RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And our next story comes from China, where thousands of alleged mob bosses have been arrested and several have been executed. The organized crime trials have attracted some of China's most noted defense attorneys who want to make sure the proceedings are not just show trials.
But one lawyer found himself facing charges, accused of falsifying evidence. And Chinese lawyers are outraged by what they see as an assault on their profession. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports.
ANTHONY KUHN: For months now, crowds have milled around outside courthouses in Chongqing, a major city on the Yangtze River, where the mob trials have been taking place. The talk of the town, recently, has been a brash Beijing-based attorney named Li Zhuang. First, Li claimed that police had tortured his client, an alleged mob boss, into making a confession. Then the authorities turned the tables on Li, accusing him of getting his client to lie. Finally, in a stunning reversal, Li apparently copped a plea in secret for a lesser sentence, something which China's law does not allow. That plea cost Li the moral high ground from which he could have essentially put Chongqing's judiciary on trial.
Eighty two-year-old Zhang Sizhi is a veteran defense lawyer with a reputation as the conscience of China's legal profession. He says the deal between Li and the authorities was disgraceful.
Mr. ZHANG SIZHI (Defense Lawyer): (Through translator) What the two sides have in common is a complete disregard for the rule of law. They try to resolve everything through behind the scenes manipulation and collaboration. They're completely ignoring the law, even in the midst of a legal process. It's absurd and terrifying.
KUHN: Many ordinary Chinese have applauded the anti-mafia trials and hope other cities will launch similar campaigns. Critics, though, see the trials as a self-serving sham choreographed by Chongqing Communist Party boss Bo Xilai in order to advance his political career. Beijing-based rights lawyer Xie Yanyi says Li Zhuang's trial has been engineered to deflect attention from the sloppy, even illegal work of the Chongqing authorities.
Mr. XIE YANYI (Attorney): (Through translator) The authorities have already violated due process, extracting confessions through torture and doctoring evidence. They don't want to give lawyers like Li anything to use against them and derail their political project.
KUHN: It's only been 30 years since China restored its system of trial lawyers, following the legal vacuum of the Cultural Revolution. China's centuries of legal traditions emphasized that justice was about the end result; that is, nabbing the bad guys, and not about due process. Chongqing authorities seem to be betting that this is how the public will see their anti-mafia drive. Lawyer Xie Yanyi doubts the public will fall for it.
Mr. YANYI: (Through translator) I think this case can be an excellent primer in the rule of law for ordinary Chinese. It can eliminate their worship of power and can give them confidence in the rule of law and in their own rights.
KUHN: The problem, says Zhang Sizhi, is that Li Zhuang's case has turned into a wholesale attack on the legal profession, including accusations that lawyers simply protect bad guys.
Mr. SIZHI: (Through translator) If a lawyer is bad, you can criticize or even attack him. But you may not expand this to say that the whole system of defense by lawyers is no good.
KUHN: Li Zhuang's case ended in an uproar last week. Li was in the midst of sentencing when he suddenly grabbed the microphone and blurted out that his earlier confession was fake. Li said that authorities had forced him into a plea bargain and then double-crossed him. Zhang Sizhi says he believes Li's client was, in fact, tortured, and he says Li should have stuck to his guns, even under duress.
Mr. SIZHI: (Through translator) Judicial authorities have all sorts of limitations and controls on us lawyers. The reason that they can so brazenly push us around is that we ourselves are too weak.
KUHN: Propaganda officials may not be happy with the case's implications and have quietly ordered media to stop reporting on it.
Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.
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