False hope as report barks up wrong tree

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 June, 2009, 12:00am

Animal lovers were disappointed yesterday after initial celebrations over a state media headline - which turned out to be misleading - that the mainland would soon be legislating its first animal protection law.

'This is not a government draft,' said Lu Di, chairwoman of the China Small Animal Protection Association, after reading the content of the report in The Mirror, an authoritative state newspaper on legal matters. 'It is just a group of experts sitting down and agreeing on a draft.'

She said lawmakers sympathetic to animal rights have for seven years petitioned the National People's Congress, the country's legislature, with draft laws, but have not been successful.

'Whether this draft will be accepted by the government is still a big question mark,' Ms Lu said.

Chang Jiwen, a lead researcher at the Law Research Centre of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), was quoted by The Mirror as saying that the country's first Animal Protection Law had entered the final draft stage.

The draft, written by CASS in collaboration with several universities, would then go through public and expert consultation before being submitted to the relevant government departments. If the government supports the draft, it will be submitted to the National People's Congress.

However, Ms Lu said the report still meant that support is growing for the fight against animal cruelty.

According to The Mirror report, should the draft become law, the torture of animals and large-scale dog culls like the one in Hanzhong Shaanxi , last month would be a criminal offence.

The report did not provide details of the draft law, but said it would focus on protecting 'animal welfare', a concept alien to mainland authorities, who have repeatedly used the threat of rabies as justification for culling dogs, stray or not.

Last month's cull in Hanzhong, where 20,000 dogs were clubbed in 10 days, stirred an uproar on the mainland and worldwide after one of the chilling kills was caught on video.

Four men were seen laughing as they cracked the skull of a dog with a bamboo pole.

But Hanzhong was not the only dog cull in recent years. From Yunnan to Shandong , dog-lovers have feared for their pets' lives and are increasingly becoming more vocal about such so-called rabies prevention measures. A recent planned dog cull in Heilongjiang was halted after a backlash.

'The right way to prevent rabies is to give these stray dogs shots,' Li Jun , an animal rights advocate from Tianjin , said.

'There are no technical difficulties there; it's a matter of whether they want to do it, or whether they respect lives enough.'

Ms Lu of the small-animal protection association said: 'It is now urgent for us to have an animal protection law. It is a law crucial to ensure social harmony. It's a sign of a progressive civilisation.'