Posts tagged: Chinese criminal justice

Use of China’s Exclusionary Rule & Its Potential Impact on Upcoming CPL Adoption

By , October 10, 2011

Over at the US-Asia Law Institute’s blog, research fellow, Jeremy Daum has just published a thought provoking article on the Zhang Guoxi case, the first case to publicly – and perhaps most effectively – use China’s exclusionary rule to exclude evidence that was obtained through torture.

In June 2010, China surprised the world by issuing detailed rules on the use of evidence obtained through torture, essentially excluding it as the basis of conviction when the prosecutor could not show that the evidence was obtained legally and without torture.  China Law & Policy blogged about these new rules here and here.

On paper, the new rules provided hope that the police would reign in their ardent use of torture as a means to obtain a conviction.  But in practice, it appeared that the courts, the enforcers of the new exclusionary rules, had little institutional power to control the more powerful police and prosecutor’s offices.  This fear appeared to be realized when the Supreme People’s Court, a few weeks after the Rules’ adoption, chose not to apply them to overturn a death sentence that appeared to be based on a confession obtained through torture.

But as Daum describes below, a trial court in Ningbo has done what scholars thought was impossible – use the exclusionary rules to deny the use of a suspect’s confession where the prosecutor was unable to, or more aptly was too arrogant to provide evidence that the confession was obtained legally.

The Ningbo trial court did not just stop there.  Instead, the trial court issued a clear and transparent opinion on its decision, reflecting its reliance on the letter of the law concerning the new exclusionary rules. As Daum notes below, in China such an opinion from a trial court is rare making Daum wonder, what impact will the appellate court’s decision (the decision has now been appealed to the intermediary court), and the public’s response, have on the Chinese government’s impending adoption of an amended Criminal Procedure Law (“CPL”).

Below is an excerpt of Daum’s interesting article with a link to the full version.

 

Zhang Guoxi Case: a simple case of bribery?

Excluded : The Zhang Guoxi Case

By Jeremy Daum
Research Fellow, US-Asia Law Institute, NYU Law School

Normally, ‘dog bites man’ is not news, but in the generally bleak climate for reform that pervades China’s criminal justice system, a story of “judge upholds law” has gained some traction in the Chinese media. As Chinese and foreign experts scrambled to absorb new draft revisions to China’s Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) in time to offer their opinions during the single month allotted for public comment, another less publicized story was also making waves in the legal community. A trial court in Ningbo has been hailed as the first to give full force to rules on the exclusion of illegally gathered evidence jointly introduced slightly over a year ago by China’s Supreme People’s Court, Supreme People’s Procuratorate, Ministry of Justice and top law enforcement agencies (“the Rules”), by excluding a confession and allowing a defendant to go unpunished…

…The case itself is remarkable only in its mundanity.  It is an ordinary bribery case in which Zhang Guoxi (章国锡), an official from a local construction administration project, was accused of abusing his office to accept seventy-six thousand yuan (about $12,000 U.S.) in graft over four years. The mistreatment that Zhang allegedly received at the hands of interrogators is also not the sort of blood-curdling horror story that “shocks the conscience” or that one might expect would provoke a judge to take a stance against his investigative and prosecutorial colleagues, risking his career and reputation….

….What is exceptional about the case is instead the trial court’s insistence that prosecutors and investigators follow both the spirit and the letter of the law.

Read the full article here.

Don Clarke & Li Tiantian: Two Takes on the Jasmine Revolution in China

China's Jasmine Revolution?

In February 2011, the Chinese government began a quick and widespread crackdown on Chinese rights-defending (“weiquan”) lawyers and activists, abducting many for days to months on end, some subject to torture while in government custody.  The general narrative that has emerged to explain this recent crackdown is the Chinese government’s fear that an Egypt-like democratic revolution could occur in China, overturning the Chinese Communist Party’s one-party rule.

