Thursday, July 29, 2010

Translation: "Perp Walks" for Petty Thieves Should Cease

On June 27, official Chinese media announced that the Ministry of Public Security will ban perp walks of prostitutes. Perp walking—the practice of publicly parading suspects or convicts in order to shame other criminals, drum up witnesses, or stir popular sentiment—is one of a variety of public spectacles that China has both relied on and worked to prohibit since the People’s Republic of China’s establishment.

China’s first Criminal Procedure Law banned public executions in 1979. Parading of the condemned was first prohibited in 1984 and again, for good measure, in 1986. Most recently, a similar notice against perp walks was issued in 2007. But, as Dui Hua’s Senior Manager for Research and Hong Kong Operations Joshua Rosenzweig pointed out this week in The New York Times, increased regulation must ultimately be supported by both political and public will.

The following piece (translated by Dui Hua) appeared in the Legal Daily in May 2009. Its author, law professor Cheng Dewen, looks at the ways in which perp walking undermines the development of rule of law in China. Although the target of the perp walk discussed by Cheng—a group of 30 suspected pick-pockets in Chongqing—differs from the prostitutes which spurred the recent ban, Cheng’s argument presages many of the comments made since Tuesday’s announcement. (This translation originally appeared in the second volume of Dui Hua’s Reference Materials on China’s Criminal Justice System, published in June 2009.)


“Perp Walks” for Petty Thieves Should Cease
Prof. Cheng Dewen
Nanjing Normal University Law School
Legal Daily, May 4, 2009

     In contemporary social parlance, individuals suspected of pick-pocketing are known as “petty thieves.” To be sure, these petty thieves are bitterly hated by people, who yell out to beat them like rats crossing the street, subjecting them to harsh beatings, parades, and public display. Rarely are they regarded with any sympathy. Recently, police in Chongqing publicly paraded 30 petty thieves in front of the public at bus stations, piers, and other public locations, asking the public to identify and report them. This action led to widespread attention in the media and has become a subject of public debate, with arguments both for and against [this treatment of the suspected thieves].
     In China, public security organs safeguard the nation’s public safety and assume the basic functions of upholding public safety and order in society and preventing and combating crime. As far as its scope of authority is concerned, Chongqing police did not exceed the bounds of their work. Parading [suspects] in the streets can be seen as an action to prevent crime, and asking the public to identify and report [suspects] can be seen as criminal investigation activity. And, as reported by the media, the police also distributed “anti-pickpocket publicity materials” to the public, which is both an act of crime prevention and legal publicity work—both of which fall under the purview of China’s public security organs. With respect to the purpose of this action, parading criminal suspects in the streets should primarily be understood as a form of deterrent to potential criminals. Asking the public to identify and report [criminals] may be aimed at investigating and verifying evidence, uncovering additional crimes, and expanding results in fighting [crime]. All of these are also part of China’s public security organs’ criminal law-enforcement function and political mission, and, with this significance in mind, these police actions can be said to be legitimate in purpose. And it is precisely because of this legitimacy of purpose that media reports and the response from a large portion of the public have been favorable to these police actions and given them a considerably high level of social acceptance.      
     Perhaps it’s because I’ve been engaged in legal research for a long time, but I still feel that, 30 years after the recovery and restoration of a sound legal system in China, what Chongqing police did really deserves some serious self-examination.
     First, these police actions target petty thieves. Perhaps the police are fully aware of their pick-pocketing activity, but these individuals are still considered criminal suspects until those acts have been confirmed by a court. In this sense, then, the actions of police should be of a criminal-investigation nature. Looking from the perspective of criminal procedure, it is hard to comprehend how parading criminal suspects in front of the public would be of much help in criminal investigations. Moreover, at this moment in China, parading suspects publicly is not a particularly appropriate method. First, public parading seriously damages the personal dignity of criminal suspects and is widely prohibited by modern societies with rule of law. Second, publicly revealing the identity of a criminal suspect during the investigative stage of a case is considered in many rule-of-law countries to be a violation of the presumption of innocence. In China, the public detention, arrest, and display of criminal suspects during the investigative phase can influence the court’s final ruling and, thus, has the effect of establishing guilt without trial and is detrimental to the conduct of a fair trial. Third, though on the surface parading suspects in the streets appears to bring relatively good social consequences by catering to the public’s psychological desires, in reality it poses a threat to the modern principle of rule of law and misdirects the formation of the public’s legal consciousness. In ancient times and around the time of the “Cultural Revolution,” it was quite common to see criminals paraded in the streets, and the average person saw this as normal. With opening and reform and China’s legal advances, parading for public display was rejected by the law but has recently been resurrected in some places. The majority of theorists have expressed concern about this. This kind of situation is disastrous both for the establishment of legal order and the nurturing of public legal consciousness.
     Second, there are definite questions about the procedural legality of police use of public parading of suspects as a means of asking the public to identify and report [suspects]. According to Chinese laws and regulations, identification [of suspects] is an act of investigation and therefore should strictly adhere to legal procedure. For example: during the investigation phase, police are required to obtain approval from a responsible person in the public security organ before conducting an identification of a criminal suspect, and the identification procedure must be carried out under an investigator’s direction. Prior to identification, the person making the identification should be questioned in detail about the suspect’s identifying characteristics, the person making the identification should be prevented from coming in contact with the suspect and be informed that he or she will be held legally responsible for intentionally making a false identification. When several people are making an identification of an individual suspect, each identification should be made separately. The subject for identification should be mixed in with other persons or items during an investigation and no hints given to the person making the identification. In cases under investigation by public security, if the person making the identification does not want to do so publicly, the identification may be carried out without revealing the circumstances of the person making the identification. If considered in light of these regulations, the actions of the Chongqing police deserve more careful scrutiny. On the one hand, there was no specified person making the identification and the police had no way of knowing ahead of time who would identify a suspect. On the other hand, the subject of the identification was also not specified; police arranged for 30 pick-pocketing suspects [to be paraded], assigning them each a number. It has been reported that during the parade, organizers provided an introduction for each suspect, which, in a certain sense, constitutes giving hints. We have no way to know the details or outcome of the identifications, but we cannot say that this identification exercise was without problems, procedurally. In a situation where neither identifier nor identified is specified, how can one guarantee the reliability of the identification? This does not merely concern questions of the quality of evidence; it also concerns issues of the criminal suspect’s defense rights.
     Third, this action by Chongqing police is essentially a campaign-style measure aimed at preventing and controlling crime, but even if it shows clear short-term success, it will be ineffective at resolving fundamental problems in the long run. As we see from the reports concerned, pick-pocketing is rampant in some parts of Chongqing, and the public hates these petty thieves to the core. For these reasons, parading them in the streets is a way to win the understanding and support of the public and display police resolve to fight pick-pocketing. But both theory and practice make clear that using deterrence alone to control crime is of limited efficacy. The only way to provide the public with real welfare and security is to establish a sustainable, effective system of crime prevention and control and improve the capacity of public security organs to prevent crime. Relying solely on special punishments alone is not nearly enough.
     Fourth, we must admit that parading criminal suspects in the streets is uncivilized, backward behavior. Crime is something that people despise, a kind of evil, but the state should not return evil with evil in responding to criminal behavior. Otherwise, its normal basis of authority to exercise power will be lost. For this reason, the public security organ, as an integral component of the organs of state power, should always act with restraint and use its brains in doing things. Pick-pocketing is not an isolated occurrence in China today, but there are differences in the way that this type of crime is handled and treated. I remember several years ago when Prof. Xu Yongkang of East China College of Politics and Law criticized some places for parading in public and publicly displaying suspects. He said that “parades” were such a rare phenomenon in Shanghai that if suspects were occasionally displayed in public, traffic would be disrupted for half-a-day and half of [the city’s] investors would run scared. It’s gratifying to think that “parading publicly” is not at all a common phenomenon in China, but it deserves our attention even if it occurs in only a few places.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Op-Ed: "A Savage Lesson in Eroding Stability on the Mainland"

