A letter to Chongqing colleagues

Dear colleagues in the legal world in Chongqing:

For more than a year now, I’ve wanted to write an open letter to discuss with everyone my views on the “anti-crime drive” (打黑) in Chongqing. But considering that I wrote quite a number of commentaries on my own blog and for various media, I feared I might make carping remarks or get all twisted up, so I wrote off the idea. However, a number of trends in Chongqing of late are nagging causes for anxiety. In my view, the various things that have happened in that city already pose a danger to the most basic notions of a society ruled by law. And as a legal scholar, one in particular who has participated in the process of judicial reform, I believe I now have an urgent duty to openly express my uneasiness and voice my criticisms.

Another factor behind my writing of this open letter is the fact that Chongqing is the locale of my alma mater, Southwest University of Political Science and Law, and a city of which I have the fondest memories. It was there in 1978, after a “long a arduous journey,” that I began my sojourn into legal studies in that campus at the foot of Gele Hill.

In the course of our studies that year, our teachers too had only just returned to campus life after the “terrible decade” during which they were suppressed, and they spoke of the lawless days of the Cultural Revolution, chapter upon chapter of misery and suffering. A number of teachers could not hold back the tears. Actually, all of us students had also experienced the Cultural Revolution first-hand, and all of us one way or another treasured this course of study in law. We longed for the future of building rule of law in our homeland, and we all hungered for the opportunity to get involved in this great project, doing our part to preserve civil rights and freedom. We made up our minds that we would not allow the tragedy of the Cultural Revolution to be replayed on this soil.

Now, thirty years have passed, and so many things have happened in this city with which we are so intimately familiar, things that cause one to feel that time has been dialed back, that the Cultural Revolution is being replayed, and that the ideal of rule of law is right now being lost. That’s right, I’m pointing to the “campaign of crackdown on criminal forces” (打黑除恶) that has been going on [in Chongqing] for two years now (and of course also about this business of “singing red songs,” though I’ll set this issue aside for now).

Throughout this whole “campaign against crime” (打黑) we have seen the furious unfolding of movement-style (运动式) law enforcement and administration of justice. Within a short eight months, the authorities rounded up close to 5,000 “criminally involved” (涉黑) persons by means of informing (or so-called “letters and denunciations by the masses”). Along with this we had one-hundred or so “special case teams” (专案组) making assaults are carrying out wholesale arrest, prosecution and trial proceedings with so-called “Chongqing speed” (重庆速度).

As the diary of Judge Wang Lixin (王立新), posted to the official website of the Supreme People’s Court ahead of the hearing of the Wen Qiang case (文强案) on appeal, clearly shows, police, prosecutors and the courts [in Chongqing] worked in concert, preparing cases without any separation of responsibilities. It’s not just this, but so-called “three chiefs conferences” (大三长会议) have actually appeared too. For a number of important cases, the chief judge, the attorney-general and the police chief will hold meetings and work in a coordinated fashion, so that the cases decided before they ever even go to trial. The eventual hearing of the case is a mere formality. The institutional goal of allowing the three branches to mutually check one another is entirely for naught. My colleagues, do you not believe that these methods run entirely counter to the independent exercise of adjudicative and procuratorial powers clearly stipulated in our nation’s Constitution and Criminal Procedure Law?

In the midst of trial proceedings for the Li Zhuang case (李庄案), we saw quite clearly that the most basic neutrality of the court had already vanished. During the trial, Li Zhuang and his defense attorney requested that witnesses appear in court to be cross-examined. I have no doubt that Judge Fu Mingjian (付鸣剑), who officiated at the trial, understands only too well the importance of face to face cross-examination, because the topic of his research paper at Southwest University of Political Science and Law was on the necessity of witnesses appearing in court for cross-examination. But the collegiate bench [of judges in Chongqing] rejected the request of the defendant, citing as its reason that witnesses were unwilling to appear in court. Please, won’t you all consult your Criminal Procedure Law to see whether or not court appearances by witnesses are determined by the principal of willingness? Seeing as the seven key witnesses in this case are in the custody of law enforcement in Chongqing, the written statements they have provided might have been made under coercion or for gain, and their testimony must be checked in person. Only then can it really be determined whether or not Li Zhuang instigated other in providing false testimony. Nevertheless, the court in Jiangbei District — this is where I studied in my university years — arrived at a guilt verdict in the case on the basis only of this so-called testimony there is no way of verifying.