Make no mistake these extrajudicial abductions are not permissible under Chinese criminal law and like other countries, there are laws in China that restrict the government.  Under Chinese Criminal Procedure Law (“CPL”), a detention warrant issued by a public security organ must be presented when an individual is taken into custody (CPL Art. 64); either the family members or the employer of the detained individual must be informed of the reasons for the detention within 24 hours (CPL Art. 64); the first interrogation of the detained person must be conducted within the first 24 hours (CPL Art. 65); after the first interrogation, the detained person has the right to retain a lawyer and the lawyer has a right to meet with his or her client (CPL Art. 96 – note that this provision makes it legal for the first interrogation to be conducted without a lawyer present); and after 37 days in custody, the detained individual must either be arrested or released (CPL Art. 69).  Additionally, Article 238 of the Chinese Criminal Law criminalizes any unlawful detention or deprivation of personal liberty, imposing a harsher criminal sanction on state functionaries.

So the question remains, if the Chinese government just flouts these laws, why does it bother?

Rule of Law in China?

And what does this say about its progression toward a rule of law, a progression the Chinese government maintains is its goal?

Prof. Donald Clarke of George Washington University Law School came out with a rather thought-provoking essay last Thursday, seeking to answer some of these questions, and put China’s ‘rule of law’ development in some sort of perspective.  In “China’s Jasmine Crackdown and the Legal System,” Prof. Clarke dispenses with the conventional idea that China was ever on the path toward a rule of law.  Defining a rule of law as a system “where there are meaningful restraints on the powers of government” and that “those in power cannot do simply as they please,” Prof. Clarke maintains that the Chinese government never had the intention to be held accountable; its quest toward a “rule of law” for the past 30-odd years has just been about creating government efficiencies.  In 1978, to become a successful market economy, the Chinese leadership had to create some legal system since Mao had all but dispensed with law by the end of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).  But while these developments in the economic-legal sphere might have the looks of a rule of law, scholars are wrong to think that it was ever the government’s intention to be held accountable under a true rule of law system.  Many of the Chinese government’s recent actions, including the crackdown on rights-defending lawyers, exemplify the leadership’s anti-commitment to a rule of law.

Rights-defending Lawyer Li Tiantian

There is something to be said for Prof. Clarke’s assessment and in many ways it is accurate: the leadership appears unwilling to allow anything it deems “political” to be handled by the legal system and this appears to explain its harsh assault the past few years on rights-defending lawyers.  It’s commitment to a “rule of law,” a commitment it repeatedly states in various US-China dialogues, seems specious if it does not allow a space for rights-defending lawyers.  But Prof. Clarke’s analysis is very top-down and doesn’t take into effect the rights-defending lawyers themselves.  And this is where the other fascinating essay from last Thursday comes into play, Li Tiantian’s blog post “I was Discharged from the Hospital” (translation courtesy of Siweiliozi’s Blog).  Li Tiantian is a Shanghai-based rights-defending lawyer, taken into custody on February 19, 2011 and held incommunicado for three months, finally released on May 24, 2011.  In a highly allegorical essay, Li Tiantian recounts her captivity:

It’s been a while since I’ve been in touch. First, let me tell you a story.

One day, a hornet worried unreasonably that a little bird would stir up its nest. (As it happened, some distant hornet nests had recently been stirred up.) The hornet grabbed the little bird and began stinging it frenziedly. Unable to bear the hornet’s stings and thinking there was no point to suffering this ordeal, the bird realized that no one would gain anything and that there was no way to change the hornet’s ways. So, the bird kneeled down to the hornet and kowtowed in order to extricate itself. The hornet, knowing that the force of justice was on the increase in the animal world, didn’t dare do anything rash to the bird and came up with a plan that would satisfy everyone. It agreed to release the little bird, but only if the bird promised: (1) not to speak of the past few months; (2) not to damage the hornet’s reputation; and (3) not to urge other animals to stir up the hornet’s nest. Finally the bird was free. (…read more here…)

Li Tiantian’s publication of this blog post soon after her release belies her commitment to any kind of silence concerning her unlawful detention.  The fact that her blog post was pulled – likely by the Chinese government – a few days later is not surprising.  But her brazenness is.  After three months in custody, unable to communicate to the outside world, and subject to heaven’s knows what, Li still feels the need to speak; still feels the need to give push back to the government.

