Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – An investigation by the Supreme People's Procuratorate (SPP) into the treatment of officials involved in mining disasters revealed that 95.6 per cent of those charged with dereliction of duty or abuse of power were either given a suspended sentence or received no punishment at all.
The SPP's Investigation of Dereliction of Duty Office reported that in 2006, out of 629 suspects in mine disaster cases, 307 people were investigated, of those nine were not brought to trial, 249 were tried and of those, 131 (52.6 per cent) were found guilty but were given no punishment, 107 (43 per cent) received suspended sentences, two were found not guilty, and nine people (3.6 per cent) were sentenced to prison. Criminal proceedings were brought against a further 113 individuals but, as of the end of 2006, the courts were still deliberating.
In the case of the fatal flooding of the Xinjing Coal Mine in Zuoyun County (Shanxi) on May 18, 2006, which killed 56 workers, 12 officials were tried, nine received suspended sentences and the other three escaped with no punishment.
Liu Yongxin, the former township chief, was sentenced to a suspended sentence of only one year in prison. The subsequent outcry in the Chinese media forced a retrial in February 2007, this according to the China Labour Bulletin. Liu eventually got 12 years for abuse of power, negligence and corruption.
Chang Rui, the former party secretary of the township, was sentenced to three years in prison, and another senior local official, Chen Xiqing, was sentenced to two and a half years in prison.
Eight other officials will also be retried, the China Labour Daily said. But this is the only significant case in which retrials have been ordered so far.
In the vast majority of cases, the SPP noted that officials and mine owners used their local powerbase and close connections with state safety officials to protect their interests and continue to recklessly exceed safe production levels, leading to more mine accidents and more cover-ups.
Similarly, experts note a substantial gap between state-owned papers reporting severe punishment of those responsible for the frequent disasters and the actual outcome of investigations and trials.