In October 2004, Xiao Yang, President of China’s Supreme People’s Court, paid an official visit to the United States. At a private luncheon hosted by the Asia Foundation in San Francisco, President Xiao stated that, aside from three types of cases explicitly required to be heard in closed sessions (i.e., cases involving juveniles, state secrets, or individual privacy issues), all Chinese trials are open to the public—“including foreigners.”
Dui Hua Executive Director John Kamm attended the luncheon. He asked the Supreme People’s Court for a copy of Xiao Yang’s remarks. This was given to him on a visit to Beijing in January 2005.
Over the ensuing months, Kamm had several meetings and communications with officials of the Supreme People’s Court and other judicial departments to better understand the policy of allowing foreigners to observe Chinese trials. During Kamm’s most recent trip to Beijing and Guangzhou (October 17 – 25, 2005), a good understanding of the policy was achieved, as follows:
Although as a matter of Chinese law foreigners should be allowed to attend Chinese trials, as a matter of practice only trials involving foreigners as defendants or (in civil cases) claimants have been open to foreigners. Representatives of foreign governments whose citizens are tried for crimes committed in China can attend trials in accordance with agreements between China and the foreign countries concerned.
- On rare occasions, diplomats and experts of foreign countries (e.g. those involved in official human rights dialogues with China) have been invited to observe Chinese trials. These trials have been of ordinary crimes like theft, not sensitive political crimes like endangering state security.
- The Supreme People’s Court and courts at the local level (district, intermediate, and higher people’s court) have confirmed that foreigners can attend all trials except those in the afore-mentioned categories. In response to a request for clarification made by Dui Hua, the Supreme People’s Court has stated that foreigners can attend trials of endangering state security that do not involve state secrets, as well as trials of individuals accused of “using a cult to sabotage implementation of the law” and disturbing the social order (e.g. holding illegal demonstrations).
- Because some local judicial departments do not have a good understanding of the policy allowing foreigners to attend Chinese trials, measures have been taken that have had the effect of discouraging attendance by foreigners at Chinese trials. Procedures governing foreign observers at Chinese trials should be simple and straightforward. Contrary to what some local courts have claimed, it is not necessary for the Supreme People’s Court to issue a “special permit” for foreigners to attend trials.
- Dui Hua Executive Director John Kamm has been told that he will be allowed to attend a trial of endangering state security or disturbing the social order involving protests by workers in labor disputes or others involved in illegal demonstrations on his next trip to China. He looks forward to doing so. Dui Hua hopes the international community will take advantage of this opportunity to observe Chinese trials, thereby contributing to the development of a more open and transparent judicial system in China.
The Dui Hua Foundation
San Francisco, CA
October 27, 2005