Category Archives: courts

“Chatting with China’s security apparatus”

Melissa Chan from Al Jazeera is still one of the best things to happen to China journalism in a long time- in her most recent blog post she describes a run-in with state security while trying to interview Chinese lawyer Pu Zhiqiang:

Al Jazeera’s team decided to speak to rights attorney Pu Zhiqiang, known for his work representing Ai Weiwei and himself an object of frequent police surveillance, to solicit his opinion.

What happened next was not surprising, but on this day, felt particularly ironic: plainclothes police officers prevented us from interviewing Pu on camera, even as we explained to them that this new legislation would curtail their state security powers.

The language used by the officers, who refused to identify themselves, might also be interesting to those unfamiliar with this kind of state apparatus: Orwellian, wrapped in code, and offering our crew “recommendations” that if disobeyed, could have meant some physical confrontation from the two men in sunglasses who were called up for reinforcement during the following exchange.

This took place in the private office of rights attorney Pu Zhiqiang. The officers present were from China’s “guo bao” — its national security/secret police ministry. They had no legal basis to be there.

Despite no prerogative to do so, we offered to allow the officers to sit in on the interview. We even offered them to record the questions we wished to ask Mr. Pu. I felt that the questions were very straightforward.

Read the rest to see what they said. Pretty unbelievable.

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Filed under courts, intimidation, law

“Legalizing the Tools of Repression”

Nicholas Bequelin on the Criminal Procedure Law rewrite:

The more progressive-minded factions of the Communist Party and the government consider legal reforms to be integral to China’s modernization. They see enlightened self-interest in giving a greater role to the rule of law, and reforming the criminal code to offer due-process rights that resemble international norms is a key part of this effort.

The other camp is made up of the powerful security apparatus and the more conservative and hard-line elements in the party and the government. This faction has become increasingly powerful since it was assigned the leading role for the security of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

To this group, the law is purely instrumental — a tool of state power — and should not be altered to empower the citizenry and curtail the authority of the party. The hard-liners believe it is critical to allow security services to deal expediently with threats to the broadest possible interpretation of national security and public order, even if that means frequent miscarriages of justice.

Article 73 would allow the police to secretly detain citizens for up to six months on suspicion of “endangering state security” or “terrorism” — two vague charges that have long been manipulated by the government to crack down on dissidents, human-rights lawyers, civil-society activists and Tibetan and Uighur separatists.

Even more chilling, these secret detentions would be carried out in venues controlled by the police outside of regular detention facilities, greatly increasing the likelihood of ill-treatment. Gao Zhisheng, for example, was tortured while in such detention.

Why is China’s leadership considering giving more powers to the security services, when it means bringing into disrepute what otherwise could have be an important legal reform?

One reason is that on any given day, 200 to 300 protests take place across China. The scale of the protests varies from less than a dozen people to tens of thousands. The protests are fueled by a host of labor, environmental and livelihood issues, compounded by corruption and abuses of power, primarily among local officials. Unable to take their grievances to the courts, a growing number of people are taking them to the streets. Often, only the police stand between “the masses” and the party.

Second, the leadership is increasingly concerned that it is losing the battle against the spread of “global values” among the citizenry — code in China for human rights, the rule of law and freedom of expression. Hard-liners believe they need the power to take dissidents and critics “off the grid,” both to silence them and to make an example of them to others. Legalizing “disappearances” provides just the tool.

The rise of the national security faction is one of the most foreboding trends in China. Whether Article 73 is adopted or not will signal a great deal about whether China is making progress toward the rule of law or solidifying the supremacy of the security state.

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Filed under courts, enforced disappearance, human rights, law

“Monk Charged After Repeated Detentions”

The repression machine is still on a roll, even outside of the conflicted Ngaba area- via RFA we learn that Labrang Jigme, the man interviewed in this video:

… has been been charged with ‘splittist activities’ and may be sentenced soon:

Jigme Gyatso , a monk at the Labrang monastery in the Kanlho (in Chinese, Gannan) prefecture of China’s Gansu province, was most recently picked up by Chinese police on Aug. 20, 2011, his brother reported at the time.

“Since then, he has been held without any word concerning his fate,” a Tibetan source close to the family told RFA, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“At the beginning of February, his brother Sonam Tsering received a notice dated Jan. 2 from the Kanlho Public Security Bureau [PSB] informing him that Jigme Gyatso had been formally charged with ‘splittist activities,’” the source said.