In the midst of the hearing on appeal of this case, something extremely strange happened: Li Zhuang, who had firmly denied his guilt in the first trial, suddenly entirely admitted his guilt. We are powerless to get to the bottom of the reasons behind this dramatic shift, but when the court announced that, owing to his confession, Li Zhuang’s sentence would be reduced to 18 months from 30 months, Li Zhuang clearly bore the marks of humiliation and anger of one hoodwinked, and he shouted out: “My confession is fake. I hope the court does not handle me according to this plea bargain, as my confession was induced by the Chongqing Public Security Bureau and prosecutors” (see report from Economic Observer Online, February 9, 2010). Li Zhuang’s words show that he had not admitted guilt.

. . .
The problem is, supposing the legal world did not cooperate, how could these judicial dramas be perpetuated? Those who are participating might make excuses and say that they personally harbor doubts or even resist in their hearts, but how can you resist such overwhelming power? Admittedly, this is a very tangled problem. But there is still a clear line between passive obedience and active bootlicking. It is chilling the way some prosecutors with strict legal training have disregarded basic concepts of law, creatively endorsing various illegal actions. And it can be said that this is a sign of the failure of legal education [in our country].

Here I must especially express my feelings of disappointment with a number of law professors in the Chongqing. If the case in professional circles is such that owing to their professional roles they have no choice but to listen to their superiors, it is entirely within the power of these scholars to maintain at least a most minimal degree of independence. As for this trampling on basic standards of rule of law, you perhaps do not wish to directly voice your criticism, but you at least have the right to remain silent. The history of law in many countries shows that, in terms of protecting basic standards of rule of law, one important mission of scholars within the legal field is to provide theoretical support and reinforcement for professionals working in the field. At the same time, they have a sacred duty, as [German jurist] Rudolf von Jhering said, to “struggle for the law. Against intrusions on judicial independence, violations of legal procedure, and conduct damaging civil rights and freedom, scholars must issued clear and firm criticism and opposition. But regrettably, a number of my colleagues [in the legal world] have failed to do this. Quite the contrary, even before the verdict in the first instance came out, they were all singing in unison in official government newspapers, saying things that were completely at odds with the five procedural rules. You can all see online how much attention these obsequious remarks managed to get, doing damage to the dignity of academia and especially the dignity of Southwest University of Political Science and Law. I can’t for the life of me understand. What motivated these colleagues to act this way?

Finally, I have a few words for Chongqing’s police chief, Wang Lijun (王立军). In November 2010, you were given a concurrent post as a director of doctoral students at Southwest University of Political Science and Law. As it happens, I too am a director of doctoral students at the University. So at this point I may as well engage a fellow scholar in a bit of conversation. While you are only chief of police, your role has become quite prominent and you are a person of real consequence in light of the fact that authorities in Chongqing have given the “campaign against crime” such a high level of priority. I harbor a number of concerns about the thunderbolt that is this movement you are spearheading. First, if the guiding principle contains hints of social purification, the result could be quite dangerous. There are always aspects of human nature that cannot be changed, and a healthy society can perhaps only take an attitude of tolerance toward certain human weaknesses. There is an inherent tension between order and freedom, and if order is emphasized too strongly, then freedom will suffer in the balance.

Second, while we all bitterly hate criminal elements, and we encourage dealing with criminal activity in accordance with the law, we must also recognize that for “black society” [criminal gangs] to have developed in Chongqing to the terrifying degree you so enjoy declaring, this must surely mean that serious problems have emerged in “white society” [or "clean society"]. As justice has faltered, for example, enterprises have had to rely on means outside the law to ensure the safety of business. While campaigning against criminal elements is necessary, dealing with the problem at its root means building the relevant systems to ensure that government administration accords with the law and the courts are just.

