'Last hooligan in jail' awaits his fate

By Dong Zhen  |   2011-2-25  |     NEWSPAPER EDITION

The story appears on Page A7
Feb 25, 2011

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NIU Yuqiang, now 47, will be jailed until 2020 because he stole a knife, snatched a soldier's hat and broke the window glass of a household way back in 1984, when he was 20, according to the latest decision by a provincial prison authority.

The offense code he was sentenced for, the "Crime of Hooliganism", however, has long since been removed from Chinese criminal law.

The ruling by a prison authority in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region has stirred controversy. And Niu's family and lawyer are launching an appeal to have the prison take into account the 12-year period during which he stayed at home in Beijing and reported on a monthly basis to the district police.

The media has now dubbed Niu "the very last hooligan in jail" in China since the revamped criminal law did not retain it as a crime code when it took effect in 1997.

Niu was sentenced to death with a reprieve on the charge of "Hooliganism Crime" in 1984 during a "Hard Strike" campaign, during which law enforcement officials intensified crackdown against crimes. Convicts could be sentenced to death for crimes which are now considered minor offenses, such as thefts.

A court in Beijing in 1984 convicted Niu of group violence for grabbing someone's military hat, breaking a window pane of a household and robbing a knife. The violence didn't cause serious injury to anyone but was considered a heavy crime during the "Hard Strike" campaign.

The youth was sent to a prison in Xinjiang and for good behavior, his jail term was shortened in 1990 to 18 years. He would be free in 2008.

But the same year, he was released on bail for one-year medical treatment back to his hometown Beijing, ailing from heavy-degree phthisis. So Niu could have treatment, his special release was extended by another year until 1992. Those two years were counted as part of his prison term, meaning he still had to serve 16 years.

And during the following 12 years until 2004, prison officials said they completely lost track of the prisoner while Niu insisted he behaved well during the time, living a simple life and reporting on a monthly basis to his district police. The Beijing police and Niu's neighborhood authority both proved he had a clean record during the 12 years at home.

In April 2004, however, prison officials in Xinjiang traveled to Beijing, arrested him from home.

The officials said they could not reach the Beijing police for Niu's whereabouts despite repeated inquiries over the years until 2004 when they finally received a reply saying that Niu was at home in Beijing.

Niu married Zhu Bei in 1997. Their son was four years old when Niu was taken to jail again in 2004.

Niu and his family appealed to the prison authority to take into account his 12 years in Beijing as part of the jail term but the request was officially denied by the Xinjiang prison authority this week. The authority insisted that Niu should stay in jail until 2020, adding 16 years of his remaining prison term to 2004, the year he was re-arrested.

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