Prof. Clarke presents a government that doesn’t want to give people like Li Tiantian any space; but Li Tiantian has no plans to give up that easily.  True that since many of the lawyers’ release, most have kept out of the spotlight, but will they continue to do so?  And how can the Chinese government expect them to?

Prof. Clarke is right to contend that the Chinese Communist Party is not interested in a “rule of law” if it means that it will contain the Party.  But after 30 years of constantly reiterating – both domestically and abroad – the idea of a rule of law, sending lawyers, judges, and academics abroad to study Western countries’ legal systems, and inviting various foreign legal NGOs to establish offices in China and work with Chinese layers, some belief in a rule of law must have permeated  society, especially for academics and rights-defending lawyers, the beneficiaries of much of China’s rule of law programs.

Prof. Clarke compares the Chinese government to a well organized army: sure there are lots of bureaucratic rules that must be followed, but those rules are not intended to be followed by the commander.  For Prof. Clarke, an army, with all the rules that help it function, is in no way a rule of law society.

But running a society is different from running an army; unquestionable allegiance to hierarchy is not naturally found in society like it is among foot soldiers in an army.  Ultimately, Prof. Clarke’s essay raises another question: while the Chinese government has little interest in rule of law, will these rights-defending lawyers succumb and just disappear?  Li Tiantian’s essay upon her release heavily implies that the answer is no and that among some in China, there is a true commitment to a greater rule of law, even if not found within the ruling party.

NYC Event – Human Rights Watch Discusses New Report on Feb. 9

By , January 25, 2011

In April 2009, the Chinese government released its first  National Human Rights Action Plan (2009-2010) ostensibly to better protect the civil rights and civil liberties enshrined in the Chinese Constitution, such as the right to a fair trial, the right to question the government and the need to eliminate torture in police interrogations.  With such a bold plan, the question remains – how did China do in fulfilling the promises of its first Human Rights Action Plan. 

Human Rights Watch (“HRW”), in its recent report, “Promises Unfulfilled: An Assessment of China’s National Human Rights Action Plan,” attempts to answer that question and to explain how a country which promotes economic freedom has seen a recent regression in terms of civil liberties. 

HRW China researcher Phelim Kine will present the findings of “Promises Unfulfilled” in a discussion at Seton Hall School of Law in Newark New Jersey on February 9, 2011.  Hosted by Chinese legal expert and Seton Hall Law Professor Margaret K. Lewis and with participation from the Open Society Institute’s China Program Director, Thomas Kellogg, the discussion should prove to be an interesting conversation of an issue that was front and center at President Hu Jintao’s recent visit to the U.S.  RSVP is appreciated (http://law.shu.edu/chinahumanrights). 

And just as a shout out to HRW – their reports are pretty amazing and there are only a few other organizations that are able to produce such accurate and informative reports regarding what’s happening on the ground in China.  Phelim Kine is not to be missed!

Wednesday, February 9
1:45 p.m. – 3:45 p.m.
Seton Hall School of Law
1109 Raymond Blvd.
Newark, NJ
RSVP here: http://law.shu.edu/chinahumanrights
Directions: Seton Hall School of Law is a 5 minute walk from Newark Penn Station which is accessible from NYC via the PATH train or NJ Transit.  More specific directions can be found here – http://law.shu.edu/About/Directions.cfm

Human Rights Lawyer Teng Biao Recounts Police Abuse

By , December 27, 2010

With President Hu Jintao set to make an official State visit to the U.S. next month, expect an increase in op-eds concerning violations of human rights in China and the demand that President Obama raise human rights issues with President Hu.  These op-eds usually name particular human rights activists, those who have been at it the longest and whose regular imprisonment and abuse make the international news.  Teng Biao is one such human rights lawyer who receives international attention whenever the Chinese police take him into custody, which, unfortunately, is a fairly regular occurrence.

In a recent essay translated in the Wall Street Journal, Prof. Teng recounts the wrongful detention and police brutality he suffered on December 23, 2010, when attempting to visit a colleague’s mother.  But what makes Prof. Teng’s essay particularly poignant is that he admits that because of his special status as an internationally-known human rights lawyer, the beatings he suffers at the hands of the police are much less severe than someone with less international name recognition.

