Manhole cover thieves could face death penalty in China

China’s top judicial bodies have introduced strict punishments for those who remove or damage manhole covers, with the maximum sentence being the death penalty, it’s reported.

The Supreme People’s Court, The Supreme People’s Procuratorate and the Ministry of Public Security have issued a joint statement, instructing courts to penalise people more strictly if they have been found to steal or damage manhole covers, the official People’s Daily reports.

The statement said that the removal or destruction of manhole covers was sufficient for people to be charged with either “endangering transportation”, or “endangering public safety”.

The maximum penalty for both of these charges is the death sentence.

The official People’s Daily said that it was of the view of the highest legal powers that “the theft or destruction of manhole covers on the road… is sufficient to overturn/destroy a car or tram”.

Wan Chun, a senior official at China’s highest agency responsible for prosecution, explained the move, saying: “Manhole covers are often ignored, but they very much relate to people’s lives, personal safety and property security”.

“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 punishment.”

The guideline also stipulates that those who work in state organs could also be charged with “crimes of dereliction of duty and abuse of power”, the official Xinhua News Agency says.

According to China Daily, there were more than 70 injuries or deaths due to broken or stolen manhole covers between 2017 and 2019.

Some people have attempted to steal manhole covers in order to sell them for scrap metal. China Daily notes that there has also been a problem with taxi drivers removing manhole covers to “steal water and clean their vehicles”.

The new laws have ignited lively conversation on Chinese social media platforms.

Social media users say that people in the central province of Henan have gained a reputation at a national level for such behaviour. The Global Times once called them “manhole maniacs”.

This has even become the subject of a sketch in China’s annual Spring Festival gala.

Many voice their support for the new laws, but others are more critical, noting that the laws do not factor in a much bigger problem in the country: drink-driving.