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.
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:
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.
…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:
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!