The opinion piece below by Joshua Rosenzweig, Dui Hua's senior manager of research and Hong Kong operations, was published in the July 24 edition of the South China Morning Post. Rosenzweig observes that recent incidents involving Chinese police forces—and official responses to them—have damaged the image of the country’s law-enforcement system. Even worse, the scandals reflect that official goals that strive for a hard line against perceived threats may do more to jeopardize social and political order than to achieve it.


 A Savage Lesson in Eroding Stability on the Mainland

Joshua Rosenzweig
Senior Manager, Research & Hong Kong Operations
The Dui Hua Foundation

The image of the police force on the mainland has taken a beating over the past few months with the domestic media exposing scandal after embarrassing scandal. The public's patience for the nation's unaccountable law enforcement system is growing thin.

First there was the series of unnatural deaths of criminal suspects in police-run detention centres, with officials offering increasingly outrageous explanations for the causes of death—"death by nightmare", "death by picking at acne", or "death by drinking water". Then there was the incredible tale of Zhao Zuohai , a man who spent nearly 11 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit—all because police investigators found torture to be the most expedient way to get a confession, and law enforcement authorities who were anxious to solve the case turned a blind eye to Zhao's claims of innocence.

The latest incident occurred in Wuhan , Hubei , where six plain-clothes police officers stationed outside a government building savagely beat a woman in her 50s named Chen Yulian , who had come to discuss a grievance with officials. Such violence against so-called "petitioners"—many of whom are, like Chen, middle-aged women—would normally not be newsworthy, so commonplace has it become on the mainland today.

The difference in this instance is the fact that Chen's husband is an official on the provincial "politics and law commission"—an institution of the Communist Party charged with overseeing all aspects of law enforcement. As if that weren't ironic enough, Chen's husband is responsible for "maintaining stability"—in the pursuit of which, acts of brutal violence and violations of individual rights are routinely carried out, including against petitioners seeking redress for personal grievances.

Wuhan police officials immediately apologised to Chen and her family, saying that the officers in question hadn't realised she was the wife of such a high-level official. Their explanation—with its implicit acceptance of violence towards the "common folk"—and the relatively light disciplinary action that has been taken against the officers in question, have fuelled public outrage over this latest example of officers of the law acting lawlessly.

Beijing has repeatedly rejected international criticism of its human rights record, pointing, for example, to strict laws prohibiting the extraction of confessions by torture and claiming that independent mechanisms exist to root out police wrongdoing. Yet laws and institutions are only effective if they are fully and consistently implemented, and it is growing increasingly difficult to argue that oversight over law enforcement is effective.

This lack of accountability is closely tied to the emphasis the leaders place on stability. Chen was beaten because local officials see petitioners as sources of social instability. Police use coercion to get confessions and limit access by defence lawyers because having a high conviction rate is a more visible index of stability than guaranteeing a suspect's procedural rights.

Meanwhile, arrests and convictions for vaguely defined state security offences have skyrocketed over recent years, and those convicted sentenced to longer prison terms, all in the name of stability.

Maintaining social stability is a worthy goal for a government, and it's a challenge on the mainland where economic growth has far outpaced development in society and political institutions, and where income, status and power are so unevenly distributed. The danger, as Professor Yu Jianrong of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has warned, is that relying on "rigid stability" will probably do more to destroy the "harmonious society" than build it.

As long as "stability above all else" remains the fundamental principle of governance on the mainland, security forces there will feel empowered to flout laws and regulations intended to safeguard individual rights. When rights are not protected and people lack faith in the fairness and independence of the judicial system, grievances fester and eventually erupt into full-blown unrest.

Part of the solution is to provide effective channels for resolving grievances before they develop into destabilising factors. But restoring faith in the institutions of law enforcement—especially mainland police—may require sacrificing some stability in exchange for something equally valuable: accountability.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Translation: "Following Mistaken Beating of Official's Wife, Let's Look at Reform of Petitioning System"

Over the past several days, the Chinese Internet has been buzzing with news of a middle-aged woman who was beaten by police officers in Wuhan outside of a government building, where she had gone to discuss a grievance with officials. Police violence is unfortunately not a rare occurrence in China, but what has garnered so much attention was that the victim, Chen Yulian, is the wife of an official on the provincial “politics and law commission”—an institution of the Chinese Communist Party charged with overseeing all aspects of law enforcement. As if all this weren’t ironic enough, the woman’s husband is responsible for “maintaining stability”—a goal in the name of which acts of violence and violations of individual rights are routinely carried out, including against petitioners seeking redress for personal grievances.

The Chinese press has reported that police officials were ultimately forced to apologize for this incident of “mistaken identity,” but the apology only brought further outrage over the double standard that has been exposed. As the author of a July 21 opinion piece in the Beijing Times put it: “Those doing the beating may have mistaken Chen Yulian’s identity as the wife of [an official], but they could not have mistaken her identity as a citizen.” (In response to the incident and ensuing fallout, the public security bureau has taken some punitive action. It has been reported that, of the six officers involved, three have received “demerits” on their records, and of these, one was transferred off the force.)

