Sichuan Court Sentences Officials and Company Officers for Environmental Crimes

September 29, 2005

A court in Chengdu, Sichuan province, has found three Sichuan Chemical Company officials and three local environmental protection bureau officials criminally liable for severely polluting the Tuojiang River in 2004, according to a People's Daily article. The Sichuan Chemical Company incident was one of two damaging pollution incidents in March and May 2004 along the Tuojiang River. The incidents forced the water supply to about 1 million people to be suspended, and caused heavy financial losses and physical damage that will take years for the area to recover from, according to these three reports (1, 2, 3).

The Tuojiang River pollution incidents led to the arrest of environmental protection bureau officials, according to an April 16 People's Daily report. The court in Chengdu sentenced the Deputy Director of the Qingbaijiang Environmental Protection Bureau Pollution Management office and the Environmental Monitoring Station Director to 2 1/2 years imprisonment each, and the Environmental Inspection and Control Institute Director was sentenced to a 1 1/2 year term with a two year suspended sentence. The court sentenced the general manager of the chemical company to three years in prison but suspended the sentence, and fined him 30,000 yuan. Two company environmental protection directors were fined 30,000 yuan each.

Environmental crimes have been defined in the Criminal Law since 1997, but criminal investigations into pollution incidents have been rare, according to a Legal Daily article. The Sichuan Chemical Company case is the first in which environmental polluters and environmental protection officials have been investigated at the same time for an environmental crime. The officials likely were charged under Article 408 of the Criminal Law, which punishes dereliction of duty when officials responsible for environmental protection do not meet their responsibilities.

Central government environmental protection officials have expressed support for holding individuals, enterprises, and local officials responsible for environmental degradation, according to a February Beijing News article. Central government officials seem convinced that criminal charges against individuals responsible for allowing pollution constitutes an important step in preventing environmental degradation, which has resulted in increasing rioting and social unrest in China in 2004 and 2005.