Cablegate: Chongqing Legal Scholars, Lawyer On Gang Crackdown And

Published: Fri 29 Jan 2010 08:23 AM
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1. (U) This cable contains sensitive but unclassified
information. Not for Internet distribution.
2. (SBU) Summary: The organized crime problem in Chongqing is an
inevitable outcome of unprecedented economic development,
several legal contacts recently told us. However, Chongqing's
traditional "wharf culture" also makes it a unique breeding
ground for organized crime. The crackdown has not been
surprising given the reach of the corruption involved and its
wide impact on people's livelihoods -- especially given the
stranglehold gangs had gained on food and transportation in the
city. Criminal gangs had simply begun to yield too much power,
and public support to fight them was broad-based.
3. (SBU) While many commentators in the Hong Kong and foreign
press have noted the political benefits and national attention
that a crackdown has brought to Chongqing Party Secretary Bo
Xilai, most of our Chongqing interlocutors -- perhaps hesitant
to comment on the jockeying among senior Chinese leaders in the
run-up to the 18th National Party Congress in 2012 -- stressed
instead that it should be seen in the context of the national
anti-organized crime campaign launched by the Ministry of Public
Security in 2008. Indirectly crediting Bo Xilai, however, they
described anti-crime crackdowns in other cities as "fake,"
versus the "real" crackdown - including on high government
officials - in Chongqing. Legal contacts generally described
the crackdown and trials as "in line with the law," and good for
China's legal system. Regarding the case of Li Zhuang, the
Beijing-based defense lawyer recently sentenced to two years'
imprisonment for allegedly fabricating evidence, all seemed
loath to come to his defense, asserting that the "government
wouldn't have arrested him if he hadn't done anything illegal."
End Summary.
4. (SBU) During January travel to Chongqing, Consul General
discussed the ongoing Chongqing gang trials with a group of
legal scholars, and separately with well-known labor rights
lawyer Zhou Litai (reftel), who has taken on several of the
gang-related cases. The legal scholars, all alumni of USG
exchange programs, included: Fang Ling, Director of the Law
Institute, Chongqing Academy of Social Sciences; Chen Wei,
Professor of Civil Law, Southwest University of Political
Science and Law; Chen Boli, Deputy Dean and Professor of
Constitutional Law, Chongqing University Law School; Xiao Hong,
Professor of Criminal Law, Chongqing University Law School; and
Wu Xueyan, Professor of International Economic Law from
Chongqing University Law School.
Gangs in Chongqing: Natural Outgrowth of Rapid Social Change?
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5. (SBU) At CG-hosted dinner for the Chongqing legal scholars,
Fang Ling of Chongqing's Academy of Social Sciences asserted
that gangs are an inevitable outcome of economic development,
noting the unprecedented speed of the city's development in
recent years. The growth has created a range of new social
problems, and gangs are one aspect, he said. Lawyer Zhou Litai,
in a separate discussion, also described criminal gangs as an
"inevitable and normal" result of rapid development and social
change. Nevertheless, both also highlighted Chongqing's unique
"wharf culture" as providing a particularly advantageous
environment for the growth of organized crime. Chongqing people
are more interested in "group adventures" and highly value honor
and loyalty among friends "like workers at the ports in ancient
times," they said. Xiao Hong of Chongqing University's Law
School, reported that he has studied the phenomenon of gangs
throughout Sichuan province, and found that Chengdu and other
cities also face their own gang issues, "but I have to admit
that it's not very serious," he said, in comparison to Chongqing.
Citizens Feel Depth of Gang Problem Justified Crackdown
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6. (SBU) Both the group of legal scholars and lawyer Zhou Litai
characterized the ongoing crackdown as normal and justified
given the severity of the Chongqing gang problem. "When gangs
threaten society and undermine the power of government, they
must be controlled and punished in accordance with the law,"
said Xiao. Moreover, they emphasized that Chongqing's crackdown
occurred in the context of the nationwide crackdown on organized
crime launched by the Ministry of Public Security in 2008 (the
"quanguo guangzhu" initiative). Xiao noted in particular
ongoing campaigns in Guangdong and Zhejiang, but described
government actions in those provinces as not as serious as in
Chongqing. Other provinces arrest and punish the gangs, he
said, but they do nothing to the officials who are behind the
gangs. Therefore, he continued, what they are doing can be
described as a "fake hit" (jia da), whereas Chongqing's campaign
is a "real hit" (zhen da). Chongqing's corruption problems are
actually not as bad as either Zhejiang's or Guangdong's,
asserted another scholar. Zhejiang, for example, has arrested
thousands for gang and corruption activities, or affiliation
with organized crime ("hei shehui.")