Zhou Hucheng, who writes columns on current affairs for the Guangzhou newspaper Southern Daily, assesses this scandal from a different perspective (Dui Hua’s translation is below). In fact, he argues, ultimate responsibility for violence like this rests with China’s broken petitioning system. Under pressure to promote an image of the “harmonious society,” local officials frequently adopt a “zero tolerance” policy toward petitioners and use all means of coercion and, often, violence to prevent complaints from reaching higher levels. Huge amounts of money are being devoted to “maintaining stability,” funds that, Zhou implies, could be better spent—perhaps on measures to resolve grievances rather than simply covering them up.


Following Mistaken Beating of Official’s Wife, Let’s Look at Reform of Petitioning System

Zhou Hucheng
Southern Daily, July 21, 2010

     Six plainclothes police officers from the Wuchang Branch Public Security Bureau in Wuhan, assigned by the public security authority to serve a special “petitioning assignment” at the provincial Party headquarters, violently beat the wife of a deputy department-level official on the Hubei Party Committee’s Politics and Law Commission. Headlines everywhere say the beating was a “mistake,” but strictly speaking it was no mistake. If the beating victim, Ms Chen Yulian, were not the wife of an official, the beating would not be called a “mistake.” Why not?
     First, let’s look at what public security officials told family members: “It was a mistake—a simple mistake. They didn’t recognize you and didn’t know that you were the wife of such a high official.” A person at the scene asked them in retort: “You say the beating was a mistake and it’s not allowed to beat the wife of an official. Does that mean ordinary people can be beaten?” Looking at all of the rules governing [police] work that have been made public, the law does not authorize police to beat petitioners at will. Moreover, if it is legal for those possessing public authority to beat ordinary people as they wish, this would theoretically shake the foundation of our governance. However, in real life, instances of petitioners being beaten, locked up in psychiatric facilities, or even sent to re-education through labor are too numerous to count. Again, why is this?
     It is primarily because of the pressure felt by local governments over petitioning quotas. Petitioning is linked to official performance, so that if there are many petitioners it is seen as meaning local society is unstable and officials bear responsibility for ineffective governance. If, on the other hand, there are few petitioners, it will be seen as effective construction of a harmonious society. When maintaining stability becomes such an extremely important—even the most important—job, one in which the quality of the work of [dealing with] petitions is closely linked to official performance, some places have even established a one-strike policy for petitioning, where even a single case of petitioning to higher authorities will result in officials from the petitioner’s locality being penalized with a warning or removal from office. Under such circumstances, the petitioning system has become a sharp sword hanging over the heads of local government officials, for whom the slightest mishandling [of a dispute] could have an impact on their personal futures and fates. So, for them, no method is too extreme in dealing with petitioners. They intercept petitioners at key petitioning offices, organize study sessions, ally [with other localities] to intercept petitioners, or even send [petitioners] to re-education through labor. In short, there are numerous ways [of dealing with petitioners], including using the instruments of dictatorship to commit violence. It may seem that the beating of the wife of an official from the politics and law commission was mistaken, but if we consider that “a prince who petitions is as guilty as a commoner,” then actually those police officers should feel wronged: “Why is it okay to beat ordinary petitioners but not okay to beat a petitioner who is the wife of an official?”
     This in fact has exposed an unspeakable secret about the petitioning system. Ever since it was established, the system has, on the one hand, substantially expanded the authority of petitioning offices, which appears on the surface to give petitioners everywhere more opportunities to express their opinions. On the other hand, by making petitioning an indicator of official performance and closely linking petitioning with maintenance of stability—where areas with few petitioners are rewarded—this leads [officials] everywhere to pursue and intercept petitioners and use all possible means to control them. It’s been said that there are two armies stationed at the gate of the National Office for Letters and Visits: one made up of petitioners and another made up of personnel sent to the capital by each locale to intercept petitioners. Each contingent for intercepting petitioners helps each other out, and when they see people who look like petitioners they grab them first without asking any questions and send them off to the local representative office in Beijing to have them sent back home. Responding to local petitioners who come to Beijing is a major task for local representative offices in Beijing. Why do so many localities dare not eliminate their Beijing representative offices? Other than [fearing the loss of] “funding inflows resulting from lobbying,” a key reason is that they must remain in Beijing to respond to local petitioners who could appear in Beijing at any moment. By the way, according to a Tsinghua University report, China’s expenditures in 2009 for maintaining stability exceeded 500 billion [yuan].
     The mistaken beating of an official’s wife and the above analysis makes clear that the petitioning system is in need of wide-ranging reform. Failure to reform will bring both material and physical harm to the public. Failure to reform will also exhaust local officials’ ability to respond and lead to estranged relations between cadres and the public, antagonism between officials and the people, and great financial waste. Is it worth it? For this reason, a timetable for reform of the petitioning system must be announced as soon as possible, because the longer we postpone, the more damage will be done to long-term, fundamental stability.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Supreme People’s Court “Work Report” Indicates More Trials, Heavier Sentences for Endangering State Security in 2009

On July 13, China’s Supreme People’s Court (SPC) issued its annual “work report” for 2009, the first time such a report has been presented to the public. Chinese media have hailed the report’s contribution towards promoting greater transparency and public oversight for China’s courts. But it is hard to see—at least as far as criminal justice is concerned—just how much more substantive information was provided in this report than is normally provided, for example, in the report of the SPC president presented at the annual session of the National People’s Congress each March.

The latest report, however, is not without its revelations. It provides detailed statistics about criminal adjudications that were not released in March, offering insights into Chinese courts’ handling of various categories of criminal offenses. The report shows that the number of first-instance trials concluded in cases involving charges of “endangering state security” (ESS) rose to around 760 in 2009, compared to approximately 460 the previous year.

(The figures above are estimates. The report only lists crime category breakdowns as percentages of the total number of cases adjudicated and—following the court’s practice—the category “other” includes ESS cases and also a very small number of trials for “dereliction of duty by military personnel.”)

The figures in the report represent only the number of ESS cases, not the number of individuals tried in those cases. Data from China’s law-enforcement bodies over the past several years show an average of 1.6 defendants for each criminal trial in China. But the same data also suggests a much higher average number of defendants for ESS cases—at least two defendants per case. This would mean more than 1,500 defendants tried—and almost certainly convicted—on ESS charges in 2009. (By contrast, in 2004 the reported number convicted on ESS charges was around 360.)

