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Rule of law and rule with heart

Writer: Winton Dong  | Editor: Jane Chen  | From:  | Updated: 2018-July-9

Email of the writer: dht0620@126.com

Law is regarded as the conscience of society. Every citizen hopes his or her country can be ruled within the framework of law and governed with heart. Nevertheless, such targets cannot be easily achieved by any nation in the world.

I will use two separate examples in China and the United States to illustrate my point.

A young Chinese man named Nie Shubin was executed in April 1995 at the age of 20 after being found guilty of raping and killing a woman in Shijiazhuang, the capital city of North China’s Hebei Province. Based on reinvestigation and retrial, the Supreme People’s Court of China declared Nie innocent on Dec. 2, 2016, more than 21 years after his execution.

Actually, as early as in 2005, another criminal suspect named Wang Shujin confessed that he had raped and killed several women in Shijiazhuang. When he recalled his atrocities in the city, police found that one of his confessions coincided with Nie’s in terms of time, place and other details. This indicated that Nie might have been wrongfully executed.

However, after Wang’s confession to the crime — raping and killing the woman that Nie was executed for — it took incredibly another 11 years for Nie to be finally exonerated. The case has caused outrage all over the country. In September 2011, the People’s Daily once published a commentary that questioned: “In a case where someone is clearly wronged, why has it been so difficult to correct the mistake?”

Nie’s case has highlighted those deep-rooted problems which have been plaguing China’s judiciary system for a long period of time. Some judges in China cannot realize the significance of the “presumption of innocence” principle and follow it strictly. In practice, they doubt the value of the principle because of their firm belief that no criminals should be at large. As a result, some judges even declare defendants guilty without the support of sufficient evidence. Moreover, illegal detention, police torture, ignorance of procedure laws, administrative interference, lax review of death sentences and other factors also negatively influence China’s development process of rule of law.

In my point of view, compared with rule of law, rule with heart is surely more difficult to achieve.

Last week, a sea of protesters in Washington, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and other major U.S. cities marched against a White House policy that separates thousands of breast-feeding children from parents who cross the U.S. border illegally. They chanted slogans such as “Trump, where is your heart?” and “Make America humane again.”

Illegal immigration has been cracking the brains of all American presidents. After taking office in January 2017, Trump made a tough and even zero-tolerance stance on immigration a centerpiece of his presidency. He endorsed House immigration bills that build the wall along its border with Mexico, close legal loopholes, cancel the visa lottery and curb chain migration.

From a legal perspective, what President Trump has done is understandable and within the framework of law. However, the U.S. administration’s decision to separate migrant families and send those children to temporary military camps has triggered outrage both at home and abroad because of its inhumanity and cruelty. Many U.S. citizens said that children — no matter where they come from or what their migration status — are children first and foremost. They belong to schools, to playgrounds, but absolutely not to cages and prisons.

Under great pressure from home and abroad, President Trump reversed course on June 20 and signed an executive order to end the separating policy and detain illegal immigrating families together for an indefinite period. But he is still severely criticized because most children, who had been separated from their families, haven’t been reunited with their parents. Even Trump’s wife openly disagreed with him. In a rare statement published recently, Melania Trump said she hated to see children separated from their families. “We need a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart,” the U.S. first lady said in the statement.

(The author is the editor-in-chief of the Shenzhen Daily with a Ph.D. from the Journalism and Communication School of Wuhan University.)