Quote of the Day: Courtroom Altercation “Reflects the State of the Justice System as a Whole”

This week, defense lawyer He Zhijuan posted her account of a clash between her and her colleagues and court bailiffs in Guizhou. According to one Weibo comment highlighted by CDT Chinese editors, “The situation in this courtroom reflects the state of the justice system as a whole.” The incident took place a week before the anniversary of the “Black Friday” or “709” crackdown in 2015, in which China’s burgeoning community of rights defense lawyers and legal activists was systematically demolished. Although in the Guizhou case He’s colleagues were able to summon regular police to intervene, the bailiffs’ violent reaction to efforts to check that prosecutors were following correct procedures underlines the status of the legal system in China as a “knife handle” in the hands of the authorities.

Rights lawyer Chen Jiangang highlighted the incident on X, and shared some of the video captured by He and her colleagues:


Today, young criminal defense lawyer He Zhijuan was among those present at a court session in Yunyan District, Guiyang City, Guizhou Province. When she quite legitimately snapped a picture of the procuratorate’s notice of officers on court duty after court had adjourned, a group of bailiffs brazenly grabbed her phone and beat her! [Chinese]

He’s own account of the clash is translated below:

I’m He Zhijuan of the Beijing Han Ding United legal office. On July 1, 2024, proceedings opened in Guiyang’s Yunyan District for an extortion case against Zheng Xiaohui, Sun Jian, et al. Lawyers Wang Chunli, Xue Guangming, Wang Qiwen, Yuan Yujing, Xue Hongling, Zhang Fang, and I were there representing the defendants. On the first day of the trial, we raised a question about whether the resumption of hearings had been conducted correctly, after they were earlier postponed to allow further investigation at the procuratorate’s suggestion. We also filed applications for the victims and witnesses to appear in court; for the exclusion of unlawful evidence; for discovery of electronically stored information and other pertinent evidence; and for the presiding judge, prosecutor, and clerk to be recused, among other things, but the bench rejected all of them.

This morning, the Yunyan District Procuratorate added a new prosecutor to its team in court, and we asked to review his notice of appearance. The judge instructed the clerk to give us the documents for examination, and informed us that we could only make copies after court had adjourned for the day. After the court adjourned, some of the defense council asked to make copies, but the clerk refused, saying the judge hadn’t said anything to him about allowing copies, or that if he had, it had been a slip of the tongue. We then opened communications with the presiding judge about this matter.

While this was going on, I noticed a quarrel in the public gallery. My assistant was surrounded by seven or eight bailiffs—it was unclear what was happening. I took out my phone to record what the bailiffs were doing, and they demanded that I delete the recording. I asked them to show me the legal provisions barring recording of law enforcement activities while court was in recess. They refused to do so, and grabbed my phone.

Seven or eight bailiffs swarmed me, and a couple of them forcefully grabbed my arms and attempted to wrestle my phone away from me. Throughout this, I continued to keep a tight grip on my phone, but made no attempt to resist the bailiffs’ actions. Auxiliary police officer XJ0063 knocked me down, then grabbed my hands to drag me back up again, after which I fell back on the ground. My arms, wrists, and fingers were red and swollen in several places.

During this time, another lawyer who used their phone to record evidence of these unlawful acts was stopped by court staff and bailiffs and threatened with legal action if any photos or video of the altercation appeared online. Lawyer Zhang Fang promptly called the police, who arrived 10 minutes later from the Yanwu District substation and asked me and Judge Jian Jijiao some basic questions and took copies from the court’s audio-video recording system. After the police arrived, the bailiffs still refused to return my phone, saying that recording was not allowed even during recess, and that my phone had been confiscated.

Soon after, I followed the police back to the substation to make a formal statement of complaint. We are currently waiting to hear the results of the police investigation. [Chinese]


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