TIME China

China Has Finally Drafted a Domestic-Violence Law

Kim Lee
Kim Lee leaves court after a session for her divorce trial in Beijing on March 22, 2012 Alexander F. Yuan—AP

But changing attitudes will remain an uphill task

When people speak up about family violence in China, they typically hear one thing: That’s a private matter. Though beating another person is technically illegal, the abuse of your spouse or child is seen as a household, rather than societal, concern; there is no nationwide law prohibiting domestic violence. Solve this yourself, survivors are told, quietly.

On Tuesday, China’s ruling Communist Party finally broke its silence on the matter. After a decades-long push by women’s-rights activists and survivors of abuse, a top government body published a draft for China’s first-ever national family violence law. Though it is just a draft, and far from comprehensive, advocates called it a necessary and important first step. “This was long over due,” says Leta Hong Fincher, author of Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China. “It is just a draft, and it is not sufficient, but it is important and encouraging that they have actually written something down.”

What authorities outlined, and posted online, is an imperfect but ambitious plan to change the way the state handles abuse. Social organizations and individuals would have the right to report violence and police obliged to investigate claims. Those convicted would face punishment — anything from a written reprimand to up to seven years’ imprisonment should the abuse lead to serious injury or death.

That may sound like a forgone conclusion — of course the police must investigatebut, in practice, it is not. Accounts by survivors suggest that family pressure, shame, and police indifference mean that reporting abuse is rare, and legal recourse almost unheard of. In a searing essay for the New York Times, Kim Lee, an American who was beaten by her Chinese husband, recalls sitting at a police station in 2011, visibly bruised, trying to convince the duty officer to help her. They told her to calm down and go home. “As far as the police were concerned,” she writes, “no crime had occurred.”

Lee went home and posted pictures of her bruised face online. Within hours, the pictures were forwarded by some 20,000 people, she writes, and her case became national news. People took to China’s popular social-media sites to share their own stories and vent frustration. That a relatively privileged woman — a foreigner with a famous husband — could not get help spoke volumes. Like many survivors, Lee worried she would lose custody of her children, and the right to family assets, should they divorce. (In a landmark 2013 case, she was granted a divorce on grounds of domestic violence.)

This week’s draft measures could, potentially, help in similar cases. The All-China Women’s Federation estimates that 1 in 4 Chinese women has experienced domestic abuse. (Estimates from other countries are even higher.) If China pushes ahead with the legislation, makes it comprehensive, and strengthens enforcement, the police and courts would be better equipped to take action. The draft suggests that people could seek physical protection from attackers — a restraining order, for instance — a detail that Feng Yuan, founder of Equality, a Beijing-based NGO dedicated to the protection of women’s rights, called “very encouraging.”

But there are gaps. The draft mentions children, which is a good step, but does not include provisions or protections for nonmarried couples (including same-sex couples, who are not legally allowed to marry in China). And how will police officers and courts be trained to interpret and enforce the law? “There are a lot of good laws on the books in terms of rights protection in China,” says Hong Fincher, “yet those laws are not enforced.” She points to countries like India and Bangladesh. Both have decent anti-domestic-violence laws, but have made limited progress curbing abuse.

For the law to mean something, people’s attitudes must change too. Codifying a government response to family violence can help achieve that. “Domestic abuse is not a personal affair,” says Hou Zhiming, director of the Maple Women’s Psychological Counselling Centre in Beijing. “Every person has the right to oppose it, the victims do not need to keep silent.”

— With reporting by Gu Yongqiang / Beijing

TIME Crime

Wrongfully Convicted California Man Released After 36 Years

Hanline waits in a cell during a hearing at Superior Court in Ventura
Michael Hanline waits in a cell during a hearing at Superior Court in Ventura, California on November 24, 2014. Mario Anzuoni—Reuters

He was the longest-serving wrongfully convicted inmate in the state

A California man will leave prison Monday after 36 year behind bars, after new DNA evidence proved his innocence.

Michael Hanline, 68, will be released after DNA from the crime scene failed to match Hanline’s, according to the Los Angeles Times. In 1980, Hanline was convicted of the first-degree murder of J.T. McGarry, also known as Mike Mathers, and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Police reports that cast doubt on the testimony of Hanline’s then-girlfriend Mary Bischoff were not disclosed to defense attorneys at the time, even though they could have been used to discredit Bischoff or indicate that Hanline may have been framed.

