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The Shanghai No.1 Intermediate People's Court sentenced a British corporate private investigator, Peter Humphrey, to two-and-a-half years in prison and his American wife and business partner, Yu Yingzeng, to two years in jail, for illegally obtaining private information about Chinese citizens. It is the first time foreigners have faced privacy-law charges.|
The court broadcast the conviction on Weibo. US and British consular representatives in Shanghai attended the trial. Such an open and transparent trial silenced boisterous Western media which had been hyping China's "secret trial." Public opinion also shifted its focus to the crimes foreigners commit in China.
The couple was detained last year while working for UK drug giant GlaxoSmithKline which was involved in a separate government corruption investigation.
The Western media rarely support any trials when Western citizens are arrested in China. The Western community hasn't got used to the fact that its citizens are sued in developing countries. On the one hand, it has nostalgia for the colonial era; on the other hand, it feels a sense of superiority over the rule of law in the third world. Once Western citizens are convicted, Western opinion instantly expresses objections and dissatisfaction.
Recently, Western media has created an online atmosphere suggesting that China has begun to suppress foreign companies and foreigners in China, so as to add pressure on China.
China doesn't buy this tactic. It used to have loose regulations over foreigners and overseas companies, making many believe that it was a preferential policy that they could enjoy in China. The change in this situation has nothing to do with China's investment environment, nor is it a political decision. This is a natural process, meaning China's rule of law has an impact on foreigners and foreign enterprises.
As long as China has a clear path for the rule of law and the judicial process against Westerners is justified, the Western community will not feel that shaken. This is a procedure through which Chinese law will build up authority in the world.
Humphrey and his wife said they were unaware their acts were criminal, which was what they staked out as the moral ground for their innocence. But as private detectives, they shouldn't be unfamiliar with the laws of the country where they carried out their work.
Compared with the legal system in the West, China's is not that rigorous. Meanwhile, as information transparency is not mature, Western opinion can easily find room to speculate when there's a case involving Westerners.
Humphrey and his wife did violate Chinese law, which they finally admitted. The open trial and conviction made the world see the truth. It is believed that Western opinion will have less room to speculate about this case.