China Aid Association
On April 24 of this year, I accepted the authorization from my client involved in this case and began to represent Hua in his case involving the charge on him of disrupting the public duties.
I, as the defendant’s defense attorney, was also barred from entering the court.
However, the morning of June 4, before the court opened in the afternoon, I, as a defense counsel, and the family members of the defendant, went to Wenyuhe Court located outside the Fifth Ring Road. We found not only the family members of the defendant could not enter the court to defend him, but I, as the defendant’s defense attorney, was also barred from entering the court. This case was not one for private trial and I do not understand why Tongzhou District Court handled the case so mysteriously throughout the process.
DEFENDANT OR CRIMINAL STRIPPED OF RIGHTS? ATTORNEY PREVENTED FROM ACCESSING CLIENT
1. The Criminal Court of Tongzhou District Court is guarded as if it was a prison and it is very hard for an attorney to see the judge!
After I accepted the authorization, I immediately contacted Tongzhou District Procuratorate on April 25. A representative named Wang told me the person handling the case was not available and told me to call back the next day. When I called back the next day, Wang answered the call again. He asked me what I wanted and I said I needed to review the file. He said the person handling the case was not available and told me to call back in two days. When I called again, it was still Wang who answered the call. He told me to call back after May 1. I asked who I should look for once I’m there. He said I should look for him and he could process the matter. He also told me that I didn’t need to call again.
Wednesday, May 9 I brought the retainer agreement with me and came to Tongzhou District Procuratorate located on the northwestern corner of Red Scarf Bridge. I was glad that I would spend the whole day reviewing the files and meeting the defendant. So I thought. However, as soon as I arrived at the reception hall on the second floor of the procuratorate, the receptionist who met me called for instructions from his superiors and then told me Hua’s case had been transferred to the court. I asked him when it was transferred there and he said he didn’t know. Therefore, I went directly to the court.
When I arrived at the main building of Chaoyang Court located in the south gate of Chaoyang Park, the policeman in charge of the security check told me that the criminal court was at Wenyuhe Court in Louzizhuang. The sign on the hallway for the security check shows how to get to Louzizhuang, i.e. go to the south gate of Chaoyang Park, take Bus 350, get off at Louzizhuang and walk past one traffic light and there you are. I asked the policeman in charge of the security check whether Wenyuhe Court was very far. He said it is really very far from where we were talking to each other. I realized there was not enough time to go there on that day, so I decided to go there the next day.
The next morning, I took a bus to the south gate of Chaoyang Park and then got on Bus 350. There was no traffic on the way there. After about an hour, I arrived at Wenyuhe Court at Louzizhuang. After I passed the security check at the gate, I came to the door of the criminal court on the second floor. However, the door was locked from inside and there was no receptionist there. Then I went to the third floor where I saw the same thing. So I had to go back to the second floor and waited there outside the door. After a long time, a person who looked like he was in the court for some business opened the door from inside. I took this opportunity and got in. I went to an office facing north and asked who handled Hua’s case. The judge told me that he was the wrong person to ask this question to as he is not a secretary and that I should look for the secretary. I asked where I could find the secretary, and he said I could find one in the room with an iron door. I went to the office and the door was open, however, there was nobody there. I waited for a while outside the door and then a person who looked like a bailiff came over. He asked me why I was there; I told him I was there to look for the secretary so that I could review the case. He said the secretary was not there and told me to wait outside the door. He had me wait outside the door and shut the door. Then he left. When I saw this and the locked door without any receptionist as other courts and institutions have, I realized there was no end to the waiting. I have been to many institutions and organizations and have never seen such an organization. Inside, it looks exactly like a prison and it is totally separated from the outside world. This makes people feel that the so-called “people’s courts” are very afraid of being visited by the people! In prisons, they have at least receptionists who can forward the visitors’ message to the people inside. Not here. There was no receptionist. It was the first time that I have ever seen such an organization and this court was in Beijing. Unbelievable!
After I waited for a long time, another person came out and left. I again took this opportunity and entered the room. I waited for a long time outside the office of the secretary and finally the secretary came. She checked in the computer for Hua’s registration and said there was no information on Hua’s case. She told me to go to another court. So I went to another court and there was no information on his case, either. He said the case might still be at the Case Filing Department and had not been transferred to the criminal court. Therefore, I decided to focus on the Case Filing Department.
