Appeals flood Chongqing

By Huang Jingjing Source:Global Times Published: 2013-12-1 20:18:01

The exterior of the Chongqing Higher People's Court Photo: IC

The exterior of the Chongqing Higher People's Court Photo: IC

Chongqing, one of China's four municipalities in the Southwest, has begun recovering from a tumultuous period of mafia crackdowns, nostalgic albeit politically charged revolutionary red song campaigns, and the ruptures caused by being epicenter of the political earthquake that brought down the most infamous politician in China's recent history, Bo Xilai.

But the wounds are still healing, particularly those dealt to Chongqing's legal system, as appeals flood local courts.

Ever since Bo, formerly a member of the Communist Party of China's (CPC) Central Committee Political Bureau and secretary of the CPC Chongqing Committee, fell from grace and his key lieutenant police chief Wang Lijun was cast out, the legal legacy of their tenure has been a blight upon Chongqing. Many charged with organized crime as a part of Wang's "Chongqing Gang Trials" have risen up to make appeals, claiming they were forced to confess.

Li Zhuang, formerly the lawyer for one of the key targets of the gang trial campaign, who has closely observed the legal climate in Chongqing during and after Bo's tenure, estimates that thousands of people are filing appeals.

 "Not only the convicted, but also many of their relatives, friends and even neighbors who were illegally treated during the interrogation process are lodging appeals," Li told the Global Times.

However, most appeals to the authorities, such as courts and procuratorates, have received no reply. Applicants have become increasingly anxious and desperate as time passes by.

Now, legal experts are warning that this situation has the potential to spiral out of control and lead to social unrest, unless justice can find a balance in this city cursed by politics, anger and uncertainty.

Tales of torture

In June 2009, when Wang Lijun was the face of justice in the city, one year after he had been transferred to Chongqing from Liaoning Province, and three months after he was promoted to police chief, the city launched a crackdown against organized crime.

Chongqing authorities announced that as of November 2011, they had smashed 551 mafia-style gangs and captured 5,618 suspects. Among them, a total of 1,367 people had been convicted, with 77 government officials and police charged with playing the role of "protective umbrellas."

Many of them were from local private enterprises. At least 64 received the death penalty, but in many cases this was "death with reprieve" which instead could result in lengthy prison sentences, according to Chongqing authorities. Hundreds of police officers were charged, demoted or removed due to illegal connections with gangsters.

"However, many were branded as mafia gangsters and many confessions were extracted using torture," Tong Zhiwei, professor of the East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai, told the Global Times. In September 2011, Tong wrote a 55,000-character report on Chongqing's crackdown on gangs after a four-month study, and sent it to the central leadership in Beijing.

"The major target of the campaign was to weaken or exploit the local private sector, private enterprises and their managers or owners. The properties expropriated from them were used to strengthen State-owned companies or subsidize local finances. The main result of the crackdown was that a large number of entrepreneurs went bankrupt and their families were shattered," Tong pointed out in his report.

Tong published the report in October 2011, as part of a meeting of the Constitutional Law Association, a subset of the China Law Society. However, the report did not generate widespread attention until the Wang Lijun incident, in which Wang, Chongqing's "hero gang buster," sought asylum at the Consulate General of the United States in Chengdu, claiming his personal safety was threatened because of his investigation into a homicide committed by Bo Xilai's wife, Bogu Kailai.

After that crisis unfolded, unsettling tales began to emerge. Descriptions of torture surfaced, involving the shackling of hands and feet while being strung up, as well as stories of sleep deprivation using bright lights. The Tieshanping Forest Park, known as a summer getaway in east of the city, was reportedly a large facility used by police to interrogate suspects.

"I was often hung up with both my hands behind my back on an iron bar, with only my toes touching the ground," Fan Qihang, a construction entrepreneur who was arrested in June 2009, said in a video his lawyer revealed in March 2012.

On May 31, 2010, the death penalty for Fan was upheld, for several offenses including running a gang, murder and drug trafficking. On September 26, 2010, he was executed.

"I was not allowed to sleep or drink water, and not even allowed to go to the toilet … [I had] cold water poured [on me], was hit by cold air, had my head knocked with plastic sticks and was beaten while my head was covered with a black hood," read a protest letter against the verdict of Li Xiuwu, a shareholder in the Chongqing Junfeng Industrial Development Group.

