06/10/2009, 00.00
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Chinese courts now tasked to prevent citizens’ protests

China’s Supreme People’s Court orders lower courts to prevent disputes from degenerating into street protests. For experts, this decision is a sign the country’s leadership is increasingly fearful of spreading protests and plans to control them through the party’s total control.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China’s Supreme People's Court on Sunday ordered courts to help local governments maintain social stability by creating an early warning system to mediate cases that could lead to mass protests. Under the new set of guidelines local judges must work closely with local governments and immediately report to higher authorities in case any destabilising trends in petitioning are spotted. For analysts this is just another attempt by the mainland’s Communist authorities to nip in the bud every form of social unrest.

Now China’s courts and tribunals will no longer focus on potentially troublesome cases filed by ordinary citizens, but are tasked to inform higher levels of government of situations that might get out of control.

According to Yu Lingyu, director general of the Supreme Court's enforcement bureau, tensions are running high across the land. More and more workers are being laid off without receiving their last salaries and more and more farmers are thrown off their land. Labour disputes and clashes over land are leading to greater dissatisfaction and becoming a recipe for social unrest that could spill over into the streets.

Last year, 286,221 labour disputes were heard by the country's courts, a 93 per cent rise from 2007. In the first three months of this year 98,568 cases were heard, a 59 per cent year-on-year rise.

It becomes clear that the Supreme Court’s main concern is no longer to settle such disputes, but to create mechanisms to control them before they explode as open protests or before they reach public opinion.

For Zhang Sizhi, one of the mainland's most eminent lawyers, this “kind of practice will compromise the independence and fairness that legal practitioners have been seeking for decades in the judicial system.”

The worst thing is that such guidelines will set this practice in stone, and subordinate the legal system to local economic and political interests.

Indeed in China the judiciary has never been independent. The Communist Party has always been supreme. Yet citizens and lawyers have always used it against local bosses.

“If this mechanism is set up, the party and the government will dominate everything,” Zhang said.

In 2008 some 87,000 incidents of social unrest were recorded in China, mostly for economic reasons.

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