Third, assuming that in the process of meting out justice the government employs means that are illegal, such as extraction of confession by torture, violating suspects’ rights in litigation, or even intimidating lawyers for the defense in criminal cases, the future consequences of this will be serious. Employing illegal means to strike out against illegal elements leaves people with the unfortunate impression that might is right, that black can be used to deal with black. Moreover, excessively severe penalties upset the expectation people have for equal treatment, and this breeds pent up anger among the family members of those already found guilty, and the guilty who might one day be released from prison, fostering a frightening anti-social force. For many years, we’ve seen that the perpetrators of many of the most grievous crimes [in our society] were those viciously treated in previous “strike hard” campaigns [against crime] and then released at the end of the terms. Having been in law enforcement for so many years, you must be even more clear about this than I am.

Fourth, even though under the current system, police organs have power surpassing that of the courts, I am confident you must understand as a director of doctoral students, that one important measure of rule of law in a country is the limiting of police power by the courts. Police must respect the courts, and they must accept the independent examination and supervision of prosecutors, and must protect the independence of courts and judges. Actually, respect for judicial independence is just as important for those who hold major power in their hands. While he was still in favor, Wen Qiang (文强) no doubt had little idea of the value of this independence, but once he had fallen afoul of the authorities, he must have had a rude awakening, realizing only too well that without judicial independence no one at all is safe.

My colleagues, as I write this letter, I think from time to time of death. While relevant numbers have not been completely released, since the “campaign against crime” was initiated [in Chongqing], aside from Wen Qiang, there have been many people in Chongqing who have been sentenced to death. Death comes to us all, but for the state to deprive a person of his life is a grave matter. I saw pictures on the internet of the city organizing citizens in the singing of “red anthems.” Red banners fluttered in the wind, red as far as the eye could see. The color of these flags is also the color of blood. The “singing of red anthems” and the “campaign against black” [or crime] are bathed in a common color, and one cannot suppress all sorts of complicated memories. Nevertheless, whether one is on top for a time, or lives in ignominy, death will visit us all in the end. Those criminals sentenced to capital punishment will only go there sooner than the rest [in such a system without the protection of laws]. Decapitations and firing squads leave behind dreadful scars, and the trauma is without a cure. The ancient Greek playwright Sophocles recognized this only too clearly. Let me use his words, then, to close this letter:

No ceremony, no wedding songs, no dances and no songs…
Just death! The end of us all is death.
The best would be not to be born at all.
But then, if he is born, the next best thing for him would be to try and return
to where he came from in the quickest possible time!
While youth and its careless mind lasts, no thought is given to what pain, what
misery will, most certainly, follow.
Murder, mayhem, quarrels, wars will come before the inescapable end.
The hateful old age, frailty, loneliness, desolation and
your own misery’s neighbour, is even more misery.

I wish you all happiness, and offer a salute to rule of law.

April 12, 2011

NOTE: The author invites the media to run the text of this letter online, and I extend the invitation particularly to Chongqing media. There is no need to ask permission.

[Link to Chinese original]

为了法治,为了我们心中的那一份理想
——致重庆法律界的一封公开信

贺卫方

尊敬的重庆市法律界各位同仁:

一年多来,我一直想写一封公开信与各位交流一下关于重庆“打黑”的看法。不过考虑到自己在博客等媒体上对于某些事件已经作出过不少评论,担心“说三道四”,饶舌惹厌,也就作罢了。但是,最近重庆的某些走势令人颇感焦虑,如鲠在喉。在我看来,在这座城市里所发生的种种,已经危及法治社会的基本准则,作为一个法律学者尤其是一直参与司法改革的学者,我觉得,公开地把自己的一些困惑和批评意见发表出来已经成为一个紧迫的义务。

