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New judicial interpretation targets polluters

By Hu Qingyun (Global Times)

08:42, June 19, 2013

China's top judicial authorities on Tuesday issued a new judicial interpretation for laws on criminal cases related to environmental pollution in an effort to address pollution problems with harsher punishment on polluters.

The interpretation, which was jointly released by China's Supreme People's Court (SPC) and Supreme People's Procuratorate, effective Wednesday, offers detailed standards for the conviction and sentencing of criminals involved in environmental cases.

SPC spokesman Sun Jungong said at a press conference in Beijing Tuesday that the latest interpretation, with lower benchmarks for convictions, would help with the work of judges as it is more precise and practical, compared with the previous one released in 2006.

The interpretation lowers some benchmarks for conviction, which, Sun said, means more polluters will be targeted.

The document lists that a person can be convicted if he or she is responsible for pollution that seriously injures a person, while the previous benchmark stated that the pollution had to have resulted in death. Pollution activities which force the evacuation of over 5,000 people or poison more than 30 people will be defined as crimes, according to the new interpretation.

The latest interpretation has added new activities as criteria for the crime of impairing the protection of the environment and resources.

For instance, discharging, dumping or treating radioactive waste or waste containing infectious disease pathogens or toxic substances into sources of drinking water and nature reserves will be considered as such a crime.

Sun explained that the new criteria would convict the offenders not only for the damage they do but also for the practice of polluting.

According to China's Criminal Law, those convicted of such crimes will face a maximum prison term of seven years plus fines.

"This is a sign of progress of the Chinese judiciary in fighting against environmental pollution, as it can help to prevent pollution from the beginning by giving potential polluters a warning," Wang Jin, an environmental law professor with Peking University, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

The document lists that those who discharged hazardous substances repeatedly after having received administrative punishments more than twice within two years could be considered as breaching criminal laws.

Wang said such criteria could be regarded as a supplement to the current administrative punishment, which mainly includes fines and warnings by local environmental authorities.

China's law did not have a clear stipulation of what activities could result in such criminal charges, said Hu Yunteng, a senior research fellow with the SPC, which experts said was one of the reasons for China's long-standing environmental issues.

Also on Tuesday, the Ministry of Public Security announced that police have detained 118 suspects involved in environmental pollution cases since January. Police said most of the cases involved mines or petrochemical factories, including a number of large factories that pay significant taxes.

Xia Jun, a lawyer with the Environment and Resources Law Committee of the All China Lawyers Association, told the Global Times on Tuesday that the interpretation will not be sufficient given that some local governments tend to offer protection to major polluters who contribute to local GDP.

"It's possible that local environmental watchdogs choose not to turn the polluters over to the police since they're major sources of government revenue, and some may be taking bribes," Xia said.

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