China will grant nine categories of prisoners special pardons to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the New China as a step to uphold governance by the rule of law and to improve the protection of human rights.
The decision was adopted by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, the country's top legislature, at its bimonthly session, which closed on Saturday. President Xi Jinping signed and issued an order for the special pardons that same day.
These will be the ninth special pardons since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.
Xi's order specifies that nine categories of criminals serving sentences issued in court rulings effective before Jan 1 can be eligible for pardon－whether they actually receive one is up to a court after reviews are made.
"The special pardon, as a major agenda of the session of the top legislature, has great significance for both politics and the rule of law," NPC Standing Committee Chairman Li Zhanshu said on Saturday.
"The pardons show the prudence of Chinese society when sentencing convicts and the confidence of the leadership's governance," he said. "They also aid in popularizing the concept of the rule of law, temper justice with mercy, maintain social stability and uphold the judicial protection of human rights."
"The pardons further contribute to building the country's international image for openness, democracy and the rule of law," he added.
Li ordered all judicial authorities to make clear the scope of the special pardon and to abide by the rules of each step.
A statement provided by the Legislative Affairs Commission of the NPC Standing Committee reveals the special pardons will add five categories of inmates that were previously excluded.
Criminals who fought to protect themselves and others or to avert danger in crisis situations can now be eligible, even if they were excessively violent, "which is to encourage the public to fight against offenses and violations," the statement said.
The new pardons also cover female prisoners, "showing China's special care for women and alleviating their difficulties in looking after families," the statement said.
In addition, convicts serving light sentences in their communities will be included to help them better integrate into the society, it said.
However, in keeping with China's determination to fight corruption and uphold social stability, prisoners who committed graft-related or violent crimes are not eligible for the special pardons, the statement said.
Wang Ping, a law professor at China University of Political Science and Law, told China National Radio that such pardons are special system for special occasions.
"Pardoning a number of people in a big festival or ceremony can warm up everyone, including inmates," CNR quoted Wang as saying.
Special pardons are a humanitarian measure offered at historic moments or national ceremonies, the statement said, and China has offered them seven times between 1949 and 1975.
In 2015, China granted special pardons again in celebration of the 70th anniversary of victory in World War II. At that time, 31,527 inmates were freed, according to the statement.
Under the Constitution, the NPC Standing Committee has the right to decide on launching special pardons, and the president is responsible for issuing such pardons.
If the special pardon period is approved, high people's courts and intermediate people's courts review who qualifies and the process is also be supervised by prosecutors.