JUSTICE SYSTEM PROMOTES INJUSTICE: CONTINUED DECEPTION AND DENIAL
2. There would be no justice in China if every court in the country did its job like the Tongzhou District Court!
After I left Wenyuhe Court, I immediately went to the headquarters of Tongzhou Court located in the south side of Chaoyang Park. The first window on the right side of the case filing hall is the information desk for the cases. To prevent the people in the court from misreading the names of the client, attorney and defendant, I intentionally wrote the name of the defendant whose case I would like to review on the back of the authorization agreement. The judge turned over the authorization agreement. When she saw there was an authorization agreement, she checked it in the computer and said there was no information on this case. I asked her if we could find the information on the case once it arrived in the court. She replied that it depends and that only when it is assigned to a specific person who handles this case can there be information on the case. To double check, I asked her whether there was definitely some information on the case’s registration once it is transferred to the criminal court. She said yes there was. Therefore, to make sure that I got information on this case quickly, I decided to go to this place again the next day and do some inquiries. I went over on the second day for inquiries and she said there was still no information. I then used a computer’s touch screen and wrote down the phone number of the court’s secretary. In the next three weeks, I called the secretaries of Criminal Court 1 and Criminal Court 2 dozens of times (85998176 for Criminal Court 1 and 85998218 for Criminal Court 2), but no one ever answered the call. I called the phone number of Case Inquiry Division and luckily got through, but the person who answered the call said she didn’t take phone calls for inquiry. According to her, people who want to do inquiries must go there in person with the authorization agreement. By voice, I thought she was the same person at the window for inquiries on cases.
Therefore, from May 14 through May 18, I went every day from Zhongguancun to Case Inquiry Division of Case Filing Department of Tongzhou Court to ask if there was any information on the registration of Hua’s case. Every time, she told me there was no such information. I went there again on May 21 for inquiry. She checked it and still said no. I said: “The procuratorate transferred the case to the court before May 7. According to the Supreme Court’s interpretation on the Criminal Procedural Law, the 7-day period for filing and reviewing a case has expired. How come there’s no information on his case?” She replied: “There’s no use in telling me this. The bottom line is there’s no information here.” I asked her: “Besides this place, where else can I go to find the information?” She said: “For the court, this is the only place. As for other places, you can check the procuratorate.” I called the procuratorate and a person whose voice sounded like that of Wang who worked there answered the phone. He said: “The case has been transferred to the court. You can check the court.” I felt either the court or the procuratorate was lying to me. It is impossible that the case was neither in the court or the procuratorate.
Now I had to tell the family members of my client what had happened. I told them to go to the procuratorate and the court also to check for the information. At the procuratorate, the family members found a woman procurator in charge of Hua’s case. This procurator told the family members the information would be at the court the next week. Starting from May 21, I went to the court every other day. On May 25, the first working day of the “next week” (as meant by the procurator ate) I went to the court again and there was still no information. I said to the judge: “The procuratorate told me the case has been transferred to the court long ago. Why is there still no information in the court?” The judge said: “I’m in charge of inquiries only. If there’s no information on the registration of the case, there’s nothing I can do.” So there was nothing I could say. Though I called the number of the secretary of the criminal court every day, it seemed no one ever answered the call and I never got through. When I went to the court for inquiry of the case, I usually checked the electronic bulletin board to see if there was any public notice on this case. However, the week in which the procuratorate said there would be information on Hua’s case, all the public notices disappeared on the screen of the electronic bulletin. Then I realized there might be something fishy going on. As one of Hua’s family members witnessed, I couldn’t find Hua’s information and she herself couldn’t find the information either after many trips to the court. She concluded that there was going to be a secret trial in the court. When I found the electronic screen stopped showing public notices, I also had a premonition that this case was going to have a secret trial. If it were not so, why couldn’t we find the information on this case at the Case Inquiry Division?
That the electronic screen ceased showing the public notices was abnormal too. This couldn’t be the occasional “error” or “coincidence.” According to the family members of my client, if the court opens for the case and the electronic screen doesn’t show it, the reason the court will give will be that the electronic screen has broken down. If they neither filed the information on the case nor put the information on the electronic screen, they would be able to open the court secretly without the knowledge of the attorney or the family members. In this case, they could achieve the goal of conducting the trial in a secret manner.
However, at this time I still had a hope that things might get well by sheer fluke because this was an ordinary criminal case and it did not involve state secrets. I also thought there was no need to conduct a secret trial.
“PUBLIC” TRIAL MADE SECRET: FAMILY AND ATTOURNEY BANNED
3. The secret (so called “public”) trial was found out before the trial and the attorneys and the family members were barred outside the court.
Monday, June 4 I decided to do a routine inquiry at Tongzhou Court in the morning and I had planned to attend to another matter at First Intermediate People’s Court of Beijing in the afternoon. However, an accidental discovery changed my plan. Usually, I would go to the inquiry window and then check the news on the bulletin. On that day, I saw there were still no notices on the electronic bulletin board located on the side of the street, so I clicked “Bulletin Information” on the touch screen on the side of the hallway for the security check. Suddenly, a familiar name flashed at the end of the list. I thought I might have misread it so I played it again. It was the public notice for Hua’s trial and the court was going to open at 1:20 on that afternoon.