The op-eds that will inevitably appear prior to President Hu’s visit to the U.S. should not just call for the freedom of a single human rights activist; rather it is important that these op-eds also look at the systemic problems with the culture of lawlessness that permeates the Chinese police and the lack of a rule of law.  Prof. Teng portrays a police force drunk on its own power and willing to cast aside the law to do as it pleases, including abusing its citizens.

‘A Hole to Bury You’
A first-hand account of how China’s police treats the citizens it’s supposed to serve and protect.

Human Rights lawyer, Teng Biao

By Teng Biao*

Beijing – On Dec. 23, the United Nations International Convention for the Protection of All Persons From Forced Disappearance came into force. China has declined to accede to this convention. My experience that same day is just one of many examples of how the authorities continue to falsely imprison Chinese citizens.

That evening, I was in the Xizhimen area of Beijing chatting with my colleagues Piao Xiang, Xu Zhiyong and Zhang Yongpan. Ms. Piao had been disappeared after she and I went to Dandong on Oct. 7 to argue the court case of Leng Guoquan, a man framed by the police for drug trafficking; she had only been released on Dec. 20. Her abductors had been officers from the state security squad of the Public Security Bureau. I asked her to narrate the entire process of her disappearance in detail.

Later, I suggested to Mr. Zhang, “Let’s go and see Fan Yafeng’s mom.” The day before, we had contacted fellow human rights lawyer Fan Yafeng and found out that he was under strict house arrest. But he had said that his mother was going to be alone at home in the evening and so I thought we should go see her.

Because I used to go there frequently I remembered clearly where she lived. As Mr. Zhang and I entered the block of flats and started walking up the staircase, I had a feeling that someone was following us. Observing that we went to the third floor, a young security guard asked us whom we were visiting. We said, “We’re seeing a friend.” Immediately, he called out for someone else to come up.

We knocked on the door and were greeted by Mr. Fan’s mother. But as we entered the flat, the security guard came with us, and a person in plainclothes stormed in just behind him. The man in plainclothes demanded to check our IDs in a very coarse manner. I asked him in a loud voice, “What sort of people are you? How can you enter a private residence without permission?”

The plainclothes man said, “I am a police officer. We want to check your ID cards.” “You’re a police officer? I want to see your police ID.” “If I am telling you I’m a police officer, then that’s what I am. What are you doing here?” “Is that your business? How can you prove you’re a police officer if you don’t show your police ID card?”

***Click here to Read More***

*Prof. Teng Biao is a lecturer of law at the Law School of the China University of Political Science and Law (CUPL), one of China’s most prestigious law school.  After working with human rights lawyer Xu Zhiyong to successfully abolish the Custody and Repatriation system, Teng and Xu opened the public interest law firm, Open Constitution Initiative, which was shut down in summer 2009.  Teng has been repeatedly warned by administrators at CUPL that if he continues with his rights defense work, he could lose his job and even his personal freedom.

China’s First Test of the New Exclusionary Rules – A Dog Without A Bite

By , September 30, 2010

Defendants await trial in the Chongqing Mob Crackdown

On June 1, 2010, China openly admitted to a huge problem in its criminal justice system – the reliance on confessions obtained through torture. On that date, China issued regulations establishing a new system by which confessions obtained through torture would be excluded from trial. Although the torture of criminal suspects is illegal under Chinese criminal law, the law had been largely silent about whether that evidence, once obtained, should be excluded from trial. Noting the inherent unreliability of confessions obtained through torture, the new regulations clearly established rules to try to eliminate such evidence from criminal trials. This was progress.

Last week, the Supreme People’s Court (SPC), had the opportunity to test these new exclusionary rules and, as China’s highest court, show by example that these regulations were passed to have some bite. But instead, on Sunday, September 26, 2010, the SPC chose to ignore its mandate and Fan Qihang was executed.

Fan Qihang’s trial was one of the many from the Chongqing mafia crackdown. The city of Chongqing has long had a problem with organized crime; with many officials, judges and police on the take, the city was an Al Capone dream. But in 2007, Chongqing’s own Elliot Ness arrived in the form of Bo Xilai. As Chongqing’s Chinese Communist Party boss, Bo led a swift campaign to wipe out the local mafia, and by the end of November, 2009, over 800 arrests were issued and over 300 people prosecuted. And Bo meant business. No one was spared; even high officials and successful business men were prosecuted and sentenced to long prison terms and even death.