Such figures for ESS trials are consistent with previously reported data for arrests and indictments. According to statistics made public by the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, China indicted more than 1,400 individuals for ESS in 2008, and another estimated 1,000 were indicted in 2009.

As noted in previous discussions of China’s soaring arrests and indictments for ESS over recent years, it is believed that trials for alleged “splittist” activities by Uyghurs and Tibetans contributed significantly to the large increases in 2009. In January 2010, the president of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Higher People’s Court reported a 63 percent increase in ESS trials in the region for 2009 compared to 2008. From 1998 through 2003, more than half of all ESS trials in China took place in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, according to statistics published in the Xinjiang Yearbook. During the same period, each ESS trial in Xinjiang included more than three defendants, on average.

One other remarkable item in the recent SPC report is the statement that the proportion of individuals charged with ESS who received heavy sentences—meaning imprisonment of five years or more, life imprisonment, or a death sentence (including suspended death sentence)—rose by 20 percent in 2009.

Judged purely on the major social events that have taken place in the last two years—a confluence of important dates, sensitive anniversaries, and serious ethnic unrest among Tibetans and Uyghurs—the increased use of heavier sentences is not unexpected. However, when viewed in the larger context of Chinese criminal justice over the last two decades, in which the historical trend has been toward the use of lighter sentences, an increase of this magnitude is startling. Court statistics show that from 1988 through 1992, the proportion of heavy sentences handed down in all criminal cases was 34.9 percent; the percentage rose to 40.8 percent in the period from 1992 through 1996 before declining, first to 25 percent from 1997 through 2002 and then to 18.2 percent from 2003 through 2007. In 2008 and 2009, heavy sentences were handed down in only around 16 percent of cases.

The available data suggest, however, that heavy sentences are already handed down in ESS cases at a much higher-than-average rate. In 2002 and 2004—years in which detailed data about criminal adjudications were published—heavy sentences were handed down to more than 50 percent of individuals convicted for ESS. By contrast, the overall proportion of convicted criminals given heavy sentences was around 23 percent in those years.

Though the data reported do not allow for precise analyses, this and previous reports all point towards an unquestionable trend over recent years: Chinese citizens are being imprisoned on state security charges in larger numbers and for longer periods of time than at any point in recent history.

Related Links:

•    Official Data Show State Security Arrests, Prosecutions Exceeded 1,000 in 2009, March 12, 2010

•    “Endangering State Security” Arrests, Prosecutions Jumped in 2008, More High Numbers Expected for 2009, Dialogue (Winter 2010)

Friday, July 9, 2010

Professors Yu Jianrong and Jiang Ming’an Spar Over Future of Re-education Through Labor

In separate opinion pieces published in the Beijing News this spring (translation below), well-known legal scholars Jiang Ming’an and Yu Jianrong trade talking points on the failings and functions of China’s system of re-education through labor (RTL; abbreviated in Chinese as laojiao).

Although Jiang, a professor at Peking University Law School, authors the first piece, he is responding to Yu Jianrong’s vocal public calls for abolition of RTL. Jiang begins his April 17 opinion by acknowledging RTL’s failures. He points to two high-profile cases of death in RTL detention: the 2008 “death by cold shower,” in which an RTL prisoner reportedly suffered a brain aneurysm after being forced to shower in extremely cold conditions, and the recent “death of a skeleton” case in which an RTL prisoner allegedly suffered from a serious infection but did not receive treatment and was forced to do hard labor; the 180 cm-tall inmate reportedly weighed 35 kilos at the time of his death (a catalogue of similarly shocking deaths in detention was recently translated by Dui Hua here).

Jiang goes on to argue that despite these failings, the RTL system should not be abolished, because it plays a vital role in managing social problems that cannot be suitably addressed by either the criminal justice system or other administrative sanctions. He divides the RTL system into its form (a “bottle”) and substance (“medicine”), and states that real reform requires changing the substance of RTL (“new medicine”) rather than simply making-over the name (a “new bottle”). Jiang enumerates four substantial reforms: 1) reduce the scope of RTL to exclude groups such as the mentally ill who should be dealt with elsewhere; 2) reform the RTL adjudication process; 3) emphasize rehabilitation instead of labor; and 4) institute a robust appeals process.

Yu Jianrong, chairman of the Social Issues Research Center of the Rural Development Institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, rebuts Jiang in his own opinion piece published in the Beijing News on May 8. Yu is best known for his work on rural labor issues and social stability. He sees the rising tide of mass incidents in China as a product of China’s failure to implement rule of law, which has diverted popular dissent and its control into broken institutions such as the petitioning system and RTL.

Yu dismisses Jiang’s claim that China criminal and civil law must be buttressed by RTL to maintain social stability. More importantly, Yu argues that RTL is fundamentally incompatible with a civil society governed by law and that no amount of reform can address this structural deficiency, and asserts that RTL should simply be abolished. Some argue for an incremental approach, but, Yu writes, “The result of excessive pragmatism is maintaining short-term administrative convenience and social ‘stability’ but damaging fundamental values such as ‘rule of law’ and ‘justice.’”


Re-education Through Labor: Abolition or Reform and Reconstruction?
Jiang Ming’an
Beijing News, April 17, 2010

     Recently, the media has reported on a number of unnatural deaths that have occurred in reeducation-through-labor [RTL] facilities, such as the suspicious “death by cold shower” at the Kaifeng RTL facility in Henan and the detainee “death of a skeleton” at an RTL facility in Tangshan, Hebei.

RTL System Should Not Be Completely Abolished
     Prof. Yu Jianrong advocates abolishing the RTL system as soon as possible; otherwise, it could produce serious political consequences in the future. But I do not agree: the RTL system should not be completely abolished, but rather reformed and reconstructed.
     The reason that the current RTL system cannot be completely abolished is that the system manages social problems, and it’s unlikely that [these problems] will naturally disappear because the RTL system is abolished. In real society, there will always be some people whose behavior severely undermines social order and threatens social safety and peace (for example, pickpocketing, fraud, rumor-mongering, harassment of women, etc.), but are of a nature that does not yet constitute a crime, meaning that the Criminal Law cannot be applied. Moreover, public order administrative punishments are not enough to correct the conduct and uphold normal production and the standard of living for members of society at large.
     For these reasons, we need to design a system between criminal punishment and public order administrative punishment. This type of system [should be] of a nature that is punitive as well as educational and [provides] treatment (teaching and nurturing). Yu Jianrong thinks that after the RTL system is abolished the social problems that are managed by the RTL system can be handled through criminal punishments (public surveillance and penal servitude) and the public order administrative punishment system. However, the social problems managed through the RTL system are of different nature from those handled through criminal punishments or public order administrative punishment. Different social problems require different tools and means of bringing them under control; seeing things in black and white terms is to oversimplify complex social problems.