Bischoff’s testimony was instrumental in convicting Hanline– she testified that McGarry owed her money, that there was a contract out on his life, and that Hanline said he would “blow his brains out.” She also said she saw Hanline leaving the house with a gun and come back muddy, even though Hanline says he was home that night.

Bischoff was smoking PCP-laced pot and using cocaine on the night in question, and she was also on drugs at the time she gave her testimony, leading the judge to adjourn court.

Hanline will be released from prison, but will have to wear a GPS ankle monitor. He is also expected to appear back in court in February for a pretrial hearing, because prosecutors have not yet decided whether to re-try him.

“It’s been a roller coaster,” Hanline’s wife Sandee Hanline said. “I prayed that this day would come.”

[Los Angeles Times]

TIME

Legal Scholars: Obama’s Immigration Actions Lawful

Backing the President's Move

President Barack Obama’s announced immigration executive actions are lawful, a group of ten prominent legal scholars wrote in a joint letter shared by the White House with TIME.

Pushing back on Republicans who have blasted Obama’s action as unconstitutional and unlawful, the signatories include Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, Harvard Law School Professor Laurence Tribe, conservative legal scholar Eric Posner, and former Yale Law School Dean and former State Department Legal Advisor Harold Hongju Koh.

“While we differ among ourselves on many issues relating to Presidential power and immigration policy, we are all of the view that these actions are lawful,” the professors wrote. “They are exercises of prosecutorial discretion that are consistent with governing law and with the policies that Congress has expressed in the statutes that it has enacted.”

The letter reinforces a Justice Department opinion that the president’s actions were lawful. The same memorandum noted that the Office of Legal Counsel believed that extending prosecutorial discretion to prevent deportations of the parents of those granted deferred action in 2012 would not be lawful, providing Obama cover from criticism from advocates who wanted the president to do more.

The full letter is below:

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: November 7

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Reimagining a Pentagon for the future in pictures: Group personnel by skills, streamline leadership, dump outdated regional commands.

By Shawn Brimley and Paul Scharre with Valerio Pellegrini in Foreign Policy

2. Innovators should cater new wearable tech to those who need it most: older and chronically ill people.

By J.C. Herz in Wired

3. Add kids football to the list of cultural dividers in America.

By David Leonhardt in the Upshot

4. “We live in a world of evolutionary state disorder.” We must upgrade our global institutions or risk a future with no rules.

By Mark Malloch Brown at Project Syndicate

5. In resisting the law of supply and demand, law schools are saddling students with debt and aggravating income inequality.

By Jeffrey Toobin in the New Yorker

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Burma

Top Legal Academics Want Burmese Generals Indicted for War Crimes

Guards of honour salute during an event marking the anniversary of Martyrs' Day at the Martyrs Mausoleum in Yangon
Burmese soldiers salute during an event marking the anniversary of Martyrs' Day at the Martyrs' Mausoleum in Rangoon on July 19, 2014 Soe Zeya Tun—Reuters

The abuses are described as "too grave to be ignored"

Leading generals in Burma’s powerful military should be charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, according to researchers who claim to have accumulated enough evidence to mount a successful prosecution under international law.

A four-year investigation by the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School focused on an offensive in the eastern part of Burma, also known as Myanmar, in 2005 and 2006. The study documented soldiers firing mortars at villages, slaughtering fleeing villagers, destroying homes and food, laying land mines indiscriminately and forcing civilians to work without pay.

On Friday, a legal memorandum, War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity in Eastern Myanmar, was released that implicates three commanders in international crimes as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

“These are serious allegations that demand a determined, good faith response by the Myanmar government and military,” said Tyler Giannini, co-director of the clinic. “The abuses perpetrated by the military have been too widespread, too persistent, and too grave to be ignored.”

Burma has been transitioning from military dictatorship to civilian government since 2011; however, many former junta figures remain key players in the new quasi-democratic administration headed by President Thein Sein.

Asked about the war-crimes report, a government spokesman told the New York Times, “Both the Tatmadaw [Burmese military] and ethnic armed groups might have violated human rights.”

Read next: Aung San Suu Kyi’s Silence on Burma’s Human-Rights Abuses Is Appalling.

