Innocent until proven guilty? That is the question some are asking during the Chongqing corruption trial, given the public’s treatment of the defense lawyers. More details, and questions on how this bears on China’s developing rule of law, from Guo Guangdong for the Southern Weekend, translated by Tim Hathaway:
Not being able to fully protect the rights of criminal suspects is an embarrassment that seems to be taking place yet again as Chongqing cracks down on the underworld. It has become a huge problem for the Chinese legal system.
Even though the law stipulates that people are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, the media has put forth extensive so-called reports on members of criminal world. They have hastily determined the guilt of these suspects through the court of public opinion.
Despite the fact that defendants by law have the right to legal representation, the lawyers assigned to handle these kinds of cases are strictly told by the Chongqing Municipal Bureau of Justice not to fuss over the details of the cases and not to say anything to the media that might influence the outcome. In stark contrast to this, one professor in Chongqing has publicly stated “the unprecedented power of propaganda” is a result of the crackdown and “it is obviously a very good plan.”
What is even more unfortunate is that the majority of lawyers are unwilling to take on these cases. The two that have appeared in court , Zhao Zhangqing [赵长青] and Zhou Litai [周立太], have felt the ire of the public online, being called “criminal advisors to the underworld” for contradicting the accusations of prosecutors, that Li Qiang [黎强] and Li Zhigang [李志刚] are in the mafia. They say these lawyers are being paid unconscionable wages that conflict with the crackdown on the underworld.