促成我写这封公开信的另一个因素是,重庆是我的母校西南政法大学的所在地,是我魂牵 梦萦的一座城市。1978年,经历了“八千里路云和月”,在歌乐山下的这座校园里,自己开始了此后的法学生涯。当年上学的时候,我们的老师们也刚刚从“十年浩劫”中备受压制的状态里回到校园,谈起文革期间无法无天、生灵涂炭的一幕幕,一些老师不禁泪洒讲坛。其实,我们这些学生也都是文革的亲历者,所以每个人都是何等地珍惜法学这门专业。我们憧憬着祖国法治建设的前景,盼望着能够早日投身到这桩伟大的事业中,为保障公民权利与自由作出贡献,并下定决心,绝不让文革悲剧在这片土地上重演。

然而,时过三十多年,我们多么熟悉的这座城市里却发生了很多事情,令人恍然有时光倒流、文革重演之感,法治的理想正在沦丧。是的,我指的正是已经持续两年多的“打黑除恶”(当然也包括“唱红 ”,不过“唱红”这里就暂时不讨论了)。在整个“打黑”行动中,我们看到了运动式执法和司法在轰轰烈烈地开展。在短短八个月的时间里,当局发动社会密告(所谓“群众来信和检举”),抓获“涉黑”人员近五千人。随之而来的是数百个“专案组”突击工作,以“重庆速度”批量化地逮捕、起诉和审判。文强案二审之前出现在最高人民法院官方网站上的王立新法官的日记清楚地表明,公安、检察和法院之间是如何不分彼此、联合办案的。不仅如此,所谓“大三长会议”几乎是公开地登堂入室。对于一些重大案件,法院院长、检察院检察长、公安局局长开会协调,导致案件还没有开审,判决结果就提前决定了。最后的审理过程就是走过场。制度设计中所追求的三机关相互制约机制也就完全失灵了。各位同仁,你们不觉 得这种做法完全违反了我国宪法和刑事诉讼法所明确规定的检察权和审判权独立的准则么?

在李庄案的审判过程中,我们分明看到,法庭基本的中立性已经荡然无存。庭审中,李庄及其辩护人请求证人出庭接受质证。我相信主持审判的付鸣剑法官深知这种当面质证的重要性,因为你在西南政法大学的硕士论文研究的主题正是证人出庭作证的必要性。然而合议庭却拒绝了被告方的要求,理由居然是证人不愿意出庭作证。请各位查一下刑事诉讼法,有没有证人出庭与否取决于他或她的意愿的规则?况且该案的七位关键证人均在重庆执法部门的羁押之下,他们提供的书面证词很可能出自于刑求或其他威逼利诱,必须通过面对面的核查印证,才能让李庄究竟是否唆使相关人员做伪证等真相大白。然而,江北区法院—— 这是我当年大学实习的地方——却硬是仅仅凭借这些无法质证的所谓证词作出了有罪判决。

在该案二审时,出现了极其蹊跷的一幕:李庄由一审绝不认罪到二审时突然完全认罪。我们无力深究这戏剧性转变背后的影响因素,不过当法庭宣布由于李庄的认罪,将刑期由两年六个月改为一年六个月时,李庄明显表现出受骗后的屈辱和愤怒,他大声说:“我的认罪是假的。希望法庭不要给我按认罪处理,认罪是在重庆公安机关和检察机关诱导之下进行的”(据“经济观察网”2010年2月9日报道)。李庄的言辞表明,他仍然没有认罪。这样一来,依据他认罪因而减轻处罚的二审判决就被釜底抽薪了。作为一个公正的法庭,必须立即宣布暂缓作出二审判决,查清李庄认罪是在自由意志支配的行为,还是确有背后交易导致以 认罪换缓刑。无论如何,既然李庄已经明确地拒绝认罪,二审合议庭需要在这一新情况出现之后作出新的判决。如果法官们确认一审所认定事实无误,那么就应该改为维持原判,而不是减轻处罚。当然,如果存在着警方和检察机关诱骗认罪的情节,法院也需要追究相关人员妨碍司法的罪责。但是,重庆市第一中级人民法院却任由法警将正在怒吼的李庄拖出法庭,对于合议庭依据虚假认罪基础上的判决无动于衷。这又是为什么?