TIME Law

Slim Majority of Americans Support Marijuana Legalization

marijuana plant
Alessandro Bianchi—REUTERS

Support is down from last year's Gallup poll

Though the majority of Americans still support the legalization of marijuana, the percentage of the population in support has dropped significantly since last year. The poll comes just days after voters in Oregon and Alaska decided to legalize recreational marijuana in the state and voters in D.C. passed a measure that makes it legal for residents over 21 years of age to possess up to 2 oz. of marijuana. Four states and the District of Columbia have now all legalized recreational use of pot.

Fifty-one percent of Americans support the legalization of pot, according to a new Gallup poll that was conducted from Oct. 12 to 15. That number is down from 2013, when 58% said they were in favor, but similar to the numbers from 2011 and 2012 when 50% of the population supported legalizing marijuana.

While 73% of liberals and 58% of moderates supported legalization, only 31% of conservatives did.

Gallup suggests that the drop in enthusiasm for legalization of marijuana may come from recent news items about the risk that marijuana-infused edibles pose to children. They also say that momentum had built behind legalization around the time of last year’s poll as Colorado prepared to put its new laws into effect, but no such momentum has built this year.

 

TIME Law

Gay-Marriage Ruling Means High Court Review Likely

US-JUSTICE-GAY-MARRIAGE
Same-sex marriage supporters wave a rainbow flag in front of the US Supreme Court on March 26, 2013 in Washington. Jewel Samad—AFP/Getty Images

(CINCINNATI) — A federal appeals court on Thursday upheld anti-gay marriage laws in four states, breaking ranks with other courts that have considered the issue and setting up the prospect of Supreme Court review.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel that heard arguments on gay marriage bans or restrictions in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee on Aug. 6 split 2-1, with Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton writing the majority opinion. The ruling creates a divide among federal appeals courts, increasing the likelihood the U.S. Supreme Court will now take up the issue.

The ruling concluded that states have the right to set rules for marriage and that such change as expanding a definition of marriage that dates “back to the earliest days of human history” is better done through political processes.

“When the courts do not let the people resolve new social issues like this one, they perpetuate the idea that the heroes in these change events are judges and lawyers,” Sutton wrote, adding that it’s better to have change “in which the people, gay and straight alike, become the heroes of their own stories by meeting each other not as adversaries in a court system but as fellow citizens seeking to resolve a new social issue in a fair-minded way.”

The president of pro-gay marriage group Freedom to Marry, Evan Wolfson, blasted the ruling as “on the wrong side of history.”

He called it “completely out of step with the Supreme Court’s clear signal last month, out of step with the constitutional command as recognized by nearly every state and federal court in the past year, and out of step with the majority of the American people.”

“This anomalous ruling won’t stand the test of time or appeal,” he said in a statement.

In October, the Supreme Court surprisingly turned away appeals from five states seeking to uphold their marriage bans, even with the gay couples who won in the lower courts joining with the states to ask for high court review.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg explained in the weeks following the court’s denial of those appeals that the lack of a split in the appellate courts made Supreme Court review of the issue unnecessary.

Thursday’s ruling out of Cincinnati changes that dynamic, and the big question now is whether an appeal can be ready for the justices in time for consideration this term. Generally, that means the court would have to decide by mid-January whether to hear the case in time for a decision in June. Otherwise, the case would be pushed back to the following term and probably not decided until June 2016.

The ruling followed more than 20 court victories for supporters of same-sex marriage since the Supreme Court struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act last year. A federal judge in Louisiana recently upheld that state’s ban, but four U.S. appeals courts ruled against state bans.

The issue appears likely to return to the Supreme Court so the nation’s highest court can settle whether states can ban gay marriage or gay and lesbian couples have a fundamental right to marry under the U.S. Constitution. Thirty-two states recently asked the Supreme Court to settle the issue once and for all.

When the high court on Oct. 6 unexpectedly turned away appeals from five states seeking to prohibit gay and lesbian unions, its order effectively made gay marriage legal in 30 states. The San Francisco-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals the next day overturned same-sex marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada, the fourth federal appeals court to rule against state bans.

Ginsburg told a Minnesota audience the 6th Circuit’s then-pending ruling would likely influence the high court’s timing, adding “some urgency” if it allowed same-sex marriage bans to stand.

Before the 9th’s Oct. 7 ruling, three other appellate courts, the 10th Circuit in Denver, the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Virginia, and the 7th Circuit in Chicago, overturned statewide gay marriage bans in Wisconsin, Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah and Virginia over the summer, ruling that they were unconstitutional.

