Controversy surrounding convicted lawyer Li Zhuang last year at the height of the Chongqing triad crackdown looks set to snowball as authorities say he may face more charges for illegal acts he allegedly committed in the course of his legal defence work.
Li is due to complete a 1 1/2-year prison sentence in June for fabricating evidence while defending Chongqing crime boss Gong Gangmo in November 2009. However, freedom appears elusive as Chongqing authorities and state media joined hands yesterday in a fresh round of criticism against Li.
Zhou Bo, spokesman for the municipal government, said on Tuesday evening that since Li's imprisonment, authorities had received complaints about the lawyer's behaviour in defending other criminal cases.
The Chongqing Jiangbei District People's Procuratorate was reviewing those cases to decide whether or not to press charges, Zhou said, without revealing specifics about the complaints.
Also, Xinhua ran a 7,000-word article stressing the fairness of the two court trials against Li and how he would do anything for money.
The report made sweeping statements such as 'using such 'unusual' measures to help clients 'get rid of trouble' has always been among Li's tricks'. The 'unusual measures' refer to his coaching of Gong to claim torture and, hence, forced confessions.
Li's conviction whipped up a storm within the mainland's legal circles at the time, with many saying the case reeked of procedural irregularities against the background of a political campaign that could not fail.
The case also contained twists and turns that rivaled fiction: Li was turned in by his own client Gong, and while he had insisted on his innocence during the trial, he suddenly pleaded guilty at an appeal hearing, surprising even his lawyers.
More dramatic was when he yelled after the appeal ruling that his previous admission of guilt was forced and that judicial officials had told him there would be a suspended sentence if he admitted guilt. The court made a final ruling that he still had to go to jail, but slashed his term by one year, from 2 1/2 years to 1 1/2 years.
While most lawyers are unwilling to comment on whether Li was truly guilty of the alleged criminal acts, they all bore the consequence: for months, every lawyer on the mainland had to learn Li's case and how not to behave like him. And the high-profile reports on him reinforced a public image of defence lawyers being immoral and money-hungry people who help criminals.