看得出来,围绕着李庄案的审判,重庆方面做足了“功课”。法学界也无法置身事外。庭审现场,有学者应邀旁听。12月30日的庭审持续到凌晨一点多。接近尾声时,在法庭楼上的一间可以通过视频直播看到庭审现场的会议室里,“有关部门”连夜召开法学专家座谈会。“有关部门”是哪个 部门?深夜被叫来参加座谈会的西南政法大学教授梅传强告诉《南方周末》,是重庆市政法委召集的。第二天,《重庆日报》便刊出了庭审纪实和学者们力挺这次审判、批驳李庄及其律师在庭审中所提出各项质疑的发言摘要。基层法院的一次审判,直辖市的政法委亲自主导,星夜召集学者座谈,市委机关报第一时间为之造势。面对这一切,若还有人相信这样的审判以及后来重庆第一中级法院的二审有一丝丝审判独立、程序正义的意味,那实在是天真到可笑的程度了。

问题在于,假如没有法律界的配合,这一出出司法闹剧又如何可以顺利上演?参与者也许会辩解说,在目前的体制下,个人即便内心有疑问甚至抵触,但是你如何抗拒这种压倒性的支配力量?诚然,这是一件十分纠结的难题。但是,在消极顺从与积 极迎逢之间还是有着清晰的界限。某些受过严格法律训练的检察官那种罔顾法律概念,创造性地为一些非法行为背书的行为,实在令人齿寒,也可以说是法律教育失败的象征。

这里还要特别表达对于重庆法学界某些学者的失望之情。如果说实务界由于身份困难而不得不听命于上峰的话,学者们却完全可以保持最低限度的独立性。对于践踏法治准则的行为,也许你不愿意发表直率的批评,但至少还有保持沉默的权利。世界不少国家的法律史表明,在维护法治基本准则方面,法律学界都承担着为实务界提供理论和知识后援的使命,同时也肩负着耶林所谓“为法律而斗争”的神圣义务。面对干预司法独立、违反法律程序、损害公民权利与自由的行为,学术界需要作出清晰而坚定的批评和抵制。但遗憾的是,一些学界 同仁不此之图,反而在一审判决尚未作出的时候,就在官方报纸上集体合唱,发表对于五个程序事项一边倒的言论。你们可以看一下随后网络上各方人士如何评论,给学界尤其是西南政法大学带来了怎样的声誉损害。我不明白,促使诸位做这样事情的动机究竟是什么?

最后,我要对重庆公安局王立军局长说几句话。2010年11月,你被西南政法大学聘为兼职博士生导师,我恰好也是母校的兼职博导(查简历,还获悉你也是北大法学院刑法研究所的研究员,足见我们的缘分不浅),所以这里不妨做些学者间的交流。虽然只是公安局局长,但由于重庆当局将“打黑”运动作为工作的重点,你的角色就特别凸显,可谓举足轻重。对于你主导的这场雷霆万钧的运动,我颇有一些担心。一是指导思想上如果存有净化社会的观 念,结果可能是危险的。人性总有某些无从改变的特性,一个健康的社会也许只能对于某些人性的弱点采取容忍的态度。况且秩序与自由有着内在的紧张,过于重视秩序,未免偏于一端,令自由受到减损。

第二,尽管我们都痛恨黑社会,也赞成以法律制裁这类犯罪行为,不过还是要看到,黑社会在重庆能够发展到你们喜欢声称的那种可怕程度,那一定是我们的“白社会”出了严重问题。例如司法不彰,企业界只好依赖法外手段保证交易安全。打黑固然必要,但治本之策却是健全政府依法行政和司法正义的相关制度。

第三,假如政府在惩罚犯罪的过程中使用非法手段,例如刑讯逼供,剥夺嫌疑人的诉讼权利,甚至让那些从事刑事案件辩护的律师提心吊胆,朝不虑夕,势必会带来严重的后患。政府用 非法手段打击犯罪令人产生某种不好的感觉,那就是“以黑制黑”,强权即公理。而且,过于严厉的惩罚损害了人们的平等预期,对国家心存怨恨的已决犯亲属以及将来出狱的人们将形成一股可怕的反社会力量。多年来,很多非常恶性的犯罪的作案者都是此前“严打”中受到过于严厉打击的刑满释放者。你从事公安工作多年,对此一定有比我更多的了解。

