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China: Controversial conviction of lawyer in corruption crackdown

Discussion over China's biggest news story of 2009, the Chongqing gang trials, carries on into 2010 with the conviction last week of Li Zhuang, one of twenty lawyers detained throughout the corruption crackdown.

Sentenced on January 8 to 2.5 years in prison for falsifying evidence and interfering with witness testimonies in his defense of alleged mafia boss Gong Gangmo, Inside-Out China blogger Xujun Eberlein notes in a detailed background of Li's trial that its outcome could affect progress in China toward judicial independence.

Multiple controversies surround Li's trial; one of several which Chinese Law Prof blogger Donald C. Clarke looks at is that of the law being used against lawyers:

“The trial has drawn attention because it involves the use of Article 306 of the Criminal Law, which Chinese lawyers have long complained has been abused by the authorities to persecute them.”

Another main point of contention is that of the eight witnesses whose ‘testimony’ was used to convict Li, not one actually attended the trial. Then there were the procedural problems, of which Sina blogger Liu Xuyi asks:

第一,为什么不让证人上庭作证?

第二,为什么不是异地审理?

第三,为什么此案在重庆形成一边倒的舆论风气?

First, why weren't witnesses allowed to testify?

Second, why was the trial held out of [Beijing's] jurisdiction?

Third, why has discussion of this case in Chongqing been so one-sided?

Another question being asked, with many seeing Bo Xilai‘s months-long campaign as a throwback to Cultural Revolution-era politics, is defending a client now tantamount to collaboration in the crime?

As Xujun Eberlein points out, Li's conviction is widely supported in Chongqing. Residents there seem to accept Bo's tactics which have done much to stem the lawlessness and corruption and left many across the country wishful. Online, however, support for is Li quite strong and not confined to those from the legal community. Many have pointed out that the standard for lawyers is not to fight political battles, but instead to provide the service of protecting clients’ interests.

Well-known lawyer and blogger He Weifang voiced loud protest to the verdict, followed the next day by a post from scholar and blogger Li Damiao, who, going back to the assumption that Bo's crackdown on corruption is politically motivated, takes a historical look at the case and compares the persecution of Li to the stories of former Chairman and “traitor” Liu Shaoqi and Bo Xilai's own father and former political prisoner, Bo Yibo.

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所谓“文革”,相当多的冤假错案都是靠“证词”建立起来的,即使薄一波“六十一人叛徒集团案”,也是置白纸黑字的档案史实于不顾,靠着几个人的说词来指证作叛徒,“内人党案”,“冀东叛徒集团案”等等无不如此。阅读再早的“高饶反党集团案”的资料,近乎都是某某说“高岗说”,某某说“饶漱石说”,甚至是没有第三人在场的两人私下对话。文革的构陷,无非是如此的延续而已。

During the so-called “Cultural Revolution”, many of the cases in which people were unjustly or falsely charged were built on “admission”; even Bo Yibo of “The Clique of Sixty-one Traitors”, whose files are there in black and white despite historical fact, was proven based on the words of a few to be a traitor, just as was seen with the Inner Mongolian People's Party and the East Hebei Traitors Clique.

Did Li get in the way of Bo Jr.'s trial or is he just as corrupt as those he has made a career defending? One of the main bits of evidence by official media used to sway public opinion against him, a text message he allegedly sent to colleagues in Beijing which read “they're stupid, they have lots of money, get here quick” did not, as NetEase blogger Wuyue Sanren noted in his blog post from the day of Li's sentencing, as easily as it could have been obtained, ever appear in court as evidence of Li's guilt.

With state-owned media launching an attack on Li, lawyers from Beijing and across the country to took the Internet in his profession's defense. In this post at Yadian, a platform for law bloggers, Yu Chen writes:

[…]我就在想,是不是律师以后打官司都不能收钱了呢?律师是不是也要先看看辩护人再做辩护呢?钱多也是一种罪?也许有人说,他收的钱是黑钱,那就是说,这个钱来历不明,被告是通过非法手段取得的,那么就是说被告是黑社会,这钱是黑钱。可问题在于被告目前还只是犯罪嫌疑人,未经审判,何以是黑社会呢?认为他是黑社会的必有理由证据,那么请把证据拿出来,把理由说出来。

I'm thinking, does this mean that from now on that lawyers can't accept money for cases they take on? Do lawyers have to meet with Counsel now before they can launch their defense? Is charging too much a crime? Maybe some people are saying, the money he's taking is dirty money; in other words, the source of the money isn't known, therefore the accused obtained it through illegal means, therefore the accused is a mafia member, and the money is dirty. But the problem is that at present the accused is only a criminal suspect, there hasn't been a verdict yet, so how does that make him mafia? You must have evidence if you're going to say that he's mafia, so bring the evidence out, let's hear your reasons.

On January 10, news appeared that a police investigation had discovered that during his time on the case in Chongqing, Li had also hired the services of prostitutes. To this, legal blogger Yuan Yulai writes:

说实话,按照我们常人的逻辑推理,李庄在重庆担任黑社会头目的辩护人,竟然还敢在那里嫖娼,是断不可想象的事。除非他是一个疯子。

To be honest, just working with the logic of us common people, it's absolutely unimaginable that Li would actually go hire prostitutes while he was in Chongqing acting as defense for a mob boss. Unless he's plain crazy.

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