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Stricter penalties for manhole lid thieves

By CAO YIN | China Daily | Updated: 2020-04-23 08:32
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A community worker shows a smart manhole lid which can send alert to staff members via sensors when being moved from its place, in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, on Oct 23, 2019. [Photo/Xinhua]

Offenders whose acts cause injuries or fatalities could get death sentences

China will harshly punish those who cause injuries or even deaths after stealing or destroying manhole covers as such incidents have been occurring frequently across the country in recent years.

"Manhole covers are often ignored, but they very much relate to people's lives, personal safety and property security," said Wan Chun, an official from the Supreme People's Procuratorate, adding more than 70 tragedies from 2017 to 2019 occurred due to broken or stolen manhole covers.

He made the remark on Wednesday as the top procuratorate jointly issued a guideline on handling criminal cases related to manhole covers with the Supreme People's Court and the Ministry of Public Security.

The guideline stipulates that people who steal or damage manhole covers and cause serious consequences, such as people falling in or vehicles overturning, will be deemed as having committed the crime of endangering transportation in accordance with the Chinese Criminal Law.

If someone steals or damages manhole covers in crowded places, such as stations, ports, parks, squares, schools or business zones, and the action leads to serious injuries or deaths, he or she may be charged with endangering public safety by dangerous means, the guideline said.

The maximum sentence for both crimes under the law is the death penalty.

In addition, anyone who deliberately removes or destroys manhole covers despite knowing that the action may cause serious harm to others may be charged with intentional homicide or intentional injury if someone is killed or hurt, the guideline said.

"Stealing or destroying a manhole cover cannot be just identified as committing crimes of theft or destroying property. Instead, the offenders should be given harsher punishments considering the damage to others and to public security," Wan explained.

He noted that theft and destruction of manhole covers also resulted from lax supervision of government agencies, "so the guideline clarifies crackdowns and liabilities against officials who abuse their power or engage in malpractice," he added.

"The legal document is urgent and essential, as it will better ensure people's safety when walking on roads or driving on streets," said Xu Hao, a lawyer from Beijing Jingsh Law Firm.

"Punishing those stealing manhole tops with fines or a few years of imprisonment is a little bit light."

In his view, stricter punishments will play a stronger role in improving public security as well as be a bigger threat for people attempting to steal manholes for money and a reminder for careless construction crews.

For example, blinded by rain and vapor, a woman in Dalian, Liaoning province, stepped into an uncovered thermal well and died in 2012.

The city's thermal power group said the incident happened possibly because some taxi drivers opened the manhole cover to steal water and clean their vehicles, but forgot to put it back on.

Such tragedies may be reduced if people know removing manhole covers will be harshly punished, even though it is difficult for investigators to figure out who stole or destroyed them, Xu said.

Ruan Chuansheng, a law professor at the Shanghai Administration Institute, also welcomed the specified guideline.

He added it will contribute to helping judges apply laws more accurately, "and the more accurate the application is, the more effective we will fight crimes."

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