The “Medicine” Is More Important Than the “Bottle”
     If the current RTL system requires reform and restructuring, then what type of reform and restructuring?
     There are four approaches that may be chosen: First, new medicine in a new bottle; second, new medicine in an old bottle; third, old medicine in a new bottle; fourth, old medicine in an old bottle, but change the pharmacist.
     This so-called “bottle” refers to the name of the system—for example, [whether to] continue calling the system “reeducation through labor” or call it “unlawful conduct corrections,” or “illegal conduct re-educational corrections”—and adjusting the system’s legislative form—that is, administrative regulations or law. This so-called “medicine” refers to content of the system set out by the corresponding legislation, primarily these four things: first, the target of RTL/corrections; second, the procedure for adjudicating RTL/corrections; third, the method of RTL/corrections; fourth, the avenues of relief available to targets of RTL/corrections.
     So, “new medicine in a new bottle” is both changing the current system’s name and reforming its content. “New medicine in an old bottle” is not changing the current system’s name—still calling it “re-education through labor”—but reforming its content. “Old medicine in a new bottle” is just changing the current system’s name—for example, to “unlawful conduct correctional system”—without changing its content. And “old medicine in an old bottle, but changing the pharmacist” is not changing the system’s name or content, but changing [its legal basis to] a law promulgated by the National People’s Congress.
     Comparing the bottle and the medicine, the medicine is more important. Comparing the name and content of RTL, the content is more important. The main reason for reforming and reconstructing RTL is not that the name is not good or that the National People’s Congress did not set the legal basis establishing this system; rather, it is that this system violates standard legal procedure. So, changing the “medicine” is the most important, most key task in reforming and reconstructing RTL.

How Should the “Medicine” Be Changed?

     First, reduce the scope of the target of RTL/corrections. RTL/corrections should be limited to people who violate public order despite repeated efforts at education, but who cannot be criminally punished. So, from among the current targets of RTL and corrections, [we] ought to remove first-time offenders, those who have “long resisted labor, undermined labor discipline, willfully caused trouble, disturbed [public] order or obstructed public business,” prostitutes and their patrons, and mentally ill people who threaten public safety. These individuals should be managed through other systems, and the law should not entrust RTL/corrections with the function of managing these types of social problems. One type of system cannot be used to resolve dissimilar problems.
     Second, reconstruct the process for adjudicating RTL/corrections. Although RTL/ corrections have an educational character, they also have a punitive character. As such, in deciding to carry out these actions on a particular person, proper legal procedures should be followed, [including] a statement of the matter, hearing of the defense, separation of [legal] functions (investigation, prosecution, and adjudication), and public, impartial proceedings. A more independent adjudication mechanism should be established and a system of hearings implemented. In principle, hearings should be open and allow for the targeted individual to challenge [the findings of] the investigating and prosecuting bodies and the prosecution. If the adjudicating body finds the defense argument raised by the targeted individual during the hearing to be reasonable, it ought to be accepted.
     Third, reform the method of RTL/corrections. RTL/corrections requires labor, but requires education even more. Through all types of education, the targeted person should be rehabilitated, causing a change in thinking and action. The decision about the location of corrections, whether through community corrections or a specialized RTL facility, should be based on the nature of the targeted person’s unlawful behavior and the degree of danger to society. The period of RTL/corrections may be implemented in correspondence to the nature of the unlawful behavior of the targeted person and the degree of threat to society.
     Fourth, improve the avenues of relief available to the targets of RTL/corrections. The law ought to provide for relief for the targets of RTL/corrections at two stages: First is at the adjudication stage: if the target does not accept the adjudication, he or she may petition for review or file an appeal. The second stage is during the implementation of RTL/corrections. If the target is not satisfied with the approaches, methods, or punishments imposed by the RTL/corrections institution, he or she should also be able to petition for review or file an appeal.


Why I Support Abolishing the Re-education-Through-Labor System
By Yu Jianrong
Beijing News, May 8, 2010

