Ok, where to begin? Lots happened yesterday, and I will try here to make sense of everything I saw and heard from inside the courtroom. As I think about how to present the information, I still well up with emotions, as it is quite an emotional event on many levels, least that we are actually at the trial stage. Before I wrote this report, I first needed to confirm some details and information. So, here goes…
The court was to open exactly at 9:30 am on the dot. I was, however, under the impression that I would NOT be allowed in, as we had not yet heard back from my application which I had faxed in over 10 days prior, and so was not aware that they were actually going to allow me in. As Murphy’s Law would have it, I was driving myself to the court house and got incredibly lost – by the time I had noticed I had missed the turn, I was half way to Tianjin (in fact, I had agreed to be interviewed about the case WHILE driving – note to self: Karen, you can not drive and talk about HRs at the same time!). Anyway, a desperate call from the lawyer came when I was 5 mins from the courthouse asking where I was, as I was going in … yeehaa!
Arriving outside the court house at precisely 9:29 am, there was a very healthy throng of supporters – friends, artists, colleagues, journalists, cameramen, petitioners and common folk from the area, not to mention cops in uniform keeping everyone behind the police taped off areas. I ducked under the tape and ran down the side road, rounded the corner, ran up the steps and pushed my way to the front of a heavily packed room, a holding room which is used to screen and security check those who want to enter the actual court house building. I was wired from the car interview with a mic, so that was expertly removed, not to mention I had to turn in my cell phone, car keys, and hand bag, which were put in a locker off to the side. I was instructed not to lose the key. Many supporters and friends were also inside this sardine-packed room, and after giving Zou Xiao Zu Zhou a big hug, I turned, waved and yelled out to everyone in a big voice,
“Let’s hope for a fair trial!”.
I was overwhelmed with emotion and adrenalin while being lead up the 3 flights of stairs, having had no time to really prepare, as I was going to see Dawu for the first time in about 5.5 months! Crazy – what was he going to look like, be like, act like – these were the kinds of questions swarming through my mind. At the same time, trying to keep my heart out of my throat, or throat out of my heart, which ever it is … turning the last corner, and going into the court room, this is what I witnessed:
1. Wenyuhe Courthouse, Courtroom #16:
A basic, 60 sq meters or so, not fancy room, with a huge front lit PRC emblem on the wall above the judges’ heads. Presiding judge and judicial official, court secretary and another People’s Judge sat at the front; prosecution (2 men and 1 woman) on the left side perpendicular to the judges; the two defendant’s lawyers (Li Fangping and Lian Qilei) on the right side directly across from the prosecution. Dawu sat in a big black chair in the middle, which had a wooden bar that swung across his lap to restrain him. He had a mic stand in front, but it didn’t appear to be on. One at a time the 4 witnesses were called and sat on a soft padded chair to the left of Dawu (ironically within arms reach!), with an enormous cop sat on Dawu’s immediate right (who would have flattened Wu had he decided to respond physically). Me? I sat almost directly behind Dawu, in the 4th seat of a 5 seat bench-with-chairs structure (in fact, they could have squeezed in another one of these bench things…). On my left was a cop, and on my right were three ‘kids’ who had been asked to attend the trail, as I discovered during the 10 min break. It was apparent that they were instructed to ignore me, in which they did. I could hear the din from the support crowd outside, the window looked directly down on to the side street.
2. The Defendant, WU Yuren:
You can imagine the apprehension I had while I waited for him to be brought in to his seat, ah, what was he going to LOOK like, how was I going to feel? … But, I was pleasantly surprised to see Wu turn the corner and look over at me, smile, and walk in proudly. He gave off an air of confidence, and the shared eye-contact understanding between us was the kind you get only with someone you have known for over 8 years, confirming to each other that everything was going to be OK. … Wu was dressed in a standard issue “Chaoyang District Criminal Detention Center – #3378” gray padded two-piece suit, if you will, with the Chinese characters printed in white on an orange shoulder cloth piece. Underneath, he wore a black polo shirt with white buttons. On his feet were a pair of black ‘ Chinese taiqi shoes’, the kind that every male retiree wears when they hangout with their friends and birds and shadow box in parks around China. His hair, not as white as I was expecting, was closely cropped at 1 cm, so had perhaps grown out of a previous buzz cut. He was clean-shaven. No shackles, or handcuffs. Maybe the padding, but he looked a little ’rounder’ than I remember him being … his right arm/shoulder (the one that received the damage during the May 31st beating), however, was demonstrated to be stiff and lack even partial movement during his testimony.
Best of all, and most importantly, he was of sound mind, sharp, polite, well-mannered, and had definitely considered carefully what and how he would give his testament on this day. I am not sure if he knew that he would be allowed to actually ask each of the witnesses questions during the trial, but he handled listening to their testaments and responses with a kind of calmness and maturity that I can’t really explain, other than I am pleased and proud of him for keeping his cool…
3. The Proceedings:
I am not going to go into much detail about what was said and responded, but will detail some key points and events during the four hour trial. The court began and Dawu was asked to give his testimony, and at one point, the judge asked him to speak up because his wife looked like she was straining to hear! I noticed throughout the entire trial that the judge, a middle aged woman, looked at me as well as focusing on Dawu, the lawyers, and prosecution. Perhaps she was considering my body language, as I was considering all of theirs. There was a basic format that was followed:
– in order of appearance, testimony was given by Wu Yuren, the three cops (Liu Dawei, Zheng Yue, and one other man, all witnesses of the prosecution), and by Mr. Yang Licai (defendant’s witness);
– cross examined by prosecution (of the three on the panel, there was a man and a woman who would ask questions, read stuff out, or respond)
– cross-examined by both Mr. Li and Mr. Lian, lawyers of the defendant;
– presiding judge and/or judicial official would ask for clarity and/or questions;
– lastly, Wu Yuren was given the opportunity to respond to what he had just heard by formulating a question. For example, he responded to all of the cops’ testimonies by asking the question, “Did you hit me?” (to which they all blatantly denied to his face and the court the beating of Wu on May 31st).
