Both concern the recent abduction and detention of Song Ze, a volunteer attorney at the Open Constitution Initiative. Like most recent college graduates, Song Ze is an idealist young man who wants to use his education to better society. That is what brought him to the Open Constitution Intiative and helped him to become an advocate to those petitioners illegally subjected to one of China’s black jails. As Xu Zhiyong recollects in his essay exclusively written for Seeing Red in China, Song Ze’s advocacy brought him to the cries of Hu Yufu, an 80 year old petitioner desperate for medical attention but denied access to a hospital by his jailers. Hu Yufu died only a few days after Song Ze first heard his story. Relying on China’s rule of law, Song Ze assisted the family in bringing a lawsuit against the local Party for their father’s death.
As with all stories where a young idealist lawyer relies on the Chinese government’s promises of rule of law, it was that advocacy that caused Song Ze to be abducted and detained for “provoking disturbances.” As recounted by his lawyer, Liang Xiaojun, Song Ze has been detained beyond the 37 days allowed by law and has yet to be charged or arrested. Liang’s account demonstrates a criminal justice system that still has a long way to go before it follows its own laws. Even citation to the law does not matter:
The officer in charge of the case was there. Upon hearing my request to meet Song Ze, he asked who had sent me and how, while recording information about me on a notepad. Then he left the room with the approval form. When he returned shortly, he told me the lieutenant, whose signature was required, was unavailable, and I couldn’t meet Song Ze on that day. He told me to come back tomorrow.
I argued that, according to China’s Lawyers Law, meeting with client required no approval. He said, the new criminal procedure law wouldn’t take effect until next year, and it was good for a lawyer to obtain approval
Song Ze’s current whereabouts are now unknown. As Liang points out in his essay, this has become permissible under Article 73 of China’s amended Criminal Procedure Law. Liang suspects that “residential surveillance” in an undisclosed location will become the tool of choice of the police so as to avoid even the limited protections afforded criminal defendants.
Xu Zhiyong and Liang Xiaojun‘s essays not only reflect the absurdity of China’s legal system where the police do as they please, but they also reveal what is becoming a battle for China’s future. When the heavy hand of the Party falls on a young, idealistic volunteer, the Chinese Communist Party sends a strong warning signal to China’s other Song Zes: your idealism could silence you and cause you to become a case in and of yourself.