'Prosecutors beef up protection measures'

Updated: 2016-03-21 07:59

By Cao Yin(China Daily)

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Improved supervision system helping governments to get tough with polluters, academy says

More than 1,500 people received criminal sentences for causing environmental damage last year after intervention by the prosecution authorities, highlighting their supervision of China's efforts to better protect the environment, a new report has said.

Procuratorate departments were put in charge of reviewing the law-enforcement work of government agencies and other official bodies on Jan 1 last year as part of revisions to the Environmental Protection Law.

Part of their responsibility now is to push authorities to file criminal charges against suspects when warranted rather than hand out fines or light administrative penalties, which has tended to happen in the past.

According to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, this supervision resulted in 2,491 people facing trial on allegations of causing pollution or harming the environment between March and August last year.

Of these, 1,518 were convicted and sentenced, the academy said in its 2016 Report on China's Rule of Law, which was released on Friday.

"In the past, some cases in which people made a profit by destroying the environment were often hidden or even ignored by local governments, while some people had little awareness to report such cases to police," said Huang Fang, a legal researcher with the academy.

"In addition, serious cases that should have been handled by the criminal courts were solved in an administrative way, which did little to protect the environment."

Prosecutors also ensured last year that public security bureaus became more active in investigating allegations of environmental damage, she added.

The revisions to the Environmental Protection Law were aimed at raising public awareness about environmental protection and strengthening the determination of prosecutors to crack down on those who seriously damage the environment or ecology.

Latest data from the Supreme People's Procuratorate, the top prosecuting authority, show that 27,101 people faced charges of either pollution, illegal mining or deforestation last year.

Courts nationwide heard 19,000 such criminal cases, up by 18.8 percent year-on-year, as well as 78,000 civil disputes relating to the environment and ecology, according to figures provided by the Supreme People's Court.

The revised law also made it clear that environmental NGOs have the right to file public-interest lawsuits against polluters, which has also helped the courts, the academy report said.

Forty-eight such lawsuits were brought by NGOs last year, while the number between 2007 and 2014 was just 65. More than one-third were filed in the southern province of Guizhou, mainly focusing on soil and water pollution, the report added.