After the witnesses, and videotape evidence was shown, and a few other details were shown (i.e. Liu Dawei’s supposedly injured finger, but funnily enough, still no sign of Wu’s x-ray take on June 1st inside the detention center), the court was adjourned. Li Fangping was told that he would be informed of the next court date and whether the original video would be made available. Wu Yuren was first whisked out of the room, and we never saw him again. I left with the lawyers, and we were shown down the stairs and out to the holding room to gather our belongings and leave. I was relieved to see Rachael from the Canadian Embassy waiting for me at first point of contact and gave me a hug (despite applying early like me to visit the court, her request that morning in person to attend the trial was denied).
4. The Video Evidence Submitted by the Jiuxianqiao Police Station:
About 2 weeks prior to Nov 17th, Li Fangping was called to view the video, the evidence that was to show Wu Yuren’s “interfering in public service”, most notably verbally threatening a police officer, injuring a police officer, and snatching away of the police officer’s video camera, as per what he is being charged with. On that day, as reported in an earlier posting, of the three files made available, only one could be opened. The video showed Wu at the front gate of 798, not inside the police station.
Perhaps the reason for the file not opening was because they didn’t want their precious evidence to get copied by Li Fangping, which by law is allowable at this stage, and then get posted on to the Internet. Well, after seeing the video yesterday in court, I am not surprised they were scared – what a joke! It simply showed a 2.5 min segment of Wu, Yang, and cops Zhang and Liu, among others, arguing and moving around in the police station. There is Wu’s distinct voice yelling out the cops’ id numbers and saying how they have taken his cell phone without warrant, and Wu asking for someone not to move/touch him, and Wu asking for his cell phone back. There is no punching or hitting of a cop by Wu, nor Wu aggressively taking away the video camera, etc. At one point during the testimonies, the cops all state that Wu walked on his own to the corridor, but in the video, there is a hand pushing his back, urging him forward.
The video was shown once through with the four witnesses outside of the courtroom. Then, during the second run through, the lead cop (who was the evening shift duty officer at the Jiuxianqiao Police Station on the night of May 31st, and one of the cops who beat Dawu) was called back into the courtroom. The judicial officer came down off his panel seat, and started the video, and paused it several times and asked for Liu Dawei to explain or confirm details.
At the end, the judge turned to Li Fangping and asked what he wanted. He looked across to the prosecution and said, “I want to see the original tape in its entirety”. The judge then turned her head over to the prosecution and asked them to arrange to have the original tape made available for viewing.
The court was adjourned and Li Fangping was told that he would hear soon when the next trial date will be set.
5. The Atmosphere Outside the Court:
I was told later on by friends and bystanders that the atmosphere was pleasant enough, that the petitioners who showed up gave some entertainment by singing protest songs pertaining the various issues they were coming to complain about. Seems like they heard in advance that there would be lots of western media at the court house that day, so they did what anyone would do with limited channels of complaint – show up and see who would listen.
Interviews were to be ‘officially’ conducted by media with interviewees in designated areas, and there were police who carried around large signs that said something to that effect. Interesting.
Many well-known artists in the community showed up to show their support, notably Ai Weiwei, the Gao Brothers, Zou Xiao Zu Zhou and his wife, among others. The media were all asked to show their cards and were photographed, too, but I hear that this is standard at high profile trials.
Li Fangping and I were both interviewed by a scrum of media once we left the building and came to the head of the side street: (in no particular order) AP, SCMP, BBC, CTV, Global TV, New York Times, NPR, Globe and Mail, and many others showed up. Thank you!!!
Some thoughts on all of this:
Speaking to Amnesty International last night for close to an hour, I was able to get some insight into why a lot of the trial focused on the videotape inside the police station. One of the major reforms in the Police station system and administration is the reforming of police station procedures, notably not only the installation of videotapes in stations, but also their maintenance and management of the actual tapes (i.e. anti-tampering, etc). Unfortunately, tortures are still taking place inside police stations all over China, despite having video cameras installed, as the tapes ARE being tampered with before being used as evidence in court. This defeats the entire reason of installing a camera, to be sure, let alone works against police station accountability reforms.
I am pleasantly surprised that Wu Yuren’s trial has been adjourned for a week or so while the original videotape is located and (hopefully) viewed by the lawyers. We are not sure when the next court date is, but Li Fangping will contact me when he is informed.
As a side note: I noticed on twitter and facebook yesterday that there were mentions of a ‘retrial’ to take place. I spoke to my lawyer friend in DC and he says that retrials actually don’t occur in Chinese legal / judicial system, as it means, for example, that at some point there was a problem that could be shown to be from the prosecution (i.e. jury and prosecution bias, etc). There is no jury here in the case of Wu’s trial. The problem with Wu’s trial, however, is with the tampered video evidence, and so the judge has called for an “adjournment” while the original tape is located and viewed (well, at least she has requested this – to be confirmed).
So, even though there might be another waiting period, I would definitely prefer this to having a ‘dog and pony’ show trial yesterday, where no body listens, and ten days later Dawu’s case is wrapped up processed quickly, and he is sentenced to a further 12-18 months (?). Despite more of a wait, there SEEMS to be a relatively fair trial taking place, in that we all did not except to have the judge take Li Fangping’s request seriously.
Stay tuned here and/or join twitter (@kpinchina) for more news!