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Lawyers Dismissed or Withdrawn in Protest of Unfair Trials of Three Citizen Activists

January 31, 2014

Four participants of the New Citizens Movement—Ding Jiaxi (丁家喜), Li Wei (李蔚), Zhang Baocheng (张宝成), and Yuan Dong (袁冬)—were tried in two separate trials on Monday, January 27 at the Beijing Haidian District People’s Court.  The proceedings marked the end of a series of trials of citizen activists that began with Xu Zhiyong on January 22.

All four defendants on Monday were charged with “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place,” in connection with their participation in citizen actions in the early months of 2013 calling for disclosure of officials’ assets as a way to fight corruption. The actions—unfurling banners, distributing leaflets, giving speeches in public—took place in various locations in Beijing, including outside Tsinghua University and Peking University and at Chaoyang Park.

Counsel for all four defendants raised procedural objections, and the trials of all but one defendant—that of Yuan Dong (袁冬)were adjourned following the dismissal or withdrawal of defense counsel.  The trial of Yuan Dong—who was originally the co-defendant of Zhang Baocheng and  the sole defendant to retain  his defense counsel—ended in his conviction and a sentence of one and half years in prison. The remaining defendants now have 15 days to re-appoint their respective defense teams.

Below are details of the trials, including some of the procedural and substantive arguments raised, based on firsthand accounts and online information provided by sources knowledgeable about the proceedings.

Ding Jiaxi and Li Wei’s trial

According to Wang Quanzhang (王全章), one of Li Wei’s two defense lawyers, in the beginning of the trial, he and his co-counsel raised objections to a series of procedural irregularities, including issues related to recusal and legitimacy of the collegiate bench (合议庭的合法性).  According to Wang, the court “refused to consider” their objections.

During the trial, Cheng Hai (程海), one of Ding Jiaxi’s defense lawyers, announced his decision to withdraw as counsel, alleging procedural violations by the court and Procuratorate (退庭申诉控告声明).  The violations cited in his statement to the court, which he later made public (but which the court refused to accept, according to an account Chen posted online) include the Haidian District Procuratorate's failure to notify the lawyers of the opportunity to submit documents, review case files, and provide defense opinions during the prosecution period.

Zhang Baocheng and Yuan Dong’s trial 

In an online post, Chen Jiangang (陈建刚), one of Zhang Baocheng’s lawyers, described some of the proceedings of Zhang’s trial.  Chen recounted that despite objections, no witnesses were allowed to testify in court, and that when relevance of the written testimonies advanced by the prosecution were questioned, the presiding judge threatened to recommend formal punishment for Chen.

According to other online posts, the evidence presented for examination by the prosecutors was not shown to the defendants, and Zhang’s wife said that the judges repeatedly brought down their gavels to interrupt the defendants and their counsel.

After Zhang Baocheng dismissed his defense counsel, the court continued to try co-defendant Yuan Dong, who asked his lawyer, Zhang Weiyun (张维云), to continue his defense. In his substantive defense argument, Zhang Weiyun asserted the legitimacy of citizens' demands for officials to disclose their assets and pressed the prosecution to demonstrate how precisely Yuan’s actions disrupted public order.

In his final statement, Yuan Dong did not deny that he participated in the activities detailed in the indictment, but asserted they are lawful and legitimate and that it is his right and duty as a citizen to undertake such actions.

The Haidian court issued its guilty verdict on Yuan Dong on Wednesday, January 29, two days after the trial. Yuan says that he plans to appeal the ruling.