Chinese courts have stepped up efforts in fighting environment-related crimes over the past decade, with increased fines and prison terms for polluters to safeguard national ecological security.
In the past 10 years, courts across the country concluded some 244,000 criminal cases related to the environment, including those regarding forests, land and wildlife, and sentenced more than 303,000 people, according to statistics released by the Supreme People's Court, China's top court, on Tuesday.
In one case, for example, the Intermediate People's Court in Changzhi, Shanxi province, recently ordered a local energy investment corporation to pay a fine of 3 billion yuan ($428 million) for illegal mining that damaged some 6 million metric tons of coal resources valued at 4.2 billion yuan, and sentenced its actual controller surnamed Chen to six years in prison plus a fine of 10 million yuan for the crime.
The intermediate court also found Chen required the company's branches to privately enter other stakeholders' zones to mine coal, and then used the money from the coal sales to fund organized crime from early 2015 to July 2018. In combination, Chen received a death sentence with a two-year reprieve, with all his assets confiscated.
"It was a typical case that combined environmental crime with a gang-related offense," said Li Mingyi, deputy chief judge of the top court's adjudication tribunal for environment and resources. "Such behavior must be absolutely cracked down on and harshly punished."
Considering the amount of illegal mining was "extremely large", he noted that it was reasonable and essential to raise the fines to create a bigger deterrence to the offender.
Thanks to the Chinese courts' closer attention paid to the fight against polluters, the country's environment and ecology have improved since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 2012.
"We've applied the strictest laws, regulations, guidelines and measures to boost environmental protection," said Liu Zhumei, chief judge of the top court's adjudication tribunal.
While heavily punishing those who privately discharged wastewater and dumped dangerous substances in river basins, courts nationwide also focused on dealing with cases involving wild animals to protect biosecurity, she said.
The top court issued 21 judicial interpretations regarding ecology and the environment in the past decade, including those on punitive damages and public-interest litigation, in a bid to help judges improve the efficiency and accuracy of relevant case handling, according to Liu.
A total of 2,426 panels that specialize in tackling environment-related cases have been set up across the country, she added.
Statistics from the top court on Tuesday also showed that Chinese courts concluded 1.38 million civil disputes involving the environment over the past 10 years, as well as 343,000 cases against government departments that failed to properly perform their duties to ensure environmental protection.