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20,000 to be free of criminal stigma in Nanjing
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08:48, March 24, 2009

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More than 20,000 people in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, will not have to bear a record of their criminal past in their residency permits from now on. The decision was made by the city's government to stop discrimination against those booked for crimes committed before 2003.

Previously, criminals released after serving a sentence would have a record of their crimes in hukou, or residency permit, as a reprimand for the errors committed. The Ministry of Public Security, however, scrapped the rule in August 2003, in a bid to make life easier for this group of people and protect their interests after completion of punishment.

But those who committed crimes before 2003 would still have to face insurmountable obstacles before they could go back to a normal social life.

"These people are usually denied equal access to education, employment and even loan applications, apart from various forms of discrimination, but we think they should be granted the basic rights as citizens after receiving due punishment for past misbehaviors," said the city's public security bureau.

Beginning March 4, the bureau has been asking nearly 150 police stations responsible for hukou registration to revamp the residency permits for the 20,000-plus people. The names of prisons and labor camps recorded in the permit would be changed into addresses of those localities, thus meeting the requirements of the law and removing the stigma on former criminals, said Teng Deyi, spokesman from the bureau.

However, the move does not mean unlimited protection, the bureau said. Chinese legislation strictly bars people with criminal records from careers in insurance, public notary, teaching and law. The bureau would therefore work with such industries, should there be the need for an investigation.

Zhang Tao, a lawyer with Shanghai-based Zhongtianxin Law Firm, hailed the move as "a great step forward" towards promoting social equality.

"All of us could imagine how difficult it is for this group of people to lead a normal life, given the social stigma and discrimination they face," said Zhang. "I think more should be done to inculcate greater public tolerance towards this socially disadvantaged group."

Source: China Daily

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