Journalists barred amid tight security around courtroom

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 July, 2007, 12:00am

The conduct of the Luk Yu Tea House murder trial highlights the secrecy of the mainland's judicial system, which often treats journalists as antagonists.

Amid high security at the Shenzhen Intermediate People's Court yesterday, all reporters were barred from the courtroom.

The authorities had arranged for all public seats in the courtroom to be filled. Members of the public who turned up were asked to produce a document termed a 'listening permit' which is not usually required.

More upset than the rejected newshounds was a middle-aged woman weeping at the front gate.

The mother of Li Jun, a robbery suspect being tried in a separate case, was denied entry as she did not have a permit. 'I want to see my son,' she said. 'I was told I could just walk in.'

On a normal day that would not have been a problem. But the sensitive nature of the murder case had prompted the authorities to tighten security in the whole building.

A source said the authorities were unhappy that a journalist had bypassed security and gained entry to last year's trial. Details were then leaked to other journalists from both Hong Kong and the mainland.

Veteran lawyer Pu Zhiqiang said the tactics to stop journalists defied mainland laws, which require open trials. 'Exceptions can only be made for cases involving state secrets, top commercial secrets, privacy or underage people,' he said.

'But in practice, many cases deemed as sensitive or embarrassing for the government are carefully guarded against the press.'

Filling up the public seats was a tactic often employed by the courts to turn away journalists, Mr Pu said.

Such practices may further damage the credibility of the judicial system, the lawyer said. 'Justice should be done in a visible way.'