Inside the Walls of a Detention Center

NYU law professor Jerome Cohen argued last month at the South China Morning Post that “nothing more vividly illustrates” abuse of China’s criminal justice system “than the restrictions imposed on an accused’s right to effective counsel.” Currently prominent cases provide some examples. Authorities appointed their own lawyers in place of those chosen by the families of Gu Kailai, Bo Xilai’s wife, and Chen Kegui, Chen Guangcheng’s nephew. In a June appeal hearing, Ai Weiwei’s lawyer Pu Zhiqiang complained that he was allowed only one minute to make his closing argument against the artist’s tax evasion fine. Ai himself was prevented from attending, while his legal advisor Liu Xiaoyuan was forced to leave Beijing.

Interference is not limited to high-profile cases, however, and is not always so aggressive. At Caixin, criminal defence lawyer Zhang Yansheng recalls advising a client through a frosted plastic partition, which blocked effective communication for much of their meeting.

As a professional criminal defense lawyer, I have been to detention centers everywhere. They are of course all different, but at a recent visit with an inmate, we were separated by pane of frosted glass.

[…] It has been more than a month since I came back from Foshan City, but I just can’t wipe that blurred face and muddy voice from my memory. A colleague laughed at me by saying, “You were not there on a date. What does it matter that you didn’t see the person’s face?”

But yes, we are often forced reluctantly to work under such conditions and people much too often accept it as normal. But has anyone thought about how many wrong verdicts have come about because of such tough conditions? How many have lost their lives unjustly because of these restrictions?

In the detention center, ripping away those plastic boards and replacing them with steel bars would have transformed the way the lawyers meet their clients and would have made the meeting much more productive. Effective communication would be beneficial to the criminal proceedings themselves, but would also show criminal suspects that they are fairly treated. Would the detention center ever think to allow that?


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