How The Internet Can Make China A More Just Nation

A senior judge in Yunnan province writes an open plea for such advances as live-streaming trials and online coverage of courts to help make Chinese justice more open, free and fair.

A trial in Chongqing, southwestern China
A trial in Chongqing, southwestern China
Tian Chengyou*

The recently concluded Third Plenary Session of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee gave new impetus to promoting judicial openness and a broader reform of the justice system. But how can this be achieved? One answer would be by making justice more transparent through the Internet.

In recent years, in order to guarantee open trials, all levels of courts have established a whole set of measures such as trial observers, press releases, and public communication systems. But modern technology presents a very real alternative to such conventional methods for oversight. Through live streaming of trials and online postings of the sentence documents, the public can be informed of every move without going to court in person.

While news was traditionally transmitted through newspapers, magazines, radio broadcasts, television or other channels, the appearance of Internet and the use of micro-blogging are rapidly challenging the mystery, delay and choices of conventional press reports.

Software, not hardware

The key to understanding whether or not China’s People’s Courts will truly implement judicial openness does not lie in the actual state of equipment or in difficulties establishing Internet contact, but in whether or not the courts dare to take the opportunities offered by the Internet to promote openness.

That China’s Supreme People’s Court proposes to post its court verdicts online is a powerful commitment. It is the embodiment of the principle of public trial, and is rewarded in the public’s satisfaction in being informed. This allows for the public to supervise justice, the exchange of information as well as sharing experiences among different levels of courts and judges, and the unification and standardization of justice.

For instance, in the closely watched trial of Bo Xilai, Jinan City’s Intermediate People’s Court posted via live micro-blogging the hearing of the first verdict. This not only satisfied a vast Chinese public interest in the case, but also showed the new Chinese leadership’s high self-confidence in the ruling, the rule of law and a commitment to anti-corruption.

Police officers pass by the Jinan Intermediate People's Court — Wang Shen/Xinhua/ZUMA

Openness not only can guide public opinion effectively, but will also raise people’s legal understanding. Public disclosure of a trial isn’t just about explaining the judicial procedure to the concerned parties but also to the public at large. Chinese courts should overcome their fear of the Internet and seize this new opportunity to explore a more rational and effective mechanism for communication between the justice system and public opinion.

China’s courts ought to be building their own sites, focusing on the main trials and the cases that arouse most concern among the public. The website should be a platform of information disclosure, judicial advocacy and a service to people. It is to play the role of a public platform, a rule-maker in discussion, and a rapid publisher of information rather than remaining a “superficial exercise in image construction.”

In the past, China’s judicial secrecy created a threshold for participation. Once information is disclosed, and the judicial system is supervised, both rights and powers can rise and fall together. This would be a breakthrough for truly deep judicial reform.

Yet even while satisfying the public’s new demand for transparency, the use of the Internet ought to be handled with care. A citizen’s privacy should be thoroughly protected, and the negative impact of litigation should be minimized to any individual. To do this, when the trial is put in live-streaming online, the witness and the victim should remain anonymous. Their faces shouldn’t be exposed clearly and the publication of court verdict should not include personal information about the concerned parties.

The specific cases should be guided by set rules, not be the arbitrary choice of the courts, nor of the concerned parties. Openness is the principle; non-openness is the exception.

*Tian Chengyou is the Vice President of the Yunnan Provincial Higher Court.

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Queen Elizabeth II with UK PM Boris Johnson at a reception at Windsor Castle yesterday

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Hej!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.



• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.

• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.

• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.

• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.

• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.

• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."

• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.


"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.



For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.


Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.

🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.

😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

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We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.

— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.


Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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