During the Aug. 6 arguments, it was apparent that Sutton would be the deciding vote, with the two other judges clearly on opposite sides of the debate.

Sutton vigorously questioned each side’s attorneys, though he repeatedly expressed deep skepticism that the courts were the best place to legalize gay marriage, saying that the way to win Americans’ hearts and minds is to wait until they’re ready to vote for it.

“I would have thought the best way to get respect and dignity is through the democratic process,” Sutton, a George W. Bush nominee, said at the time. “Nothing happens as quickly as we’d like it.”

Michigan’s and Kentucky’s cases stem from rulings striking down each state’s gay marriage bans. Ohio’s two cases deal only with the state’s recognition of out-of-state gay marriages, while Tennessee’s is narrowly focused on the rights of three same-sex couples.

Plaintiffs include a Cincinnati man who wants his late husband listed as married on his death certificate so they can be buried next to each other in a family-only plot and a Tennessee couple who both want to be listed on their newborn daughter’s birth certificate.

TIME poverty

Cops Stopped a 90-Year-Old Man From Feeding Homeless People

Arnold Abbott
Homeless advocate Arnold Abbott, 90, of the nonprofit group Love Thy Neighbor Inc.,right, shakes hands with a Fort Lauderdale police officer, left, Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Abbott and a group of volunteers were feeding the homeless in a public parking lot next to the beach when he was issued a summons to appear in court for violating an ordinance that limits where charitable groups can feed the homeless on public property. Lynne Sladky—AP

They were enforcing a controversial law against outdoor feeding, designed to reduce large public gatherings of homeless

A Florida senior was stopped and issued a citation by police last Sunday for trying to feed homeless people at a Fort Lauderdale park.

Arnold Abbott, 90, runs a group called Love Thy Neighbor and has been providing food to the homeless for over 20 years. He had barely served three or four of the 300 meals he prepared when police officers stopped him, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

The officers were enforcing a new law against public feeding sites, which is aimed at reducing the city’s homeless population.

“I’m not satisfied with having a cycle of homeless in city of Fort Lauderdale,” explained mayor Jack Seiler. “Providing them with a meal and keeping them in that cycle on the street is not productive.”

[Sun-Sentinel]

TIME Crime

$2.5 Million Settlement for Hot Jail Cell Death on Rikers Island

The temperature in Jerome Murdough's cell on New York City's Rikers Island is said to have exceeded 100 degrees when he was found dead in February

The family of a New York City prisoner who died in an overheated jail cell will receive $2.5 million to settle a wrongful-death suit, the city comptroller’s office announced Friday.

“A mother lost a son, the City lost a citizen. It is my hope that this settlement provides some small measure of closure for the family of Mr. Murdough,” said city comptroller Scott M. Stringer in a statement, referring to the deceased inmate.

The Rikers Island prison complex, where Jerome Murdough was found dead this past February in a cell where the temperature exceeded 100 degrees, has been the subject of frequent criticism for the poor treatment of prisoners in recent months. In this particular case, jail officials had received reports of high temperatures but had not fixed acted to solve the problem.

At the time of his death, the 56-year-old prisoner was awaiting trial for trespassing. Murdough, who is said to have suffered from mental illness, was arrested a week prior to his death as he sought shelter from the cold in a public housing building.

“This is a very awful thing I’m going through, and I hope that no one else will have to ever go through anything like this,” said the inmate’s mother Alma Murdough, at a Friday press conference.

TIME justice

Philadelphia Cops Offer Safe Space for Craigslist Exchanges

Man handing woman US dollar banknotes, close-up
PM Images/Getty Images

Residents of the suburb of Conshohocken can swap their used futons for cash in the safe surroundings of their local police station

A police department in the Philadelphia suburb of Conshohocken is offering its lobby and parking lot as a venue to buy and sell items from Craigslist and other online marketplaces. The location is well-lit and has 24-hour surveillance so that you can feel safe exchanging your used futon for money.

“I figured there’s got to be a better place for people who don’t know each other to complete these transactions,”Conshohocken Police officer Steve Vallone said, the AP reports. “Why not allow people to complete their online transactions from here? It seems like the perfect match.”

The offer came shortly after an alleged rapist was charged with killing a local man he met through Craigslist, according to NBC News in Philadelphia.

Similar measures have been taken in Hillsborough County in Florida, where residents can visit four of the police station’s parking lots to engage in cash transactions.

[NBC]

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