     Recently, Beijing University Law School Prof. Jiang Ming’an published an essay on the issue of re-education through labor [RTL], “Re-education Through Labor: Abolition or Reform and Reconstruction?” [His essay] suggests that the RTL system should be reformed and reconstructed, rather than completely abolished. The reasoning is that the social problems that RTL handles objectively exist, and eliminating RTL would leave society with a management vacuum. The reform should be “new medicine in an old bottle.” Changing the meaning of the content [of RTL] is more important than changing the name, because the problem with RTL is that it [lacks a basis in] laws promulgated by the National People’s Congress and that it violates standard legal procedures, not that the name [RTL] is not good. “New medicine” includes reducing the scope of the targets of RTL/corrections, reconstructing the process of adjudicating RTL/corrections, reforming the method of RTL/corrections, and improving the avenues of relief available to targets of RTL/ corrections.  
     As for the first problem that Prof. Jiang is concerned with, that is how to handle social problems previously managed through RTL, I feel we can make use of criminal punishments and administrative penalties to resolve them. China’s system of criminal punishments already includes light punishments such as public surveillance and penal servitude. And the “Public Order Punishment Law” punishes minor unlawful behavior, and can be reasonably used or revised appropriately such that it is not necessary to retain the RTL system. Are variations in the nature of social problems really that large? Are such complicated distinctions as criminal violations, RTL, and administrative sanctions required? The United States doesn’t have the notions of “criminal” and “unlawful” that we do, and yet it does not have these systemic problems with social administration.
     I do not oppose establishing a supplementary educational correctional system, assuming it does not use the limitation of people’s personal liberties as its purpose or method, but instead helps people break unlawful criminal habits and readapt to normal life through legal education, psychological guidance, job placement, and concern for individual lives carried out by civil administration departments, social workers, or community [organizations]. Of course, filling gaps left from the abolition of RTL is a problem that involves many specialized disciplines such as social administration, criminal punishment, or social work, and may require borrowing from the experience of other countries, so there is space and a need for experts from many fields to discuss [the issue] further.
     This, however, is not a reason to reform the RTL system instead of abolishing it, or “putting new medicine in an old bottle.” I still maintain that from the vantage point of creating a system for a modern nation, we ought to abolish the RTL system as soon as possible. My reasons are as follows: 
     First, it is not the case that names completely lack meaning. Retaining the old name “re-education through labor” does not have a positive effect, but instead has a negative influence. Confucius said: “If the name is not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things” and “What is necessary is to rectify names.” In the decades since the RTL system was implemented—because it has extralegally deprived people of their liberty, because in various historical periods it has been used to strike at various singled-out groups, because in recent years officials in some places have repeatedly used it to harm members of the public, because of the “death by cold shower” and “death of a skeleton” at RTL facilities—it can be said that it is a name that lives in infamy. The words “re-education through labor” already have a specific connotation beyond their literal meaning. As long as it has been decided to change to new “medicine,” what need can there be for an old “bottle”?
     Moreover, not only does Prof. Jiang’s “new medicine” not resolve the problem of the original legitimacy [of RTL]—it also does not change the substance of the RTL system. First, its punitive nature is not changed. Second, the RTL facility remains a form of concentrated corrections, which deprives people of their personal liberty. Third, it does not explicitly modify the body that has jurisdiction over RTL, leaving it under administrative authority (specifically, being implemented by the public security bureau) rather than judicial authority. Despite specifically applying many types of restrictions and improving procedures and [avenues] of relief, if these three points are not changed, the “essence” of the RTL system will continue as before, and the problems for which the RTL system is now denounced cannot be resolved. More realistically, in the present environment, there still exists a danger of the RTL system being abused or exploited.
     Furthermore, the RTL system has already seen its day. RTL was born in the 1950s. From its establishment until before the “cultural revolution,” RTL was “a tool of political struggle,” a way to prevent a floating population [from forming], and a means of molding the “new socialist man.” After [China’s] reform and opening in 1978, it transformed into a “method of social management.” But its fundamental nature has not changed. It is still a method of social control outside of judicial procedure, used unilaterally by administrative powers, and highly efficient at depriving citizens of their personal liberty. In the formative years of [the People’s Republic of China], the re-education-through-labor system was useful for bringing society under control, but now it is already out of date and must “advance with the times.”
     Finally, legitimacy is the foundation of a country’s existence and development, and a “proper” legal system and the approval of the public are both fundamentals of a country’s legitimacy. If the RTL system—this type of system of deprivation of personal liberty outside the judicial process—cannot be abolished, it shows that citizens’ liberties and rights are not being completely respected. The existence of the RTL system already gives rise to widespread dissatisfaction among the public. This cannot continue.
     Based on this recognition, I advocate abolishing the re-education-through-labor system in a single step and both firmly oppose “new medicine in an old bottle” and disagree with “old medicine in a new bottle.” When the unsuitable realities of the old system are transformed, “baby steps” or “tinkering” often become a force of habit in which choices can be avoided—because it is “safer” to “cross the river by feeling the stones,” whereas abolition in a single step seems risky.
     The result of excessive pragmatism is maintaining short-term administrative convenience and social “stability” but damaging fundamental values such as “rule of law” and “justice.” Of course, I’m not saying that abolishing RTL will be without “labor pains,” but nothing in the world is perfect. The crux is in choosing the bottom line, holding fast to convictions that should be upheld, and bearing costs that must be borne while not missing the most opportune moment for transformation because we underestimated society’s flexibility and ability to endure.

A Day in the Life of a Chinese Defense Lawyer

Criminal defense lawyers face many challenges in China, especially when the clients they defend are charged with endangering state security or other politically sensitive acivity. Among the many difficulties defense lawyers must overcome is trying to meet with a suspect whose case is still in the “criminal investigation stage”—that is, being handled by police prior to making a recommendation to the procuratorate for prosecution.

Just how difficult arranging such a meeting can be was recently described in great detail in a blog post (translated below) by Liu Xiaoyuan, a prominent criminal defense lawyer at the Qijian Law Firm in Beijing. Liu, who often writes about the cases he handles on one of his many blogs, has been involved with a number of difficult and sensitive cases in recent years. He was involved in Yang Jia's murder trial and, most recently, defended You Jingyou, one of three people in Fujian convicted of defamation in connection with Internet postings aimed at helping an illiterate woman pressure local authorities to investigate the suspicious circumstances surrounding her daughter’s death.

In May and June of this year, Liu spent three weeks in the United States as part of the State Department’s “International Visitors Program.” While overseas, he learned that he had been requested to defend Zuo Xiaohuan, an activist from Sichuan formally arrested on May 28 on charges of inciting subversion. Liu’s account of his attempts to meet with his client in the local county detention center illustrates the importance he and other rights attorneys in China place on procedural rights, as well as the repeated battles that must be fought with law enforcement officers who have their own sense of how things should be done.

