New York University law professor Jerome Cohen argues that China’s efforts to build soft power are doomed to failure by its use of the criminal justice system as an instrument of political repression. This tendency seems likely to continue in spite of legal reforms. Cohen cites the cases of figures as varied as his protégé Chen Guangcheng, Chen’s nephew Chen Kegui, “the world’s most powerful artist” Ai Weiwei, and fallen Chongqing Party chief Bo Xilai, as well as others less well known. The article is republished at NYU’s U.S. Asia Law Institute:
Nothing more vividly illustrates this injustice than the restrictions imposed on an accused’s right to effective counsel. These restrictions are not apparent from a reading of China’s ever-improving legislation. The 2007 Lawyers Law eliminated some of the obstacles confronting defence counsel under the 1996 Criminal Procedure Law, but police skirted that reform, saying they are not governed by the Lawyers Law. This year, many of those 2007 changes were incorporated into the Criminal Procedure Law itself, so that, starting on January 1, when the revised law takes effect, police can no longer rely on that feeble excuse.
Unfortunately, as Shakespeare might note today, legislative improvements keep the promise to the ear, but Communist Party- controlled legal institutions break it to the hope. If current events are any guide, the situation is unlikely to change under the revised Criminal Procedure Law. Recent cases remind us of the authorities’ continuing refusal to implement the right to counsel in good faith.
[…] These cases are legion and make a mockery of China’s claims to have established “a socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics”. Until the right to effective counsel is recognised in practice as the cornerstone of criminal justice, China’s “soft power” efforts are destined to fail.
Cohen’s fears that
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