Meanwhile, a Tibetan traffic policeman from Machu county, also in Kanlho, was handed a four-and-a-half-year jail term for “rebelling” against the Chinese government during regionwide protests in 2008, a Tibetan living in exile said, citing contacts in the region.

“His name is Sherab, and he is from the [district of] Dzoge,” the source said.

“He had been a monk for a while, but later joined the Chinese police force, where he served for four years.”

When Tibetans in Machu rose against Chinese rule in 2008, Sherab “went to the Tibetan side and attacked the Chinese police,” the source said.

“He was detained sometime in May or June of 2008, and since then nothing was heard about him for a while.”

Although the news in China won’t report any of this, locals will definitely be following these developments. This is the kind of thing that destabilizes regions, Beijing…

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Filed under courts, enforced disappearance, ethnic conflict, prison, protests, Tibet, torture

“China Set to Punish Another Human Rights Activist”

I’m sure this will go over even better than the house arrest of a blind lawyer and his daughter:

First the police crippled Ni Yulan’s legs. Then the authorities took away her license to practice law. Later, while she was serving time in jail, demolition crews tore down the courtyard house that had been in her family for two generations.

Freed from prison in 2010 but unable to walk, she ended up living in a Beijing park with her husband for nearly two months, until unflattering publicity led local officials to move them into a cheap hotel.

Their predicament will most likely take a turn for the worse in the coming weeks, when a court in the capital’s Xicheng district is expected to sentence the couple on charges that include “picking quarrels” and disturbing public order. “I’m afraid the sentence this time will be especially heavy,” their lawyer, Cheng Hai, said after their hearing on Thursday.

The case of Ms. Ni and Mr. Dong highlights the ways officials can leverage the legal system against those they deem to be nuisances. Ms. Ni, 51, who received a law degree from China University of Political Science and Law, drew the attention of the authorities in 2002, when she used her expertise to help neighbors in Xicheng fighting eviction, part of the government’s sweeping effort to remake the capital ahead of the Olympics.

Detained after she tried to photograph demolition crews, she said she was kicked and pummeled over the course of 15 hours, leaving her incontinent and unable to walk. She was released after 75 days but continued her legal work while also seeking redress for the beating. Over the next few years, she was arrested twice more and convicted of “obstructing public business.”

During her three years in prison, she said, she endured frequent indignities: An officer once urinated on her face, she said, and prison officials often took away her crutches, forcing her to crawl from her cell to the prison workshop. One of her tasks included cleaning toilets.

Her daughter, too, said she was subjected to government surveillance. “The police followed me to school and watched me all day so I would experience the fear,” said the daughter, Dong Xuan, now 27.

During their trial last week, Ms. Ni, thin and weak, was propped up on a makeshift bed, an oxygen mask tethered to her face. Outside, a heavy police presence prevented family members, supporters and foreign diplomats from entering the courtroom. Their lawyer, Mr. Cheng, claims the proceedings were illegal because 9 of his 10 witnesses were barred from testifying.

Reached by phone, a spokesman for the Xicheng District People’s Court declined to answer questions about the case.

Cases like this are part of what convinces me that the Communist Party isn’t anywhere near as strong as it looks, in the long term. Does a secure Party need to go to such lengths to attack a women whose crime is lawyering and who needs an oxygen mask to survive?

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Filed under activism, courts, law, violence

“Little Yueyue and China’s moral road”

Where to even start with this one… a few years ago, a man in Nanjing helped a senior citizen who had fallen over. He was then taken to court and blamed for her injuries, with the judge ruling that he must have been responsible, because why else would he help her out? This is one of those times where having a ludicrously terrible judicial system which only exists to serve the powerful and moneyed and can’t actually function in any other capacity comes back to bite you. Since then a slight nervousness about helping others has turned into an outright phobia- Chinese friends and students have told me on multiple occasions that I shouldn’t ever help anyone in distress, because I’ll end up taken to court and the Nanjing ruling will happen again.

It seems to have reached a head with the case of Yueyue, a child struck by a car who was then ignored by passersby, much to the outrage of the general public. A piece from Asia Times:

“What has happened to our morality?” “Where are our hearts of sympathy?” “How come we could ever become even more cruel and hard-hearted than cold-blooded animals?” These were questions being asked by outraged Chinese media and bloggers over a recent incident hit-and-run incident which saw bystanders indifferently walk past a toddler who was struck by a van, only for the child to be hit by a second vehicle.