A Meeting with Zuo Xiaohuan
July 8, 2010

    Who is Zuo Xiaohuan? Before I met him, I had no idea. But he probably knew of me, because when the Mianyang Public Security Bureau [formally] arrested him on charges of inciting subversion on May 28, Zuo Xiaohuan told them he wanted to engage me as his attorney. At the time, I was in the United States visiting Washington and was given the news by someone else over the Internet. I immediately replied that I would accept.
    I returned to China from the United States on the afternoon of June 13. Because I had to take care of some old cases, I didn’t have time to go to Mianyang right away. Later, Zuo Xiaohuan’s older sister telephoned and asked me to go to the Santai County Detention Center to meet [with Zuo] as soon as possible. She said that the officer in charge had been threatening her for having passed along the arrest notice to another person.
    Zuo’s sister is a rural woman with very little education, so the officer’s threats made her feel extremely scared. I told her over the phone that she hadn’t committed any criminal act, so there was no need to worry or be afraid. I said that the arrest notice was given to her and isn’t any state secret, so she’s within her rights to pass it on to anyone. The public security organ has no right to interfere, and if they dare step out of line, she can report them.
    On July 6, I took the earliest flight from Beijing International Airport to Mianyang. I didn’t arrive in Santai County until around noon.
    Zuo’s sister never told me clearly which public security bureau was investigating the case. Only after I got to Santai County and she showed me the two notices did I learn that Zuo Xiaohuan had been placed under criminal detention by the Santai County Public Security Bureau and that the Mianyang Public Security Bureau had executed the arrest. In other words, at the time of arrest the case had been transferred to the Mianyang Public Security Bureau for investigation. The Santai County Public Security Bureau had detained Zuo Xiaohuan on suspicion of the crime of subversion, while the Mianyang Public Security Bureau [formally] arrested him on suspicion of the crime of inciting subversion. These are two different crimes.
    When an attorney asks to meet with  a criminal suspect during the investigative stage of a criminal case, it must be arranged by the unit handling the case. Zuo’s sister gave me the telephone number of Team Leader Feng, who as head of the Mobile Investigation Team of the Mianyang Public Security Bureau’s Domestic Security Unit was responsible for the case. I called Team Leader Feng, and he told me to go to the Mianyang Public Security Bureau the next day, saying that the bureau would have someone accompany me to the meeting. I pointed out that Zuo Xiaohuan’s case didn’t involve state secrets and that there was no need to “trouble” the police to accompany me to the meeting. Team Leader Feng said that Zuo’s case was no ordinary case and that according to their rules a police officer had to accompany me. I said that if they wanted to come escort me, I’d wait for them there in Santai County but wouldn’t go to Mianyang.
    At about 6 p.m., I got a call from Team Leader Feng, who said that I had to go to the Mianyang Public Security Bureau to hand in the paperwork for the meeting and that his superiors needed to give approval before I could meet [with Zuo].
    According to the provisions of the law, as long as the case doesn’t involve state secrets a lawyer doesn’t need approval from the public security bureau to meet [with a suspect]. The public security bureau should [simply] arrange for a meeting within 48 hours. But in practice, the arrangement process often turns into an approval process—all so the public security organ can put its authority on display. In order to ensure the meeting would take place, I had to check out of my hotel room in Santai County and hire a car to take me to Mianyang.
    On July 7, I arrived at the office of Team Leader Feng at 9 a.m., as we had arranged. Team Leader Feng was very polite, asking me to take a seat in the conference room and warmly bringing me a cup of tea.
    Team Leader Feng took the official letter from my law firm and the authorization letter from Zuo Xiaohuan’s sister, and then he turned to seek his superior’s approval. About a half-hour later, Team Leader Feng returned to the conference room. He told me that there were problems with the power of attorney [POA] authorization letter from Zuo’s sister. I asked him what the problem was. He said that, first of all, there was a problem with the way the POA letter had been completed; second, the letter did not clearly set out the limits of the authorization; and third, the letter had merely been signed, without affixing a fingerprint.
    I explained to him that a POA authorization letter could be completed either by a lawyer or by the person making the authorization. Zuo’s sister didn’t have much education, so I had completed the letter and she indicated her approval with a signature. The format of a POA authorization is uniform and set by the lawyers’ association, so it’s the same throughout the whole country. Since this is a criminal case, not a civil case, it’s only necessary for the letter to specify the engagement of a certain lawyer from a certain law firm to act as attorney for a [particular] criminal suspect. There is no need to state specific limits of the authorization, because specific limits to a lawyer’s authorization are set out in the Criminal Procedure Law and Lawyers Law. Moreover, the Ministry of Public Security’s Procedural Regulations on the Handling of Criminal Cases by Public Security Organs also has similar provisions. The POA authorization was personally signed by Zuo Xiaohuan’s sister, and the law doesn’t have any provisions requiring her to affix her fingerprint as well before it can be binding.
    Having heard my explanations, Team Leader Feng still believed that the POA authorization needed to set out the limits of authorization. I countered that if he felt there was a problem with the letter’s format, we could go make an inquiry at the Mianyang Justice Bureau or the lawyers’ association. Or we could go ask the criminal investigation unit, which arranges attorney visits frequently, whether other lawyers have submitted POA authorization letters in the same format. I even asked, rhetorically, whether Zuo Xiaohuan’s case was the only one the domestic security unit had ever handled. If they’d handled cases in the past, they could compare those POA authorization letters with this one.
    Team Leader Feng no longer contested the format of the POA authorization letter, but he continued to insist that it needed to be affixed with a fingerprint. I asked him to show me the legal basis—which law, regulation, or rule required both a signature and a fingerprint before a POA authorization  could be binding?
    I said that even if he could show me provisions in a document [issued by] the Sichuan Public Security Department or even the Mianyang Public Security Bureau, I would accept them.
    Team Leader Feng still had doubts about the authenticity of Zuo’s sister’s signature, so I said: “You delivered the arrest notice to Zuo’s sister. Can’t you just compare it to the signature she made when accepting the arrest notice?”
    Zuo Xiaohuan’s note indicating he wanted to engage me as his attorney was delivered by the public security bureau to his sister from the detention center. At this point, I also took out that note and said: “If Zuo Xiaohuan didn’t want to hire me, would I have come all this way to Sichuan?” Team Leader Feng was silent.
    I have a habit of carrying a collection of laws whenever I’m working on a case. Team Leader Feng saw me pull out the book and said that he wasn’t used to looking at my book, so he turned around and went back to his office to get his own book.
    Flipping through the Procedural Regulations on the Handling of Criminal Cases by Public Security Organs, he was unable to find any provision that required a family member to affix a fingerprint in addition to a signature on a POA authorization letter before it could be binding. Neither the Criminal Procedure Law nor the Lawyers’ Law had provisions, either.
    Even though he couldn’t find an appropriate basis, Team Leader Feng still insisted on the need for affixing a fingerprint. He said he was not intentionally trying to make things difficult for me but only wanted to do things according the public security bureau’s procedures.
    Actually, this wasn’t making things difficult for me; it was Zuo’s sister who would have to be called to personally make a trip. Left with no alternative, I called Zuo’s sister and asked her to come to the Mianyang Public Security Bureau. Her house is some distance from Santai County and is thus even farther away from Mianyang.
