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China: Rail Passengers Refusing to Vacate Others’ Seats Punished by Administrative Detention

(Dec. 20, 2018) On December 3, 2018, two rail passengers in China were reportedly punished by administrative detention after refusing to vacate seats booked by others, which may be the harshest punishments handed out in cases of this kind in the country. (Mandy Zuo, China Gets Tough on Train ‘Seat Robbers’ Who Refuse to Move, SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST (last updated Dec. 15, 2018).)

According to news reports, in one case, a woman on the train from Shanghai to Beijing argued with a man who claimed to have reserved the seat she was in. She verbally abused other passengers and refused to vacate the seat even after the conductors pointed out that she was in the wrong car. The woman was removed from the train when it stopped at Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, where the police decided to detain her for seven days. (Zuo, supra; Sitting in Wrong Seat and Refusing to Move, Female High-Speed Train “Seat-Robber” Administratively Detained for Seven Days, YANTSE EVENING NEWS (Dec. 14, 2018) (in Chinese).)

The second passenger, traveling on a train from Baotou, Inner Mongolia, to Dalian, Liaoning Province, insisted that she should take the seat because she was there first. The woman also verbally abused other passengers and a railway police officer who tried to persuade her to move. She was detained for five days. (Zuo, supra.)

In both cases, the passengers were punished by the police for disturbing public order on public transport. (Id.) In China, the police exercise administrative detention powers to sanction minor breaches of the law that are not considered serious enough to be subject to criminal penalties. According to the Public Security Administration Punishment Law, whoever “disturbs the public order on buses, trolleybuses, trains, ships, aircraft, or other means of public transportation” is punishable by a warning or a fine of up to 200 Chinese yuan (about US$29); if the circumstances are “relatively serious,” the person may be detained for five to ten days, which may be combined with a fine of up to 500 Chinese yuan (about US$72). (Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo Zhian Guanli Chufa Fa [PRC Public Security Administration Punishment Law] (promulgated Aug. 28, 2005, amended Oct. 26, 2012) art. 23.)