7. (SBU) Discussing the likely impetus for the seriousness of
the crackdown in Chongqing, Zhou Litai emphasized that the gangs
had begun to yield too much power, monopolizing both public
transportation networks and the food industry. "The gangs were
very powerful," he said, citing in particular the example of Wen
Qiang (the former Director General of the city's Justice Bureau,
arrested and charged last year with abusing his official power
to protect Chongqing's organized criminal networks). Qiang,
Zhou said, particularly angered Chongqing Party Secretary Bo
Xilai by interrupting him during a public meeting and declaring,
"Bo Xilai, you don't understand the situation in Chongqing and
let me talk!"
8. (SBU) Both the legal scholars and lawyer Zhou Litai said the
crackdown enjoys broad public support as people know how
corruption affects their lives (e.g. by increasing the cost of
basic needs), they said. Chen Boli of Chongqing University's
Law School expressed his view that the crackdown was highly
desired by the public, and as a result has gone quite smoothly.
"We were worried," he said, that the crackdown might impede
Chongqing's economic development, but were surprised to find the
economy doing even better now that businesses can be more
confident about their future. While disagreeing that Bo Xilai
launched the crackdown to promote his own political ambitions,
Chen said that the people of Chongqing would now be very happy
to see Bo Xilai promoted to a higher position "for his
contribution to stability and the development of Chongqing."
Differences of Views on Whether Procedural Problems With
Handling of Criminal Cases; Case of Arrested Defense Lawyer
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9. (SBU) When asked for their assessment of the legal handling
of the gang-related cases, and whether there have been
particular problems associated with the crackdown, the group of
legal scholars expressed a general sense that the process has so
far been "in line with the law." Further, they described the
developments as good for China's legal system because they
demonstrated that no one was above the law. Several of the
scholars cited examples such as the open trials and sentencing,
as well as the media coverage of these proceedings.
10. (SBU) During CG's separate meeting with lawyer Zhou Litai,
however, Zhou expressed some reservations. "I feel there are
some legal problems, for example, the lawyers' rights to meet
the clients, review the cases and defend the clients have not
been guaranteed." Zhou noted that the campaign approach would
bring temporary benefits, but would not last long if the process
was not carried out in accordance with the law and in such a way
as to develop the overall system. Therefore, Zhou said, Bo
Xilai has requested that officials "crack down on gangs in
accordance with the law" (yifa dahei) in order to "stand the
tests of history" (jingdeqi lishide jianyan).
CHENGDU 00000026 003.2 OF 003
11. (SBU) When asked about the specific case of Li Zhuang, the
Beijing-based defense lawyer recently sentenced to two years'
imprisonment for allegedly fabricating evidence, both the legal
scholars and Zhou were loath to come to his defense. Xiao Hong
noted, "Li is a very famous lawyer in China and the government
wouldn't arrest him if he hadn't done anything illegal." He
said that "many legal experts" have looked at his case and all
believe him to be guilty." In a similar vein, Zhou Litai
asserted that "we should trust the government as it has a lot of
evidence to prove that Li is guilty." He further asserted that
the arrest was an "unprecedented development" among Chinese
lawyers. Li Zhuang received 1.5 million RMB (USD 220,588) to
handle the cases of gangs and started making fake documents when
it got difficult to defend his clients, Zhou claimed.
12. (SBU) Zhou also highlighted Li Zhuang's lack of connections
in Chongqing, saying that he did not understand the "real
situation" in the city. Zhou dismissed the speed of the arrest,
indictment and trial process as "not an issue" within China's
legal system, since it was handled within the required time
period. (Li's trial and conviction concluded about three weeks
after his initial arrest.) He acknowledged only the possibility
of some minor problems in the handling of the case.
13. (SBU) Note and Comment: Li Zhuang was tried under Article
306 of the Criminal Code, which allows the criminal prosecution
of lawyers for providing "false testimony." Zhou Litai's claim
that this is an "unprecedented" case is arguably either
disingenuous or misinformed, as many lawyers have in fact been
detained under this article. (See, for example, a 2006 report
by Human Rights in China that notes that -- of 500 lawyers
arrested between 1997 and 2002 -- 100 were accused of Article
306 violations:
.) Professional jealousy and
some measure of resentment by Chongqing residents toward an
outside Beijing lawyer may well be a factor in the responses we
heard on this issue. End Note and Comment.
Chongqing Government Rejects
Consulates' Requests for Meetings on Crime Crackdown
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14. (SBU) Consulate General Chengdu has submitted three
diplomatic notes to the Chongqing Foreign Affairs Office (FAO)
since September requesting meetings with the municipal Public
Security Bureau and Justice Bureau on the topic of the city's
crackdown on criminal gangs. All have been refused. Contacts
at the British Consulate in Chongqing have told us their similar
requests have also been denied.
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