Saturday, April 26, 2014

The cloak of secrecy over Chinese military courts

A cloak of secrecy covers the Chinese military courts.  The cloak is especially effective against foreign observers, viewing them through the prism of language and scholarly inattention.  Since the prosecution of General Gu Junshan was announced in March, anonymous spokesmen have explained why he will be tried in a military court with the entire proceedings conducted in secret. This means that the Chinese public is confused about these issues. This brief blogpost will look at:
  • the reasons the spokesmen are giving for keeping the case secret
  • some possible reasons that the military courts are kept out of the public eye.

Why is the Gu Junshan case secret?

An article on the website of the Center for Civil and Commercial Law of Renmin University of China (in Chinese) explains why.  
  1. Cases involving fallen high military officials are generally not made public. 
  2. Criminal cases of fallen high officials generally involve military secrets.  In Gu's case, as the deputy chief of the General Logistics Department, he would have been responsible for the financing, production, supply and storage of military equipment and supplies.  All of these are classified as secret by People's Liberation Army (PLA) secrecy regulations. 
  3. The PLA has framework regulations on secrecy issued by the Central Military Commission (CMC) (the major departments under the PLA are authorized to issue implementing regulations) that stipulate the three levels of military secrets. [The PLA regulations are part of the corpus of China's state secrecy legislation.  Translations of some of those regulations can be found here, not including the PLA secrecy regulations.]
  4. A trial that is not open is not the same as a secret trial.

Why do the Chinese military courts have a stealth profile on the internet?

This question does not have an easy answer from Chinese internet sources. Reasons could include the following:
  • An internet profile for the military courts may not have been considered at all.
  • The military courts may be exempt from requirements to put court judgments on line. 
  • Most cases involve military secrets. 
  • The sites would be hacked.
  • Unflattering details about the conduct of PLA officials and soldiers would be revealed, diminishing the prestige of the PLA.
  • if certain judgments are made public, military judges may feel that the quality of their judgments compares unfavorably with that of civilian judges.
  • Gaps in basic legislation identified by CMC lawyers would become more apparent and have negative consequences.
If someone better informed can comment further, the public would benefit. Please use the comment function.

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