of the now annual dialogue was held in 2004. Although China contends that all prisoners are treated equally before the law, strict handling continues to be applied to political prisoners.