II. Guaranteeing the Rights
of Criminals

According to Chinese law, a criminal's due rights during his or her prison service are protected and may not be violated.

In the semi-feudal, semi-colonial China of the past, prisons were tools of the feudal, bureaucratic and comprador classes who used them to persecute and slaughter revolutionaries and the oppressed people. In the 1940s, special agents sent by America and Chiang Kaishek savagely tortured and secretly murdered revolutionaries in Zhazidong and Baigongguan prisons near Chongqing. These atrocities remain fresh in the minds of the Chinese people even today. In those days even petty criminals were treated very cruelly. After the founding of the People's Republic, the people's government established a new type of socialist prison, where the prisoners are regarded as human beings, and where their dignity is respected, their personal safety is ensured and where they receive fully humane treatment.

In accordance with the current laws of China, the main rights of criminals while they are in custody include the following.

--- In response to decisions made by the people's courts, criminals now have the right to appeal. In 1990 and 1991, more than 40,000 such appeals were accepted and heard in Chinese courts. A criminal accused of having committed a crime during his prison service has the right to defend himself or ask someone else to defend him during the legal proceedings.

--- Criminals have the right to protection against assault on their human dignity or personal safety under all circumstances. In response to any illegal action on the part of a warden or guard, such as obtaining a confession by torture, administering corporeal punishment or otherwise maltreating a prisoner, the victim has the right to appeal to the people's procuratorate, the people's court, the people's government or any other institution to expose and report such treatment.

--- Criminals who have not been stripped of their political rights have the right to vote according to law.

--- Criminals have the right to make reasonable suggestions concerning the management, the educational programme, production, recreational activities, or sanitary conditions of a prison or reform-through-labour institution.

--- Criminals have the right to lead a normal life. The State guarantees material needs such as food, clothing, housing, etc. The average per capita living space for prisoners is over 5 square metres. Efforts are made to make all prison buildings solid, clean, well-insulated and well-ventilated. Statistics show that, the average prisoner consumed 22.75 kg of grain, 20-25 kg of vegetables and considerable amounts of pork, beef, mutton, fish, poultry, eggs and tofu in 1990. The average daily dietary intake of calories is 2952 Kcal per person. The annual average living expenses for a prisoner in different regions of the country is around 650 yuan, close to the average living standard of the local residents.

--- Prisoners have the right to maintain good health. They enjoy free medical care and receive a regular medical checkup every year. If they become ill, prompt medical treatment is given. Criminals suffering from a serious disease have the right to get medical treatment outside the prison on bail according to law. A female prisoner who is pregnant or breast-feeding her baby may serve her sentence outside of prison. Someone who suffers from a difficult or complicated illness, may be seen by outside medical experts called in to make a joint diagnosis or may be sent to an outside hospital for treatment. Currently China has a three-tier medical network within the reform- through-labour system consisting of the provincial central hospital, the prison or reform-through-labour institution hospital and the basic clinic. Altogether there are 2,944 medical institutions of various kinds. There are 3.54 medical doctors and 14.8 hospital beds per thousand prisoners, with both rates higher than the national average for society as a whole.

--- Prisoners have the right to exchange letters with their relatives and friends and to regularly meet with family members. Prisons and reform-through-labour institutions have special reception rooms where prisoners can meet with their family members. When some misunderstanding or conflict causes a prisoner's friends and relatives to stop visiting or writing, an organ of the reform-through-labour institution does its best to reconcile them.

Criminals have the right to an education. China's reform- through-labour institutions have set up the facilities necessary for the education of their prisoners, who receive a regular primary or junior secondary education according to their individual educational backgrounds. A prisoner with a more advanced background may receive a senior secondary or college education. A prisoner may receive vocational training, laying the foundation for supporting himself or herself with his or her own hands on return to society. They are allowed to read books, newspapers and magazines, listen to the radio and watch TV, in order to learn about major domestic and international events and maintain a certain amount of contact with society outside the prison.

--- Criminals have the right to believe in a religion. The Chinese Government permits prisoners who are so inclined to maintain their original religious beliefs while in custody.

--- Criminals enjoy certain civil rights, including property and inheritance rights. Property which was lawfully obtained before a criminal's imprisonment is protected under the law. A convicted criminal has the right to collect his earnings and dispose of his property. Criminals have the right of inheritance under the law. A prisoner's rights to a patent or copyright obtained during a prison term are protected by law. Prisoners also have the right to sue for divorce and the right to fight a divorce action in court.

--- The Chinese Government provides special treatment which is different from the general prison population in terms of daily activities, administration, labour requirements, etc. to juvenile, female, elderly, infirm and disabled prisoners in addition to minority nationality Chinese and foreign prisoners in full consideration of this group's special physical and psychological traits, physical strength limitations and daily customs. Juveniles are kept in juvenile deliquent rehabilitation centres which operate on the principle of "relying mainly on reform through education supplemented by light physical labour," which is actually a kind of vocational study. Prisons and reform-through-labour institutions have special dining rooms for minority nationality prisoners with special dietary customs.

--- A prisoner may have his sentence reduced for good behaviour or be released on parole according to law.

The legislative bodies and the government of China have drawn up appropriate laws and regulations to protect the legal rights of prisoners. Wardens and guards must receive special legal and vocational training, then be certified before taking a post. It is strictly forbidden to torture, insult or otherwise maltreat prisoners. Cases of unlawful administering of corporeal punishment are thoroughly prosecuted, including making an investigation to affix blame for the crime. In other words, in accordance with the provisions of the criminal law of China, a serious case of illegal corporeal punishment of a prisoner which constitutes "administering unauthorized corporeal punishment to a detainee" is tried in the people's courts, where any penalty is also decided. In 1990 and 1991, there was a total of 24 wardens and guards sentenced to imprisonment for this crime. The People's Procuratorate has sent permanent teams to prisons and reform-through-labour institutions to supervise the law-enforcement activities of these institutions and protect, according to law, the prisoners' right to appeal, right to make accusations and right to report unlawful activities. Deputies of the people's congresses and members of the committees of the political consultative conference at all levels visit the prisons and reform-through-labour institutions from time to time to check on law enforcement there. For example, in 1991 more than 30 members, composing four groups, from the National Committee of the Political Consultative Conference and the Beijing Municipal Committee of the Political Consultative Conference visited the No.1 Prison in Beijing to inspect the law enforcement work being carried out there.

At the same time, prisoners must fulfill their obligations under the law. These include: to abide by the laws and decrees of the State and the prison regulations and rules of discipline jointly drawn up by all the reform-through-labour institutions; to accept supervision and education from the wardens and other personnel; to actively participate in productive labour; to accept ideological, cultural and technical education; to take proper care of state property and protect public facilities; to behave in a civilized manner, be polite and observe common courtesy; to report criminal offenses; to become more self-disciplined and take part in group activities; to reform, bearing in mind the nature of the crime.