Chongqing Court Convicts Prominent Defense Attorney

January 22, 2010 3:48 am Last Updated: January 22, 2010 2:54 pm

Prominent defense lawyer Li Zhuang has been sentenced to two and a half years on a charge of “fabricating evidence” in a high-profile lawsuit, drawing national attention to China’s legal system.

The sentence, handed down by a court in the southwestern city of Chongqing, has raised questions about whether China’s legal system is being manipulated in a power struggle between two political factions.

Li, a criminal defense attorney from Beijing, was arrested in December and convicted on Jan. 8, less than a month after his arrest. The charge related to his representation of Gong Gangmo, an alleged organized crime leader. Gong claimed that Li told him to say he was tortured by police during his interrogation.

Gong was arrested during the “hitting the black” campaign initiated by Bo Xilai, the Communist Party Chief of Chongqing. Launched in June 2009, the campaign was trumpeted as a means to crack down on gangsters and local corruption. Although it was highly praised by the state-run media, many analysts say the campaign had a second agenda—defaming Bo’s predecessor, Mr. Wang Yang.

It has been reported that over 1,000 people, including millionaires, businessmen, and government officials were arrested in the campaign. Many of them were Wang’s trusted officials.

Another Victim of Article 306

Li’s conviction has shaken the legal community in China who say that, in addition to becoming a victim in a politically motivated campaign, he has also become the latest in a string of lawyers convicted for violating a controversial clause of criminal law known as Article 306 which states that lawyers can be targeted as defendants if they are accused of destroying or fabricating evidence.

Grace Li, a former judge in Dalian City, thinks Article 306 has been misused by officials to silence defense lawyers.

“Authorities in Chongqing were trying to use the conviction of Li Zhuang to warn off hundreds of other lawyers who are involved in defending clients caught up in the ‘hitting the black’ campaign,” Grace Li said during an interview with The Epoch Times.

Three years ago, Chinese lawyers strongly appealed for nullification of Article 306, contending that it severely restricts the right of a lawyer to defend a client and even impacts their personal safety and freedom.

To date, several hundred lawyers have been imprisoned as a result of Article 306, accounting for about 80 percent of convicted lawyers. A blog post by Wang Silu, also a criminal attorney, stated that Li Zhuang’s case will certainly trigger more worries and fears among Chinese lawyers.

The Issue of Judicial Independence

State-run media have reported that Chongqing authorities want to have public security, procuracy, and the judiciary work together to “hit the black.”

"The judicial department should be independent," said Jason Ma, an economic and political commentator for New Tang Dynasty TV. "Public security plays the role of reporting criminal cases and procuracy plays the role of establishing criminal cases. If the three organs work together, there’s an element of determining guilt first and finding evidence to support the verdict later,” Ma commented.

A Landmark Case for Defense Lawyers

Chen Youxi served as counsel for Li Zhuang and is also vice-chairman of the Hangzhou Lawyer Association. According to the Metropolitan Express, a daily newspaper in Hangzhou, Chen said the verdict against Li was based on unfounded evidence and faulty reasoning.

Chen said this has become a landmark case. If the verdict of the first trial against Li is recognized, there will be no real defense for lawyers in criminal trials in the future.

On Dec. 16, 2009, 19 Beijing lawyers, including Zhang Kai, Li Fangping, and Li Hongbing, co-signed a letter to the regime’s People’s Congress Standing Committee and Ministry of Public Security stating that Li’s arrest and the ensuing media campaign against him have severely damaged the reputations of Chinese lawyers.

Similarly, on Jan. 7, two Beijing lawyers, Xie Yanyi and Tang Jitian, recommended an investigation into the rights’ violations and misuse of power during the “hitting the black” campaign, claiming Li’s case had precipitated a reputation crisis for lawyers throughout China.

“I noticed on the Internet that some of the bar associations and law firms publicly stated that they would no longer take criminal cases,” said Xie, adding that Li is an influential lawyer from a reputable law firm.

“As Gong’s defense lawyer, it was Li’s responsibility to protect his client and advise his client to present important evidence in court. Yet Li was convicted for doing what a criminal defense lawyer is supposed to do,” Grace Li said.

“Li Zhuang’s case makes it harder for a criminal lawyer to defend a client properly. Especially if someone from a high political office has a special interest in a case—the accused might be presumed guilty before the trial even begins,” she added.

Read the original Chinese article.