第四,尽管在现行体制上,公安机关具有超越司法的强势,但是,你作为一个兼职法学博士生导师,我相信一定会理解,法治国家的一个重要标志就是警察权要受制于司法权;公安需要尊重司法权,要接受检察机关独立的监督和审查,要维护法院和法官的独立性。其实,尊重独立司法对于手握大权的人一样重要。文强在炙手可热的时候根本不会意识到这种独立 性的价值,但一旦沦为阶下囚,他也许幡然醒悟,深刻地感受到,没有独立的司法,没有一个人是安全的。

各位同仁,我在写这封信的时候,时时会想到死亡这件事。虽然相关数据没有全部公布,不过自从“打黑”以来,文强之外,在重庆还有不少人被判处死刑。人都不免一死,由国家公权力剥夺一个人的生命毕竟是很重大的事情。在网上看到你们的城市组织市民唱“红歌”的图片,真是红旗招展,满目赤色。旗帜的颜色也是血液的颜色。“唱红”与“打黑”两者行为都以同样的颜色铺陈渲染,令人不禁产生复杂的联想。不过,无论是权倾一时者,还是屈辱偷生者,生命注定是朝向死亡的。那些死刑犯不过比活着的人早走一些时日。砍头和枪杀都会留下可怕的伤痕,不过,那却是一种无需治疗的创伤。古希腊 伟大的戏剧家索福克勒斯对此看得很清楚,容我把他的诗句作为这封信的结语吧:

等冥王注定的命运一露面,
那时候,没有婚歌、弦乐和舞蹈,
死神终于来到了。
一个人最好不要出生;
一旦出生了,求其次,
是从何处来,尽快回到何处去。
等他度过了荒唐的青年时期,
什么苦难他能避免?
嫉妒、决裂、争吵、战斗、残杀接踵而来。
最后,那可恨的老年时期到了,
衰老病弱,无亲无友。

愿各位幸福,并致法治的敬礼!

2011年4月12日

附注:作者欢迎传统媒体和网络转载本文,尤其欢迎重庆市媒体转载,无需征求同意。

3 Comments to “A letter to Chongqing colleagues”

  1. aaron says:

    Professor He Weifang may be overstating his opinion.

    It is not unusual to see “Witness Shield” type laws/procedures that protect witnesses from having to testify in open court, for a variety of reasons. In US, there are Rape Shield laws, Journalist Shield Laws, etc., which exempt witnesses from testifying AT judge’s discretions, upon motions, And generally granted exemption if there are other evidences available, especially documents.

    7 “key” witnesses in Li Zhuang’s case all provided written statements (or confessions that implicated Li Zhuang). In US, this is called Statements against (Self-)interest, and are generally admissible even if the witnesses refuses to testify.

    In Mafia related case, in US, there are long legal precedences on Witness protection, especially when the witnesses have entered into “snitch” type plead deals with the government.

    If a Witness has entered into a “Witness protection” program, even if behind bars, they may be exempted from testifying in open court. (It would take a lot for a court to require the FBI to produce a witness who is under protection).

  2. Phil says:

    Professor He Weifang is correct to note that if even law professors at Southwestern University of Politics and Law do not show some backbone and publicly stand up for adhering to legal procedure and the rule of law, the backward-looking trend toward juridical vigilantism and verdict-first, trial-second ritualistic courtroom proceedings will continue and worsen in Chongqing. Brimming with miscarriages of justice, the Li Zhuang case is among the most alarming in recent years in the PRC, and points to a dramatic erosion of legal procedure in Chongqing trials.

  3. King Tubby says:

    Mr He Weifang is making a good point re the selective nature of this crackdown. Pls refer to my previous post. Those who have the backroom power, use it to wipe out their mafia competition.

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