The incident happened on October 13 in Foshan city in southern Guangdong, the richest province in China, and was captured by a surveillance camera. The footage was aired by the province’s Southern Television Guangdong (TVS) and posted last Saturday on the Chinese video site Youku, drawing around 2 million views and thousands of comments on that site alone.

The footage shows a two-and-a-half-year-old girl hit and run over by a large white van while walking down a street in a market district of Foshan. About six minutes later, another passing van runs her over again. During the interval, at least 18 people walk by without helping her. Finally last an elderly trash collector comes to her aid, moving her to a side of the street and calling her mother.

The apathy of the bystanders and people in the neighborhood has shocked the public, with media commentators and netizens seething over an incident that raises questions about the morality and conscience of today’s China.

“[Ancient Chinese thinker] Mencius said, ‘The heart of sympathy is essential to man.’ What has made us so apathetic?… Lack of sympathy is a moral disaster facing us all … Let us all ask ourselves if we had passed by the scene, how many of us would have stopped to help the girl?” wrote a commentary on Chongqing Times.

It went on to blame the system for a lack of mechanisms that support good deeds. “Our current system is obviously in an embarrassing status: corruption continues to run wild and evil people enjoy privileges, scandals with charity organizations such as the Red Cross stop people from donating to help the needy. [3] All this certainly shakes up the beliefs of kind-hearted people.”

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“Separation of Powers? The dragon doesn’t believe it exists.”

Great post from ChinaRealPolitik about separation of power in Beijing:

I think a fair proportion of senior CCP members don’t believe it truly exists. Anywhere. When foreign governments talk about the rule of law and independent institutions, I rather suspect many Chinese officials believe this is a ploy to lecture China, as they actually can’t comprehend of a system where those ‘in charge’ can’t make decisions in areas outside their sphere of influence.

Norway is taking China to the WTO over claims that China is imposing import controls on Norwegian salmon, in retaliation for the Nobel Committee’s awarding of the Prize to Liu Xiaobo.

Here’s the thing – it was an independent committee. The Norwegian government had no say over who the Peace Prize committee chose. Yet, the Chinese government remains determined to punish Norway. There are a number of possible reasons, all of which may be true to certain degrees. There are probably Chinese officials who genuinely think that the Norwegian government was somehow complicit in the decision. Some think that pressuring the government will result in the government pressuring the committee (smarter, but still underestimates the resilience of the separation of powers, which tends to be pretty strong in Scandinavia). There are also some who are angry and want to punish Norway whatever way they can, and as always, a significant number who are doing it to demonstrate their nationalist credentials.

This is far from an isolated case. Remember Lai Changxing? He was a Chinese criminal kingpin who went into hiding in Canada. The Chinese government wanted him back and seemed to genuinely think that the Canadian Government had the power to wrest him from the courts and hand him over. Citing comments from Canadian officials, Sinocism quotes a book which said:

“‘They never, never, never got it that we could not force the outcome, right up to Zhu Rongji and the highest levels. It was beyond their comprehension. They just did not believe that we cannot tell our courts what to do.”

It brings to mind a discussion I had with a Chinese friend of mine. It was around the time Obama’s ratings were starting to take a hammering, and I mentioned that there were probably a few news commentators on the Fox network who would be gleefully preparing reports on that. My friend asked quite honestly why Obama didn’t just close down Fox news. I wasn’t quite sure where to begin answering that, but in fairness, she wasn’t somebody who follows the news closely – but I think she does represent a fair sampling of how many ordinary members of the Chinese public think governments – all governments – operate.

Rule of law and separation of powers are the two things that would completely turn China around, even if they kept a one-party system. It’s pretty much my refrain here, but without these concepts I think China is in for a rough decade or two.

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Filed under Communist Party, courts, political reform

“Lawyers Express Criticism of Criminal Procedure Law Revision Draft”

Siweiluozi has written up a fairly detailed summary of the Criminal Procedure Law rewrite. For specifics go to his site- here I’ll just quote his conclusion:

Looking at the CPL draft overall, the public security system has turned the tables on their attackers and scored a big victory. The procuratorate has held their ground, particularly since some of extremely unreasonable provisions haven’t been eliminated — so they’ve held steady. As for the courts, well when it’s come to this point, anything’s okay with them. But lawyers? What happened to the lawyers?

Not a good sign for the future of trials and courts here.

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