Chinese Article Claims That Research on the Difficulties Faced By Criminal Defense Lawyers Restricted After Revealing "Shocking" Initial Results

January 18, 2005

According to a 21st Century Business Herald report originally published in August 2004, the Beijing justice bureau effectively canceled a multi-year study on the work environment for Chinese criminal defense attorneys in 2002 after initial research revealed major problems. Scholars and lawyers in Beijing launched the research in an attempt to determine the extent of the hardships that Chinese defense attorneys face in representing their clients. In the first phase of the study, researchers sent comprehensive surveys on criminal defense work to 2,000 lawyers in and around Beijing (considered to have a better than average work environment for defense attorneys by Chinese standards) and received nearly 600 responses. According to the article, the initial results “shocked people,” with one observer noting that the problems were worse than they thought possible. In response, the Beijing justice bureau reportedly blocked publication of the initial survey results and refused applications to continue the research program in 2003 and 2004. Lawyers interviewed for the article expressed dismay at the results and doubts that the environment for defense attorneys in China would improve much in the near future.

As an illustration of these problems, the article recounts the case of an Inner Mongolia defense lawyer named Ma Guangjun, who authorities detained on charges of “evidence fabrication.” According to the account, Ma had represented a rape suspect and produced seven witnesses at trial who claimed that the suspect could not have committed the crime. After the testimony, prosecutors asked for a delay in the case and detained and interrogated all seven witnesses. During the interrogation, the witnesses reportedly admitted to fabricating their stories and accused Ma of enticing them to testify falsely. As a result, the rape suspect was convicted and Ma was detained for obstructing justice.

Later, an appeals court overturned the original verdict in the rape case and called for a retrial. At retrial, the seven witnesses again testified that the suspect could not have committed the rape. The witnesses were again detained and interrogated by law enforcement authorities, and once again recanted their testimony. After the rape suspect was found guilty a second time, Ma was charged with violating Article 306 of the PRC Criminal Code, a provision on evidence fabrication, and held for 210 days. Concerned about the case, the Inner Mongolia Lawyers Association launched an investigation and found that not only were there severe problems with the government’s evidence against Ma’s original client, but that police had committed violations of law in handling the case. Consequently, a court declared that Ma was innocent of the evidence fabrication charges and ordered him released.

Chinese legal experts indicate that numerous defense attorneys have been improperly charged with evidence fabrication under Article 306. One prominent Beijing lawyer claims that of the more than 100 lawyers accused of violating Article 306, more than 90% have been cleared. According to statistics cited in the semi-official publication Beijing Review (see related story here), of 23 lawyers actually tried on charges of evidence fabrication, 11 have been found innocent, and nearly 80% of the 500 lawyers detained, accused, or punished for all reasons between 1997 to 2002 were “eventually found innocent of any wrongdoing.” The CECC examined the problems of defense lawyer harassment in a May 2003 topic paper.