Ministry of Public Security Issues Ban on Public Parades of Suspected Sex Workers

October 27, 2010

In July 2010, the Ministry of Public Security issued a Circular prohibiting police from publicly parading criminal suspects allegedly involved in sex work. The announcement follows extensive media coverage of the public shaming of sex workers in Guangdong and Hubei provinces. The controversial parading of criminal suspects has elicited criticism from the Chinese news media and sympathy from Chinese citizens, particularly Internet users. Chinese officials previously have attempted to prohibit the practice, but in recent years high-profile incidents indicating its continued prevalence have gained widespread media attention.

In late July, the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) issued a circular (not publicly released) to local public security departments across China to end the practice of publicly parading suspected sex workers in public, according to a July 26 Dahe Net article. The Dahe Net article reports that the MPS circular calls on all police agencies to "resolutely ban" parading sex workers and other measures that "harm the human dignity of illegal workers." The parades, sometimes referred to as "perp walks," involve "the practice of publicly parading suspects or convicts in order to shame other criminals, drum up witnesses, or stir popular sentiment," according to a July 29 Dui Hua Foundation article. Although the MPS circular appears to apply to all criminal suspects, local law enforcement officials often use the "shame parades" in crackdowns on prostitution, according to a July 27 Reuters article. The new rules come after officials, in late June 2010, launched crackdowns on prostitution, which have led to public concerns and suspicion over public security agencies' methods, according to the Dahe Net article.

Background: Previous Measures To Ban Public Parades of Suspects

The ban in the July 2010 MPS circular is not the first time Chinese law enforcement agencies have attempted to prohibit public security officers from publicly parading criminal suspects. According to a July 29 Red Net article, Chinese officials issued circulars in 1984, 1986, and 1988 that prohibited shame parades of criminal suspects. More recently, in 2007 Notice of the Supreme People's Court, the Supreme People's Procuratorate, the Ministry of Public Security, and the Ministry of Justice issued the Opinions on Strengthening Handling Cases in Strict Accordance with Law and Guaranteeing the Quality of Handling Death Penalty Cases (in Chinese), which prohibits the parading of convicts in death penalty cases (see Article 48). Although the 1988 rules outlawed the practice, the Red Net article points out that the official standpoint on the public parading of criminal suspects has changed over the last two decades. Twenty years ago, Chinese official rules described the "public parades" as "having an adverse impact [on China] domestically and abroad" or "eliciting external negative impacts." The July 2010 MPS circular, however, reportedly bases the justification on the "protection of human rights."

Public Shaming Incidents Spark Criticism and Concern

International and domestic Chinese news media have widely reported on public shaming incidents targeted at sex workers:

  • In October 2009, the Zhengzhou City Public Security Bureau, in Henan province, reportedly carried out a special campaign against gambling and prostitution that resulted in the public release of nude photos of sex workers, according to a July 18 Southern Daily article (via Xinhua).
  • In early July 2010, public security officers at the Sanzhong police station in Dongguan city's Qingshi township, Guangdong province, arrested four criminal suspects for their involvement in illegal prostitution. On July 5, local media published the news and photographs showing sex workers handcuffed, barefoot, and roped together while being publicly paraded, according to the July 18 Southern Daily article and a July 27 Guangzhou Daily article.
  • In July 2010, in Hongshan district, Wuhan city, Hubei province, public security officials publicly posted information about local sex workers, including their names, ages, and punishments received, according to the July 26 Dahe Net article.

According to a July 26 Global Times article, the incidents of public shaming have "caused heated debate among the general public." A July 28 Xinhua article reported that media exposure of the recent high-profile incident in Dongguan has elicited "severe criticism at all levels of Chinese society." A July 23 opinion-editorial on the People's Daily Web site stated, "It is believed that female sex workers also possess basic human dignity; law enforcement personnel have no authority to humiliate them. [I] think that enforcing the law by breaking the law not only is in serious violation of the modern interpretation of human rights and human dignity, but also 'discredits' the government." A July 28 China Daily editorial criticized the practice of shaming sex workers: "They may be fined or detained for breaking public security rules, or convicted if their charges so warrant. It is unethical, however, to humiliate them in public. Such actions stem from a clear lack of understanding of the law." According to a July 27 New York Times article, some Internet users expressed outrage toward the police policy and urged sympathy of the paraded victims.

Although the recently released circular potentially signals an improvement in the rights of criminal suspects and defendants, it remains unclear whether the new circular will end the practice of publicly parading criminal suspects. In the July 27 New York Times article, one human rights advocate was quoted as saying that ultimately the reforms would require "a great deal of political will to implement these kinds of changes."

For more information on the rights of criminal suspects and defendants in China, see Section II―Criminal Justice in the CECC 2010 Annual Report.