Friday, July 11, 2014

More on lifting the cloak of invisibility over the Chinese military courts

The July 9, 2014 edition of the South China Morning Post quoted several retired PLA officers on the subject of greater transparency of the Chinese military courts, advocating General Xu Caihou (see this earlier post) be tried publicly.  This observer sees it as a long-term goal for the Chinese military courts, but something unlikely to happen in the short term.
Dr Zeng Zhiping, a retired lieutenant colonel and military law expert at Nanchang Institute of Technology in Jiangxi, wrote:
"The opening up of courts martial is a basic requirement for a modern and powerful army." He also wrote that disclosing details of the cases would let the public see the details of their alleged crimes - but military secrets would stay classified. 
"Opening up judicial proceedings has been an old principle to prevent abuse of power. The rejection of open courts martial is always a powerful way to excuse corrupt and ignorant [behaviour]."
The article also quoted a retired major general, Xu Guangyu , a retired major general, who suggested that: "The idea of increasing transparency in PLA courts martial is good, but these two cases should be handled within the existing legal system due to their seriousness and complexity," he said.
However, the analysis in this observer's earlier blogpost (linked above) still stands. 
  1. Criminal cases of fallen high officials generally involve military secrets.  In the cases involving the two generals, it is likely that much of the evidence will involve matters classified as secret by People's Liberation Army (PLA) secrecy regulations. 
  1. The PLA has 2011 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.]

Bringing transparency to the military courts will be a long-term enterprise

In the view of this observer, bringing a degree of transparency to the military courts will be a long-term enterprise  In addition to factors discussed earlier, the factors listed below may be relevant.
  • It will require a buy-in from the military, political, and judicial leadership.
  • It will require additional arrangements to have servers hosting the military courts website accessible to the outside world.
  • Any transparency must in the first place ensure that PLA military secrets are protected. There have been substantial changes to China's secrecy legislation, most recently earlier this year and the PLA secrecy regulations may need to be correspondingly updated before military court information is made public.
  • Decisions will be required on the extent of transparency.  
  • Transparency issues include  considering whether to establish a single platform for access to information about all the military courts and the type of information to be made public. Would that mean making judgments public in non-sensitive (or secret) cases?  What about notices of trial in the military courts? For transparency to come to the military courts, all of these questions require an answer.

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