Two truck drivers from NE China’s Liaoning sentenced to 4 years each for violating COVID-19 prevention and control measures apply for retrial
Published: Jan 16, 2023 12:54 AM
Handcuffs Photo: CFP

Handcuffs Photo: CFP

Two truck drivers from Northeast China's Liaoning Province who received a four-year sentence each for the crime of impairing the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases applied for retrial of their case after China downgraded its COVID-19 management from Class A to Class B and stopped convicting and punishing behaviors that violate the prevention and control measures for COVID-19 infection and border health quarantine regulations.  

Han Dong, 41, from Suizhong County in Huludao city, Liaoning, and his 45-year-old brother-in-law He Hongguo, have been living at home under surveillance since April 24, 2022, for the suspicion of committing the crime of impairing the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases. 

Han and He were given a four-year prison sentence each after their trial at Suizhong County People's Court on October 31, 2022.  

The two drivers filed a retrial application to the Suizhong County People's Court after the New Year's Day. The court told the Southern Weekend on Friday that the application has been handed over to Huludao City Intermediate People's Court.  

While China downgraded the management of COVID-19 from Class A to Class B starting from January 8, 2023, people who violate COVID-19 prevention measures will not be convicted or punished for obstructing the control of an infectious disease based on current regulations, according to a notification jointly issued on January 7, 2023 by five authorities — the Supreme People's Court, the Supreme People's Procuratorate, the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of Justice and the General Administration of Customs. 

Detained individuals or defendants in custody for such violations according to the previous policy should be promptly released from detention in accordance with the law, and assets involved in the cases, including those being sealed, seized or frozen, also need to be lifted, the notice said.  

In principle, the issuance of the new notice cannot overturn the cases already decided, but the courts should deal with some cases where there are obvious problems such as insufficient evidence, He Zhiwei, a lawyer from Long An Law Firm in Beijing, told the Southern Weekend.  

Han and He worked together as long-distance truck drivers transporting vegetables and fruits across the country after the outbreak of COVID-19 epidemic, according to media reports. 

In January of 2022, they received a task of transporting a batch of cabbage from Wuhan in Central China's Hubei Province to Mudanjiang city in Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province.  

During their tightly scheduled journey, they stopped halfway in Suifenhe city, which was hit by a COVID-19 outbreak, to unload goods from the truck on the night of January 23, 2022 and arrived at their hometown in Suizhong County on January 25, 2022.  

When they arrived at home, they did not report their stop in Suifenhe due to their long journey which involved multiple places, and did not pay too much attention to the COVID-19 flare-up in Suifenhe — the two visited relatives and friends as usual. 

Han told the Southern Weekend that he tested negative for COVID-19 on February 2, February 8 and February 9, and visited his relatives during the period. 

He tested positive on the evening of February 10 and was placed under quarantine the next day, identified as a person responsible for causing the outbreak in the county. 

On October 31, 2022, Han and He were sentenced to four years in prison for committing the crime of impairing the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases.  

According to the verdict, the two defendants departed from Suizhong on January 22 to deliver the goods in Mudanjiang and returned to Suizhong on January 25. They did not report their journey involving Suifenhe where the COVID-19 flare-up broke out and they were later confirmed as COVID-19 infections, which resulted in 183 infections and 7,865 people placed under quarantine in Suizhong County. The county spent around 155 million ($23.01 million) yuan in coping with the flare-up.  

Concealing travel history to a COVID-hit area is the key point of the case. However, Han said that sometimes it is impossible for them to report all their travel history due to the special characteristics of their work that they travel to multiple places during a day sometimes.  

Han's defense counsel also pointed out at court that although Han concealed his travel history, he did not understand the prevention and control measures of Suizhong County, and he did not have a strong subjective intention. Besides, Han only tested positive for COVID-19 17 days after he returned from Suifenhe, which cannot reasonably rule out that Han was not infected with COVID-19 when he returned to Suizhong County from the affected area, and cannot rule out the possibility that he got infected after he returned to Suizhong.  

After the court ruling took effect, Han and He were placed under residential surveillance rather than sent to prison. They were told to wait for notification due to "COVID epidemic reason." 

Global Times