A total of 20 people from the group were sentenced for gang-related crimes, including organizing prostitution and illegal businesses in late 2011.

Li Xiuwu was convicted as a gang leader and received a sentence of 18 years in prison and fined 200 million yuan ($32.82 million). His son Li Zhankui then lodged a protest to the Chongqing People's Procuratorate in September.

Crying out for justice

After the fall of Bo and Wang in March 2012, police instituted error-correction and rehabilitation mechanisms.

Official figures show that between May 2012 and February this year, a total of 1,235 police officers who had been charged with offenses had lodged appeals. Among them, over 70 percent were declared innocent, 8 percent of the original penalties were eased and 15 percent upheld.

"My father said the day he had been waiting had finally arrived after watching news of the dismissal (of Bo) on TV in jail," Li Zhankui told the Global Times.

Another sector has also witnessed extensive corrections. The Junfeng Group revealed in October that authorities had returned its previously confiscated official seals, and unfrozen funds of 200 million yuan. In June, ownership of a Hilton Hotel was returned to the Qinglong Property Development Company; relatives of Chen Mingliang, Chairman of the Chongqing Jiangzhou Industrial Group - who was executed for running a 34-member gang in September 2010 - had seized antiques returned to them, according to the China Business Journal.

In October, Wu Jiong, director of Chenjiaqiao police station in Shapingba district, was detained on charges of interrogation by torture, the Nanfang Daily reported.

Li Zhuang also shared his excitement on his Weibo in late July, saying that CPC central discipline inspectors in Chongqing had invited him for a talk. "The truth will soon be disclosed. Any attempts to cover it up will be in vain," he said.

In February 2010, Li Zhuang was sentenced to 18 months in prison for fabricating evidence and encouraging a client to perjure himself in court. He was disbarred after the case. Li denies any offenses and has been seeking retrials after serving his jail term.

Law stymied

Li Zhuang said he admits that the majority of those convicted in Chongqing's crackdown on organized crimes were guilty but the charges were enlarged and the severity of punishments was increased. He said that the biggest problems were that the police, under Wang's leadership, rarely followed judicial procedures and sometimes utilized torture.

Last month, the Supreme People's Court stated that torture and other illegal physical means cannot be used during the collection of statements from suspects.

Yang Jiehui, a lawyer for the Junfeng Group, told the Global Times that the police seized and dealt with Junfeng's property before the verdict was handed down, which is illegal.

The Junfeng Group, as a legal entity, also filed an appeal asking for State compensation of 113 million yuan from the Shapingba police bureau for the losses caused by the bureau's "forced supervision and management" over the company since January 2011.

The People's Courts have to make a written reply expressing whether or not they have accepted the appeal within six months, but many have failed to provide replies.

Zhang Xuan, director of the Standing Committee of the Chongqing Municipal People's Congress, told media in March that all the wrongly prosecuted cases would be corrected according to the law.

But obstacles remain.

A police officer-turned lawyer in Chongqing, who declined to reveal his name, said the biggest barrier is that many officers have been promoted or rewarded thanks to their direct participation in the crackdown. "They of course would oppose reviews. So only if those who did not benefit from the crackdown deal with the appeals and retrials can justice be truly fulfilled," he told the Global Times.

Li Zhuang said the large amount of money expropriated from the crackdown was another big concern. "Most of the money has been used for crackdowns and red song campaigns. Once the verdicts were removed, how can the authorities pay back the money?" he said.

Chongqing's official media reported that the city had held more than 250,000 red song activities by the end of February 2012.

Tong estimated that the value of the properties confiscated from the crackdown amounted to up to 100 billion yuan but the details of these property cases remained murky.

"The appeals in Chongqing are not one or two, but hundreds to thousands. The impact would be enormous if most verdicts were reversed," Li Zhuang said.

He added that it's reasonable for the authorities to be cautious, but the speed at which appeals are being dealt with is too slow to quell the mounting complaints.

Li Zhankui said he and other applicants would resort to joint petitions in public sites or before government buildings if they could see no progress from other means.

Calls to the publicity department of the CPC Chongqing municipal committee, press office of the political department of the Chongqing Public Security Bureau, and Chongqing Higher People's Court all went unanswered.

A staff member from the press office of the Chongqing No.1 Intermediate People's Court didn't provide any reply as of press time.

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