Lawyer wronged in Bo's crackdown fights back
Looking relaxed at a tea house near his home in Beijing this week, former defence lawyer Li Zhuang - stripped of his licence after being convicted in February 2010 of fabricating evidence while representing a Chongqing crime boss - reflected on the fall of Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai and his controversial anti-triad campaign.
'Whether they will accept my request for a retrial will be a tell-tale sign. It will show whether authorities are willing to rectify their wrongdoings during the anti-triad campaign,' he said. 'My case is representative of the wrongful convictions during the campaign.'
Li's client, Gong Gangmo, was one of the first big crime bosses arrested, in June 2009, during the crackdown that began that month. When Li himself was arrested in December that year, the two cases became a rallying point for legal professionals around the mainland: they were considered to exemplify the campaign's disregard for the rule of law and extensive procedural breaches, including the use of torture in obtaining confessions.
Two years later, in the wake of Bo's ousting last month for 'serious breaches of party discipline', others aggrieved during the campaign are now rallying behind Li.
He now meets regularly with people from the southwestern municipality looking for redress or a retrial. Some are family members of those jailed for triad involvement, some were wrongfully arrested as alleged triad members and later released, and some merely became unwitting victims in the crackdown, including investors in a company seized by authorities after one shareholder was deemed to be a triad leader.
By Li's estimate, he has spoken to people involved in at least 40 or 50 cases. While he cannot legally represent them, as he is no longer a lawyer, he can still advise them on how to prepare appeals, such as by explaining what kind of evidence they need and how to collect it.
In one such case, a fine of 60 million yuan (HK$73.6 million) was paid, but police refused to issue a receipt.
The number of people seeking help is growing quickly, but Li said many still worry about the consequences of going public, as even though Bo has been ousted, it remains unclear what will happen next.
'I can't say that all of those detained, arrested or convicted are innocent. But I am confident that 100 per cent of the cases suffered from procedural problems, one way or another,' Li said. 'I am saying this because if I, being a trained defence lawyer, was treated the way I was, think of the other defendants who aren't as educated in the law.'
The anti-triad campaign, a pet project of Bo's launched in June 2009, saw tens of thousands of people, including police, arrested for alleged criminal ties. At least 1,000 people went on trial and more than 60 were sentenced to death within a year.
Bo's supporters commended him on his commitment to cleaning up crime, but critics said the scale and ferocity of the campaign indicated that he used it as a means to take down his opponents.
'Everyone supports a campaign that fights crime,' Li said, 'but we must now reflect. We cannot fight crime at the expense of the law.'
In the case involving Gong, his family approached Li in November 2009 asking him to defend Gong against criminal charges that could have led to him being executed. However, after he met Gong three times, all under police supervision, Li was himself arrested and charged with coaching his client in an attempt to overturn his confession by claiming it was obtained through torture. Less than a month later, Li was sentenced to 2?years in prison, later reduced to 1?years on appeal.
When Li was due to be released in June last year, Chongqing authorities decided to charge him with fabricating evidence in another case. But volunteer lawyers from across the country came to his aid, and prosecutors eventually withdrew the charges.
Not content to simply move on, Li filed for a retrial with the Supreme People's Court on December 12 - the two-year anniversary of his arrest - but was told he first had to go through the Chongqing courts. His lawyer filed a request this month with the Chongqing No 1 Intermediate Court, and even managed to get a meeting with a judge in charge of accepting cases. Now it's a waiting game.
Professor Chen Guangzhong , who teaches criminal procedure law at the Chinese University of Political Science and Law, said it might be too soon to ask authorities to comb through the fallout from the anti-triad campaign. But he said when the time was right, Chongqing authorities - police, prosecutors and courts - should initiate a review.
'We shouldn't jump to the conclusion that all the cases must be wrong, and therefore need rectifying, simply because Bo was found to be problematic. Nor can we say that all cases must be right,' Chen said. 'We must handle each case on its own merits.'
In some cases, he said, if there was an issue involving factual inaccuracies or procedural irregularities, it might be easier for the defendants to seek a retrial. For others, such as those where torture is alleged, it might be harder for those convicted to get a second chance in court, as they must provide proof.
Professor He Weifang , a law expert at Peking University and well-known blogger, said what happens next depends on politics.
'This has been done before. After the Cultural Revolution we saw [former Chinese leader] Hu Yaobang allow the overturning of wrongful cases,' He said. 'However, I haven't seen such indications at the moment.'
For Li, the outcome of his retrial application seems less important now than it did in December, as he said he had achieved some peace last month when Bo and his top aide in the campaign, former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun , fell from grace.
He says he will continue to manage a team of lawyers on how to handle cases.
'Under law, the court has one month to return its response, so we should know within the next few weeks,' Li said. 'As a law practitioner, I want to see my case overturned. But the situation in Chongqing is complicated now. The new leaders might consider it too soon to reflect on wrongs made during the anti-triad campaign, as their priority at the moment is to maintain stability.
'I believe it's only a matter of time. Judicial reform is the trend. Our country's rule of law can only become better, not worse.'