A challenge to maintain authority of law in internet era
Published: Nov 21, 2018 10:28 PM

A case in which an erotica writer was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment in China grabbed the attention of some Western media outlets in recent days. In a report, the New York Times accused the Chinese government of "going too far" in stopping the spread of obscene material and questioned the fairness of China's judicial system. Are the accusations fair?

Known by her pseudonym Tianyi, the writer, surnamed Liu, was handed the 10-year jail term for "producing and disseminating pornographic materials" in October. According to local police, her book titled Gongzhan (Occupy) was full of pornographic depictions of perverted sex scenes suffused with violence between a male teacher and a male student. As of the arrest, she had gained illegal profits of 150,000 yuan ($21,624) from the distribution of over 7,000 copies through the internet.

Liu's case did arouse a controversy over whether her punishment was too harsh. The legal basis of Liu's sentence lies in the criminal law regarding individuals who, for the purpose of making profits, produces and sells obscene materials as well as a judicial interpretation issued by China's Supreme Court in 1998 stipulating that making more than 10,000 yuan ($1,442) from selling pornographic books is regarded as an especially serious circumstance. According to the law, if under serious circumstances, the individual shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not less than 10 years to life imprisonment.

However, some defended Liu arguing that the interpretation was outdated - with the improvement of economic development and income level, 10,000 yuan is not such a big sum nowadays.

The challenges and complexity China is facing in advancing rule of law are fully embodied in the case. Advancing the rule of law is an important goal of China's political process. Recent years have seen the country making unremitting efforts to promote the rule of law, during which it has encountered some complicated problems.

The case of Liu should be carefully handled, since it may have an effect on verdicts of similar cases in the future. Despite that opinions clash over the fairness of Liu's sentence, it's indisputable that she committed a crime. The law, rather than human emotion, is the sole criteria for a fair trial. How to maintain the authority of law in the internet era and prevent public opinion intervening in judicial decisions is a challenge facing not only China, but also Western countries.

More importantly, China's political system is significantly different from that of the West, as is its social development level. This indicates that the Western legal system is only a reference, not an absolute model for the rule of law in China. China should formulate, revise and implement laws based on its own conditions. Western accusations, formed out of either a lack of understanding of Chinese laws or deliberately neglecting China's own conditions, shouldn't influence judicial independence in China.


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