I immediately went to the window for case inquiries and asked that judge angrily: “I have been trying to find the information on Hua’s case since May? And you people have always told me there was no information on registration of his case. Why is the court going to open his trial this afternoon?” That judge was very much undisturbed about the situation. She again put Hua name in the search index and there was still no information on Hua’s case in the registration list. She thought I might not believe it and she was also afraid she might have mistyped the name, so the turned around the computer screen and let me look at it. I looked at it again and again and it was very clear. The name was typed correctly but there was no information on his registration. When she told me previously that there was no information on this case, I even thought she might have mistyped the name of the defendant as the name of the client. Now, it was clear that the case was never registered. This time, I fully believe that there had been no clerical error on the part of this judge. The court really never registered Hua’s information in the system.
Believing that they couldn’t have forgotten to register Hua’s information in such an important case, I was curious to find out why. I asked the judge at the case inquiry window about this, she told me to ask the person in charge at the case filing window. Then I asked the judge who looked like a person in charge. Since Monday is a reception day for the court president and various chief judges, I would guess he was either a court president or a deputy court president. After he heard my reaction, he said: “This is a criminal case. I’ll give you a phone number and you can call to ask this question.” Yet, when I called this number, the line was always busy. When I saw it was already after 10 o’clock, I had to notify Hua’s family members of this important information. I called Hua’s wife and nobody answered the call, so I immediately called his brother. He called back very soon and I told him to come to Chaoyang District Court and he came without asking what it was about. Not wanting to be reconciled with the fact some people manipulated the case, I wanted to tell the court president about this. So I looked at the map of the court and it showed the court president had a reception room. I had seen this map once before when I wanted to look for the court president, but I didn’t find it. This time, I looked for it again and there was no such a room at all. I know this kind of decorative services is everywhere and it is unlikely that the court president can give consultation to ordinary people in the reception room. However, I felt I must find the court president and tell him about this issue. So, I asked the bailiff how I could find the court president and the bailiff told me to go to the Petition Reception Office on the 7th floor. When I got to the Petition Reception Office, I realized it was impossible to find the court president. Only two women employees were sitting there, listening to the complaints. I had seen too much of this and I knew they couldn’t solve the problems at all. Then I went downstairs and waited for Hua’s family members at the gate of the court. I asked Hua’s brother why he was still not there; he said he would be there soon. At this time, Hua’s wife also returned my call. I told her an important thing had occurred and the court was going to open its session soon. She was shocked, too and asked me about the time the court would open. I asked her if she had got the notice that the court was going to open, her reply was negative. I said that if the court didn’t want the attorney to get involved, they wouldn’t have to notify the attorney, but why didn’t they notify even the family members? When I handled cases outside the city, judges had usually offered to contact the family members and always insisted that they hire an attorney. They all know at least the idea of decoration. I feel it strange that as a court in the capital city of China, Chaoyang Court doesn’t even want the decoration.
At this time, Hua’s brother arrived and I decided not to wait for Hua’s wife and immediately got on my way to the court in Wenyuhe. It was about 11:30 when I arrived there, but the gate of the court was locked. The guard said the court was in recess and told me to check back when they resumed work in the afternoon.
We waited outside and when it was not yet 1 o’clock, three police vehicles came out of the court. The people around the court told me they were going to pick up the defendant for the court. I found there was still some time left and there was no problem for me to deal with the court opening the trial. Though the actions of the procuratorate and the court made it impossible for me to contact this case, yet the case was a simple one. During the period of investigation at the court, it was enough for me to know the case and plan the strategies. Therefore, we continued to wait outside. After about 1:30, the police vehicles of the court came. More than 10 minutes after the police vehicles went inside, the gate of the court began to let people in through the security check.
