The following is a guest post from Doris Chen in Squire Patton Boggs’ Shanghai Office.

Zhang Chunjiang, the former deputy general manager of China Mobile was sentenced to death by Chinese People’s Court on July 22, 2011 for the crime of bribery.  He was also the chief secretary of China Mobile’s CPC Committee and held senior positions at the Liaoning Provincial Postal Administration and China Netcom between 1994 and 2009.  The Court concluded that he took bribes totaling US$1.16 million (RMB 7.46 million).  The case was first tried by Changzhou Intermediate Court of He Bei Province where Zhang was given a death sentence with a two year reprieve, meaning he is given two years of life before his execution date, which may allow him to have the death sentence commuted to life imprisonment for good behavior.

What is a death sentence with a two year reprieve and why was Zhang sentenced to death with a reprieve?

According to the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) Criminal Law, when a criminal is sentenced to death with a reprieve, and the criminal does not commit any intentional crimes during the period of reprieve, upon expiration of the two-year period, the sentence will be commuted to life in prison; if, in addition to no intentional crimes, the criminal has performed any major meritorious service, the sentence will be commuted to 25 years.   Alternatively, if it is determined that the criminal has committed an intentional crime during the reprieve period, the death penalty will be carried out upon approval by the Supreme People’s Court.

Reports indicate that Zhang was granted a two year reprieve because he confessed to all his crimes, the content of his confession was consistent with evidence independently recovered by police, and he surrendered the bribe payments to the police that he had received.

Was Zhang’s sentence supportable?

The verdict was made according to PRC Criminal Law Article 383, which stipulates, “Individuals who have engaged in graft with an amount of more than RMB100,000 are to be sentenced to more than 10 years of fixed-term imprisonment or life imprisonment and may, in addition, have their properties confiscated.  In especially serious cases, those offenders are to be sentenced to death and, in addition, have their properties confiscated”.  In China, a conviction for bribery will carry the same sentencing as a conviction for the crime of graft.  Because the amounts of bribes Zhang received greatly exceeded RMB100,000, the death sentence could have been imposed under the PRC law, but, in light of his confession and the return of the illegal gains, the commuting of the death sentence was permissible.

What is the public’s opinion towards the sentence by the court?

Most PRC citizens seem to consider this a fair outcome.  It reflects the Chinese government’s efforts to address corruption problems within the country even at such high levels as those occupied by Zhang.  The lawyer for Mr. Zhang, however, said he is considering an appeal to a higher court because, in his view, the sentence remains too harsh.