New Year’s Eve, and I wasn’t going to blog at all tonight, but a couple of stories are too important to ignore.
Is there a time to kill? That question kept ringing in my mind as I read this painful article in today’s Times, the only paper that seems to have China’s corrupt and ineffective legal system firmly in its line of fire.
From the prison cell where he contemplated an executioner’s bullet, a migrant worker named Wang Binyu gave an anguished account of his wasted life. Unexpectedly, it rippled across China like a primal scream.
For three weeks, the brutal murders Mr. Wang committed after failing to collect unpaid wages were weighed on the Internet and in Chinese newspapers against the brutal treatment he had endured as a migrant worker. Public opinion shouted for mercy; lawyers debated the fairness of his death sentence. Others saw the case as a bloody symptom of the harsh inequities of Chinese life.
But then, in late September, the furor disappeared as suddenly as it had begun. Online discussion was censored and news media coverage was almost completely banned. Mr. Wang’s final appeal was rushed to court. His father, never notified, learned about the hearing only by accident. His chosen defense lawyer was forbidden from participating.
“All of you are on the same side,” Mr. Wang, 28, shouted during the hearing, his father said in an interview here in the family’s home village in northern Gansu Province. “If you want to kill me, just kill me.”
On Oct. 19, they did. Mr. Wang was executed so quickly, and quietly, that it took weeks for the word to fully trickle out that he was dead.
There’s not a word here that won’t infuriate you. The deck is so stacked against the defendant, especially when he’s a poor migrant worker, that I wonder why China even has a court system. The system is in many ways literally a joke, a kind of creepy parody of itself.
Wang was forced to fight against those who exploit and tread on the poor,” one person wrote at a Chinese Web site. “Why is the law always tough on the poor?”
Mr. Wang’s case also illustrates how a system built for convictions has few safeguards or protections for a defendant facing death. Officials in the High Court of Ningxia Autonomous Region, the area in western China where the case was heard, refused several requests for interviews. But Wu Shaozhi, the Beijing lawyer who tried to represent Mr. Wang, said the Ningxia courts obviously wanted fast results.
Before the appeal, the Wang family signed power of attorney to Mr. Wu. But Mr. Wu said court officials had initially lied, telling him the appeal was over. Then they refused to let him enter the case. Instead, Mr. Wang was represented by a lawyer approved by the court.
Meanwhile, Mr. Wu noted, the same judges who heard the appeal also concurrently handled a mandatory final review of the case. It meant that judges were reviewing their own ruling – a practice that legal experts said is not uncommon and provided little real check and balance on the use of the death penalty.
Wang followed all the rules, and tried to fight for his money using the legal system. The article details the Kafkaesque run-arounds and obstacles he faced, and how a good man seeking justice was turned into a killer. You have to read it.
Sometime when I post a story ike this, a commenter will ask, rather snidely, “So why don’t you do something constructive to help make the situation better?” Believe me, if I could do something to change China’s judiciary, I would. For now, writing about it is the only way I know how to make a difference. Knowledge is power, ignorance is impotence and silence is death.
I’ve been striving for balance and looking for something, anything at all, to praise about China’s leaders. So far, I’ve failed abysmally, and stories like this confirm my belief that it’s not a bad thing to point the spotlight on the CCP’s sins and crimes against humanities. In fact, it’s absolutely essential.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.