Attorneys accused of politicizing cases, seeking profits
Chinese police have detained a group of lawyers suspected of illegally organizing paid protests and fabricating rumors on the Internet to sway court decisions, practices which analysts believe reflect the deep-rooted problems within the legal profession.
According to a statement from the Ministry of Public Security published on its website Sunday, several lawyers from the Beijing-based Fengrui Law Firm, along with several social media celebrities and petitioners, are accused of disrupting public order and seeking profits by illegally hiring protesters and swaying court decisions in the name of "defending justice and public interests."
Analysts said that lawyers should fulfill their duty within the legal profession, instead of crossing the line by politicizing their cases or even becoming involved in illegal activities.
Since July 2012, the group has organized more than 40 controversial incidents and severely disrupted public order, said the statement.
In one high-profile case, a lawful police shooting at a railway station in Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province was distorted as a murder conspiracy. The local incident became a nationwide controversy after the tide of public opinion was manipulated and hyped up by lawyers, confessed Zhai Yanmin, a major organizer of the group, according to the statement.
According to the statement, police officer Li Lebin shot dead Xu Chunhe on May 2 at Qing'an Railway Station in Heilongjiang. Xu attacked Li several times and was shot after multiple warnings.
Lawyers allegedly spread rumors that "Li opened fire at Xu under the order of an official because Xu was a petitioner." They also raised placards at Qing'an Railway Station and kept pressuring local officials.
The statement went on to say that Zhai hired "petitioners" to shout slogans, staged a sit-in, and hoisted banners to protest and offer support for the lawyers.
Wu Gan, also known by his online name "the vulgar butcher," posted messages on his social media accounts, offering some 100,000 yuan ($16,106) in cash for any video clips that had caught the "truth" of the incident.
Hong Daode, a law professor from the China University of Political Science and Law, told the Global Times that illegal fund-raising, assembling a crowd to disturb the operation of judicial authorities, or making parodies to insult government officials may constitute criminal offenses, such as fraud, disturbing public order, or libel.
The group also received funding from overseas, the statement added.
According to the police, Zhou Shifeng, director of Fengrui Law Firm, and his fellow lawyers at the firm, Liu Sixin, Huang Liqun, Wang Yu, and Wang Quanzhang have also been detained. Zhou is suspected of being involved with other felonies pending investigation.
"The incident reflects the abnormal relationship between lawyers and the judicial authorities, as lawyers are supposed to facilitate the court to achieve justice," Bi Yuqian, a legal expert at the China University of Political Science and Law, told the Global Times.
Bi believes that the lawyers have instead become confrontational, and value commercial benefits more than their professional ethics.
"The internal regulation was not sufficient. The whole industry should reflect on their professional standards, as well as what roles and responsibility they should fulfill as lawyers," Bi said.
Besides organizing protests, the group has also coordinated others to film scenes of "mass incidents" and posted them on some overseas websites to manipulate public opinion.
Zhai confessed that activities such as these have become the standard mode of operation for the "rights defense" circle, adding many of his peers were resentful of the Party and the government, taking pride in being detained by the police.
The statement also points out that the suspects have reaped their rewards of fame or money.
It said that Zhou, director of the firm, boosted the firm's popularity while the lawyers earned more commission fees. On the other hand, the petitioners got more attention from the government officials about their cases, sometimes earning more favorable public opinions.
"The power and rights of lawyers come from the law and they should be aware more than any others that they should abide by the law," Chen Zhonglin, dean of the Law School at Chongqing University, told the Global Times.
"As lawyers, they should invest their talents and skills in court collecting evidence. While the defense of rights is bound to involve politics, there is a certain line that lawyers should not cross, such as conducting inappropriate or illegal activities outside the court," Chen said.