Fan Qihang was one of the defendants who received the latter. A Chongqing construction mogul, Fan was accused of running a crime syndicate and of arranging for the murder of Li Minghang, member of a warring gang. On February 2, 2010, Fan was convicted and sentenced to death, over the objections of his lawyer who maintained that Fan’s confession was obtained through torture.

Fan’s appeals fell on deaf ears and in a last ditch effort to save his client’s life, Zhu released videos of his client made during his meetings with him while awaiting trial. In the video, Fan details the torture and shows to the camera fresh wounds of where he was shackled and hung from the iron bars in his holding cell for days on end. In anguish, Fan tried to kill himself twice – once biting off the tip of his tongue and the other repeatedly banging his head against the wall. Medical reports back up these suicide attempts. (see Ng Tze-wei, “Lawyer reveals grim details of client’s torture,” South China Moring Post, July 29, 2010).

With this mounting concrete evidence of a confession obtained through torture, Fan’s case offered the perfect opportunity for the SPC to show the strength of China’s new exclusionary rules, reverse Fan’s conviction and order a new trial without the use of Fan’s confession. Such a decision would also be a radical signal to China’s criminal justice system that the high court was not going to stand for such blatant violations of the new regulations.
But that’s not what happened. Instead by affirming Fan’s death sentence, the SPC let it be known that even with the new exclusionary rules on the books, it will still be business as usual. Confessions should be obtained at all costs, even at the cost of justice.

But before we criticize China too much, it’s important that we look at ourselves. Fan’s execution comes on the heels of the controversial execution in Virginia of Teresa Lewis. Lewis, along with two other men, was convicted of the killing of her husband and step-son in order to obtain her husband’s life insurance payments. But unlike most who receive the death penalty in the United States, Lewis never pulled the trigger. Instead, the man Lewis was having an affair with, Matthew Shallenberger, and another cohort, did the shooting; in on the plan, Lewis left the doors to the house unlocked so that the two men wouldn’t have difficulty getting in.

Although Shallenberger and the other shooter were both given life imprisonment, Lewis was given death with the judge stating that Lewis was the mastermind of the scheme and by far more culpable than either of the other two. Borderline mentally retarded with an I.Q. of around 71 (Shallenberger’s IQ ranges around 113 and he was diagnosed with a manipulative personality disorder), Lewis’ execution last Thursday was heavily criticized both in the U.S. and abroad as a gross violation of justice and due process.

To be sure, China executes thousands more people than the U.S. (to date this year, the U.S. has executed 39 people) and its violations of due process, fairness and justice are much more egregious than what is seen here. But these two executions – Lewis and Fan’s – falling back to back makes one wonder, by maintaining a death penalty how much of a cover does the U.S. offer China? And why do we want to?

NYC Event: Hope & Caution – Trends in China’s Criminal Justice System

By , September 15, 2010

On Monday, September 20, Columbia Law School’s Society for Chinese Law & SIPA’s Asia-Pacific Affairs Council is sponsoring:

Hope & Caution: Trends in China’s Criminal Justice System

On this panel, I will have the very fortunate opportunity to share the stage with Jennifer Smith, the former China Director of International Bridges to Justice.  Together we will not only look at some new criminal justice legislation – such as the new exclusionary rules, plea bargaining and recent death penalty amendments – but we wil also discuss their practical implications.  Additionally, because this event is intended to be much more conversational, there will be ample time for questions and comments. 

While I can’t gaurantee that Hope & Caution will be nearly as sexy a show as Lust, Caution, it will be a lot of fun and a great opportunity to hear what is happening in China and also share your own thoughts and theories. 

