China: Lawyers for Murder Suspects Detained Under Controversial Law

The detention of four criminal defense lawyers in Guangxi province early this month on charges of witness tampering has angered lawyers across China. Luo Sifang, Liang Wucheng, Yang Zhonghan and Yang Zaixin, each from different law firms, had previously been hired to represent four residents of Beihai accused of killing a man in late 2009 and throwing his body in the ocean.

The four defendants had been involved earlier that evening in a street fight with the deceased, among others, but three witnesses were able to provide an alibi at the time of the murder. At least that's what they told the four lawyers now being held in Beihai. Presenting a version of the events in court which differed from official statements taken earlier by police amounted to withdrawal of a confession, giving this case something in common that of Li Zhuang's.

Detained lawyer Yang Zaixin's business card

Detained lawyer Yang Zaixin's business card

Then the witnesses for the case were detained, and police started missing deadlines such as informing family members that the four lawyers had even been detained, or letting them meet.

Once police took on the lawyers, media from around China began reporting on the number of large holes which quickly appeared when initial confessions given to police were held up against details in the case. For example, the confession hinged on the four defendants’ saying that they had killed the deceased by stabbing him, but then no stab wounds [zh, Southern Weekly] were found on the body.

Beijing lawyer Zhou Ze writes [zh] of the case:


Aside from the “smashing” of all police, courts and public prosecutors during the Cultural Revolution, it's historically unprecedented to see four defense lawyers simultaneously detained over their defense role in a single criminal case. Charging these four Guangxi lawyers with “obstructing testimony” could very well just be the harshest persecution seen against lawyers since China began its economic reforms.

Also from Southern Weekly reporting on the situation, it was only after local police began ignoring procedure that the All China Lawyers Association (ACLA) became involved (and has since met some resistance from local authorities) and lawyers from Beijing and elsewhere started making plans to move in.

Reportedly, all employees at the four law firms of the four detained lawyers were called in by the local Guangxi province lawyers association and told not to talk to any media or out-of-province lawyers. Judging from a few comments on Weibo, the ACLA has heard about the order.

As with Li Zhuang, the case raises the issue of “big stick” article 306 of China's Criminal Law. According to Elizabeth M. Lynch at the China Law & Policy blog, the problem lies in the fact that:

…even with a lawyer, a defendant will still have difficulty in raising the issue of a coerced confession. A defendant’s changing his testimony, even if the prior confession was in fact the result of torture, is not in the self-interest of his attorney. Article 306 of China’s Criminal Law (CL) provides criminal liability, and a prison term of up to seven years, to lawyers who entice their clients to change their testimony in opposition to the facts or to give false testimony. While the overarching purpose of the sanction – to ensure that lawyers do not encourage their clients to lie – is laudable, Article 306 has been used by police and prosecutor as a way to intimidate defense counsel from questioning the validity of any confession, even when torture is obvious.

For anyone with time to do some follow-up, six very high profile lawyers arrived in Beihai Sunday, and have been live-blogging what they encounter, with meetings with local officials set for Monday. Updates today include:


Lawyer Wang Xing: The parents of the four defendants in the murder case and those of two of the witnesses have arrived at the hotel. I've explained to them the details of the case, and briefed them on the goals and tasks of the legal team now arriving.


Wang Xing: Pei Jinde's wife spoke with me about some questions regarding the case, asking me why, if forcing confessions through torture has been prohibited since 2003, does it still happen. I said that the act of extorting confessions through torture has always been legally prohibited, but has also never gone away.


Wang Xing: The parents are signing to give us power of attorney.
Lawyers Chen Guangwu, Wang Xing and Yang Mingkua and Guangxi lawyers assisting with the case are getting ready to go out and eat. If you don't eat, you starve!


10:35 pm: Lawyers Zhu Mingyong and Zhang Kai are already in a taxi on their way to the hotel.


10:42 pm: Chen Guangwu: Thank you, everyone, for all the attention you're paying to this. The six of us have all arrived more or less as scheduled here in Beihai, Guangxi. We used dinner just now to quickly get to know each other and work out a rough plan for tomorrow. Mainly we'll be meeting with the four lawyer suspects. It's possible that we'll also meet the three witnesses and the four defendants in the murder case.


Beihai is nice, great environment and orderly surroundings; the social management is noteworthy. It gives us more confidence for tomorrow's meetings. We believe the local authorities will handle the case in accordance with the law and arrange timely meetings for us instead of giving us the runaround or obstructing our work. Also, as we've discovered since our arrival, one of the witnesses has already been released, the reason being that the charges being sought have been reduced, that criminal charges are no longer being sought.

Start the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.