    I thought to myself: “Even if Zuo’s sister had affixed her fingerprint on the POA authorization, [Feng] probably would have still found fault, saying that he couldn’t verify that the fingerprint was hers.”
    Team Leader Feng said I was too agitated and had a bias against the police. But I think that when it comes to an attorney’s involvement in the investigation stage of a criminal case, it’s usually the police, not the lawyer, who has the bias.
    When the public security bureau turns “arranging a visit” into “approving a visit” or when a family member’s signature isn’t enough and a fingerprint necessary—even when no concrete [legal] basis can be found—is it the lawyer who’s biased against the public security organ or the public security organ who’s biased against the attorney’s involvement?
    After three hours of discussion from 9 a.m. to 12 noon, there was still no result. Zuo’s sister couldn’t get there right away, so I left the Mianyang Public Security Bureau to have lunch. Team Leader Feng told me to come back at 1 p.m.
    Around 1 p.m., Zuo’s sister arrived. Without time to eat lunch, she went with me to the public security bureau and, in the presence of Team Leader Feng, affixed her fingerprint on the POA authorization letter.
    But Team Leader Feng again said that the POA authorization needed to set out limits of the authorization. Zuo’s sister told him she only had a second-grade education and couldn’t write. Team Leader Feng wanted me to help her with the writing. I said there was no basis for writing limits of the authorization.
    In order to avoid any further complications, I wrote on a blank piece of paper: “The limits of the power of attorney are in accordance with Article 35 of the Procedural Regulations on the Handling of Criminal Cases by Public Security Organs.” Team Leader Feng wanted Zuo’s sister to copy that on the POA authorization letter, but she said she honestly couldn’t write, so Team Leader Feng finally gave up.
    After completing the formalities for arranging the visit—which actually were “approval procedures”—Team Leader Feng said they were just following procedures and regulations and were really not trying to make things difficult for me.
    At 2:30 p.m., Zuo’s sister and I hired a car to take us to the Santai County Detention Center. Team Leader Feng notified a police officer who was in Santai County handling a case to accompany me to the meeting.
    When I arrived at the Santai County Detention Center just before 4 p.m., the police officer was there waiting to accompany me to the meeting.
    The public security organ hadn’t classified Zuo Xiaohuan’s case as one involving state secrets, so according to the Criminal Procedure Law, the Lawyers’ Law, and the Procedural Regulations on the Handling of Criminal Cases by Public Security Organs, police officers may not accompany lawyers during their meetings [with suspects]. But public security organs are very powerful, and even a lawyer who loves to argue as much as I do has no choice.
    What surprised me is that after Zuo Xiaohuan was brought into the meeting room, the police officer took out a recording device in the shape of a pen and placed it on the table. I immediately argued that to accompany me to the meeting was already a violation of the law but recording a lawyer is an even bigger violation.
    They had me call Team Leader Feng, but when I dialed his number no one answered. I could only take out my own pen-recorder, at which point the police officer informed me that the detention center didn’t allow lawyers to make recordings. I asked them to show me the legal basis.
    I told them that according the the rules for handling criminal cases established by the All-China Lawyers’ Association, a lawyer meeting with a criminal suspect (or defendant) may make a recording or a photograph as long as the suspect (or defendant) agrees. There is no need for the detention center to agree.
    I said that I’d heard that in the case of Li Zhuang [a defense lawyer accused of coaching his client in an organized crime trial to recant his testimony] the police had a recording but that they didn’t dare reveal it as evidence for the prosecution because it was a serious violation of the law for police to make recordings. Zuo Xiaohuan’s is no mafia-type case of organized crime; he’s been charged with inciting subversion of state power for helping people to defend their rights, writing articles that exposed the darker side, and discussing his political views during interviews with overseas media. His confession isn’t important for convicting him of a crime; the key is the articles he wrote. Is there any need to worry about a lawyer coaching him to recant his confession?
    In Zuo Xiaohuan’s case, to take these kinds of precautions against his lawyer is actually a sign of a guilty conscience.
    I told Team Leader Feng numerous times that during the criminal investigation stage I’m not too interested in discussing the facts of the case, because I haven’t yet seen the prosecution’s evidence or the case file and can only hear Zuo Xiaohuan’s side of the story. During the criminal investigation stage, I’m much more focused on the legal procedure followed in handling the case.
    It’s not up to the public security organ or the procuratorate to decide whether Zuo Xiaohuan is guilty of a crime. That should be decided by a court, based on the facts and the law. Of course, in light of problems with the legal system, it’s possible that it will be up to the politics and law committee [to determine guilt]—the Zhao Zuohai case in Henan is a classic example. But in some places the head of the public security bureau is also secretary of the politics and law committee, so there are also cases where it’s up to the public security bureau [to determine guilt].
    Seeing that I was going to keep arguing, the police officer accompanying me for the meeting suggested that neither side make recordings, but I suspected that he might have some hidden way to record secretly. If the police want to eavesdrop, what power does a lawyer have to prevent it?
    Zuo Xiaohuan says that the police decided to take him into custody because he was helping private-school teachers in Santai County protect their rights. The local private-school teachers are of the same opinion.
    In helping others to protect their rights, Zuo Xiaohuan had in the past also been interviewed by overseas media and given political opinions about social problems. He’d even been sent to re-education through labor when he was working at Leshan Teachers’ College. After being fired from his job, he began seeking to protect his own rights. Having encountered numerous injustices in the course of helping to protect the rights of others and himself, he said some things out of dissatisfaction with present circumstances, but he maintains they didn’t have anything to do with state political power.
    When he mentioned state political power, I suddenly asked him: “What is [meant by] state political power?” He couldn’t explain it. I think that Zuo Xiaohuan isn’t the only person who doesn’t know what state political power means; probably the officer handling the case doesn’t understand it either. Otherwise he wouldn’t suspect the act of criticizing the government as the crime of inciting subversion of state power.
    Zuo Xiaohuan’s mind is clear and he has mentally prepared himself to be sentenced. He thinks someone always has to sacrifice and says that since they’ve taken him in on suspicion of inciting subversion there’s almost no chance that he’ll be acquitted. Otherwise, the police would lose face.
    In recent years, basically all those who have been taken in for helping the vulnerable groups to protect their rights have been found guilty of crimes like defamation, false accusation, or extortion. For local [officials] to charge Zuo Xiaohuan with inciting subversion shows that they’re treating him as a “political figure.”
    In my view, Zuo Xiaohuan is only a rights defender, not a “political figure.” Maybe it’s because he participated in [the events of] 1989 or discussed political opinions with overseas media that led to [the case] being upgraded to a political level and linked to a threat to state political power.

    Zuo Xiaohuan was born in 1969 and is yet unmarried. After being fired from his job, he went looking for work but, thanks to interference by others, wound up an unemployed person. Zuo Xiaohuan has four brothers and sisters, his father has passed away, and his mother is in her seventies. Zuo’s sister told me their mother hopes that Zuo can be released soon and return to the countryside to become a farmer.
    When you come right down to it, the tragedy of Zuo Xiaohuan, this individual, is actually the tragedy of the [entire] society.