The security check went very slowly. It took us nearly 20 minutes to get in. When we got to the second floor where the court was supposed to open, the door was closed tightly and we had to wait outside. Hua’s brother was among the first to go in and said he saw Hua who had just been led to that room on the left side where he waited for trial. Now, a person came out from inside and left, I went in and told the bailiff on the side that I was the attorney for the case and wanted to go in for the court trial. The bailiff bellowed loudly and told all of us to go out and wait until they call us. We waited and waited outside and they never called Hua’s family members or his attorney to go in. At this time, the bailiff opened the door and bellowed again that the case had been tried and told us to leave that place as they were going to take the prisoner away. Hua’s family members said the case hadn’t been tried, but the bailiff said it was over. I asked the bailiff how they could finish the trial without letting the attorney enter the court. This is a secret trial and is illegal! The bailiff said: “I’m not in charge of this matter. You should talk to the judge about this.” I asked Hua’s brother how he saw Hua and he said he was led to the trial waiting room near the gate on the left from a room inside. I asked him when he saw his brother, and he said it was less than half an hour after the police vehicles arrived. Now I realized that before the people went through the security check, they had already started the trial on Hua’s case and they finished it in less than an hour. In the schedule, Hua’s case was not the first to be tried as another case was scheduled at 1 o’clock before Hua’s case. The attorney for that case waited a long time before he went in. In this way, I can conclude that before all these public observers passed the security check, the trial of Hua’s case was already over. With this in perspective, the absence of the case’s registration at the Case Inquiry Division, the disappearance of the public bulletins in the giant electronic screen and other matters are a “perfect coincidence.”
After the defendant was escorted away, I decided to find out who in Tongzhou District Court was so smart that he or she could make such a perfect arrangement that even if the attorney came in two months earlier, he wouldn’t have an opportunity to get involved in this case. I found Judge Yu who handled this case and told him I was Hua’s attorney. I told him that I had come to their place very early in the day and asked him how they could open the court in this way. He said with a smile: “What can I do? Hua said in the beginning that he wanted to hire an attorney, but we couldn’t find his relatives! So we had to let him sign a document on May 31 that he wouldn’t hire an attorney. Judge Yu then took out Hua’s handwritten instruction and showed it to me. I said: “Starting from the end of May Day holidays, I called the Case Inquiry Division of the court almost every day in the first week or so. Then I called every other day for the inquiry and the Case Inquiry Division always said they didn’t have the record of registration. They didn’t have it even today when the court opened. Not only I didn’t find it, his relatives checked it many times and got the same negative result. Moreover, no one ever answered the phone numbers of the two secretaries of your criminal court! Judge Yu said with a smile: “This is due to the problem of communication between the court and you people. We are not in charge of registration of cases.
You can talk about this with court president. The secretaries are often not in the office. Even we find it hard to find the secretaries.” As for his claim that they couldn’t find Hua’s relatives, I said: “Hua’s father said that the policemen conducted their duties at Hua’s home from six o’clock in the morning and leave at five in the afternoon as if they were working on a fixed schedule and it was like this every day, including holidays and weekends. They provided zero-distance protection and gave him food and drink. In this situation, how could it be possible that they couldn’t get hold of his relatives?” The court clerk replied: “We can’t go there in person to deliver the notice to his relatives just for the trial of one case.” This reason can only reveal that the judge himself didn’t do his duty well and it also shows the judge in charge of this case is not adept at manipulating procedures and documents. A smart manipulator should have decided in the first place not to register and not leave a trace at the Case Inquiry Division. In the past, when some courts were unwilling to let observers attend the file, they let in all the judges in the form of demonstration/study trial. These judges occupied all the seats so that the real observers couldn’t attend the trial. However, this trick can only prevent other people from attending the trial. Yet, Tongzhou District Court is lucky enough to have a master manipulator. This mastermind behind the manipulation of this case made it impossible for the attorney to attend the court during the trial. He must be the mother of all masterminds.
The judge in charge of the case asked me in amazement how I found out that the court opened today. I told him the information was on the touch screen. At this time, the court clerk took out a bulletin and said to me: “Look, this is what I wrote on June 1. I did it three days in advance and you see, this is in conformity with the legal requirement.” I thought to myself that they indeed planned it very well. June 1 was a Friday. Most people think the court works only half a day on Fridays, so they don’t come to the court on Friday afternoons. Moreover, that Friday was also the International Children’s Day and that is all the more reason why the judges needed a rest. The court is closed on Saturdays and Sundays. Nobody would go there on these two days. Given this situation, the only time when people could find the bulletin was Friday afternoon. However, the person in charge of publishing the bulletin on Friday surely wouldn’t publish it early on that Friday morning. As long as he or she published it around noon, very few people would find it. Things went just as I analyzed. I consider myself as the person who has made the greatest frequency of trips to the court in these days. On June 1, even I didn’t see the bulletin on the touch screen. Yet, they can say in all sense of justification: “The bulletin was published three days ago and this meets the legal requirement.”
After this experience with Tongzhou Court, I have lost my confidence in the Chinese court system. I remember seeing several old ladies denouncing the judges at Tongzhou Court in the first week after May Day holidays: “You judges have made the life of us ordinary people of China so hard.”
China Aid Contacts
Rachel Ritchie, English Media Director
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