 

 Hope & Caution: Trends in China’s Criminal Justice System

Monday, September 20
6:30 PM – 7:30 PM
SIPA Building, Room 918
420 West 118th Street

Featuring:
Jennifer Smith – Former China Director of International Bridges to Justice
Elizabeth M. Lynch – Founder of China Law & Policy

ALERT: Death Sentence for British Citizen Upheld; Execution Date Set

By , December 22, 2009

British citizen and Chinese death row inmate, Akmal Shaik

British citizen and Chinese death row inmate, Akmal Shaik

The Guardian has just reported that Akmal Shaikh‘s death sentence has been upheld by the Supreme People’s Court, China’s highest court.  An execution date has been set for December 29.  Execution will be by either lethal injection or firing squad.  All of Mr. Shaikh’s legal options have been exhausted and the only remedy left to save this arguably mentally ill man from execution is clemency fromChinese government.

As reported by the Guardian, the British government will be stepping up pressure on the Chinese government to grant clemency.  But given that  in politically sensitive cases  the Chinese legal system merely does the bidding of the Chinese leadership, clemency from a political official is highly unlikely.

While many Chinese officials have claimed that the courts having been following a “rule of law” in deciding this case, they have been using a fairly selective interpretation, only looking to the fact that the importation of drugs into China is a death-eligible offense.  But the issue in Mr. Shaikh’s case is that the Chinese courts have never allowed for a professional determination of Mr. Shaikh’s mental status.  The Chinese criminal law itself protects the mentally ill.  An insanity defense is permitted under Chinese law.  Furthermore, if a defendant’s mental illness does not rise to the level of an insanity defense, the courts are permitted to take into account the defendant’s mental illness during sentencing and are allowed to depart from the statutory requirements.

Although the Chinese law affords these protections, the Chinese courts have consistently refused to adopt procedures that would allow for a defendant to be professionally evaluated.  If Mr. Shaikh is executed, he will be the third  arguably mentally ill individual in the past three years that the Chinese criminal justice system has put to death (and those are the three that the Western media knows of; there are likely more).  What could have been an opportunity for the Chinese criminal justice system to face the fact that there  are no real procedures in place to protect the mentally ill, it has instead squandered.

Mr. Shaikh’s case has made headlines in the U.K.  But in the rest of the world, very little attention has been paid.  Other

Gordon Brown standing alone?  Where's the rest of the world?

Gordon Brown standing alone? Where's the rest of the world?

nations should wake up.  This case, and the world’s reaction to it, will set a precedent.  Every year, China receives more and more foreign visitors, as tourists, business executives or students.  Last month, in his speech at the Shanghai townhall, President Obama announced his goal of sending 100,000 U.S. students to China.  Given these facts, there is increasing likelihood that more foreigners will interact with the Chinese criminal justice system, a system that based on Mr. Shaikh’s case is a far cry China’s own criminal laws let alone actual justice.

The U.K. should not stand alone on this issue; other nations should also be commenting on China’s inability to follow its own laws.  In the past, the Chinese courts have executed arguably mentally ill Chinese citizens (see the case of Yang Jia and the case of Qiu Xinghua) and now the courts will execute an allegedly mentally ill British citizen.  Who will be next?

Update on Akmal Shaikh – British citizen on China’s Death Row

By , December 15, 2009

Followers of China Law & Policy will remember the October story of Akmal Shaikh, a mentally ill British man convicted of drug smuggling and sentenced to death in China.  His case, which has garnered a lot of attention in his home country of Great Britain but little else where, demonstrates the difficulties that most criminal justice systems face when dealing with the mentally ill.  However, in China, because procedures have yet to be put in place to protect the mentally ill, the situation is particularly distressing.

Mr. Shaikh’s case is still in the hands of China’s Supreme People’s Court (SPC), China’s highest court.  As of today, the SPC still has not issued a decision.  In our piece from October, we called on the SPC to use this case as an opportunity to flesh out procedures to protect the mentally ill, protections that are normatively found in China’s current criminal law.

On Friday, the Global Time’s English edition published an interesting article stating that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown contacted Premier Wen Jiabao requesting that “mental health considerations” be properly considered in dealing with Mr. Shaikh’s case.  The Global Times did not have to publish this two-paragraph story.  Does the fact that it did mean that it will permit Mr. Shaikh to finally undergo a psychological exam and give its courts a face-saving way to repeal Mr. Shaikh’s death sentence?  Time will tell.  We will keep you informed if any new information about Mr. Shaikh’s case becomes public.

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