Dawu Legal Team, July 25, 2021
There is no briefing on the tenth day of the trial. The trial is over and the sentences are announced on July 28, but China Change will go on completing the translation of the Briefings and Sun Dawu’s closing statement. — The Editors
July 25, 2021 is the eleventh day of the Dawu trial. At present, the court has completed its investigations into eight charges: “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” (寻衅滋事罪), “obstructing officers in the discharge of duties” (妨害公务罪), “gathering a crowd to assault state organs” (聚众冲击国家机关罪), “disrupting production operations” (破坏生产经营罪), “coercing business transactions” (强迫交易罪) , fraud (诈骗罪), illegal mining (非法采矿罪), and “illegal occupation of agricultural land” (非法占用农用地罪). In response to concerns from citizens from all walks of life, a report of the progress and current situation of the trial follows:
1. What will be the timeframe for the rest of the court proceedings, and when do you estimate the trial will end?
On the 11th day of the Dawu trial, the court finished investigating eight charges. Now, what remains are the court’s investigation of the charge of “illegal absorption of public deposits” (非法吸收公众存款罪), the courtroom debate on the case as a whole, and the final statements of the defendants. In the past ten days, the duration of the daily sessions for the Dawu trial averaged more than 12 hours, with more than half of all trial days ending after 11:00 p.m. Under this timetable, the first- instance trial of the Dawu case is expected to end next week, before August.
2. At this point of the trial, what is the status of Sun Dawu and other participants in the trial?
Sun Dawu is 68 years old. He is exhausted by days of high-intensity, high-pressure court proceedings. He put forward a request in court “hoping [the court] would be more relaxed, take its time, and resume the trial after one day off on Saturday,” but his proposal was rejected. In addition to Sun Dawu, the other defendants in this case, either old or frail, suffering poor mental and physical health after being in custody for a long time, have had trouble handling such a trial schedule.
Several defense lawyers have also repeatedly requested the court to conduct a substantive trial, and based on humanitarian considerations, the Gaobeidian People’s Court should guarantee the legitimate right of rest for participants in the prosecution, defense, and other parties in the litigation. The collegial bench insisted on working overtime to advance the trial by telling the courtroom that it was “following court orders.” The collegiate bench told the defense lawyers: “If a defense lawyer really needs an ambulance, there is one parked right outside the court,” regardless of the difficult conditions where a defense lawyer had to pause several times when speaking due to overwork and his voice became hoarse.
3. What facts of the case have been established through the court’s investigations?
Through questioning of the defendants, prosecutors’ presentation of evidence, and the defendants’ and defense lawyers’ cross-examination of evidence, it can be determined that most of the allegations in this case are not credibly established:
1). Most of the three crimes of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” arose from legitimate contexts, and their so-called “victims” were mainly responsible for the intensification of conflict, which could hardly constitute the crime of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” on the part of the defendants.
2). The charges of “obstructing officers in the discharge of duties,” and “gathering a crowd to assault state organs” were caused by the Xushui District Public Security Bureau’s illegal intervention in the land dispute between the Dawu Group and the state-run farm. Unfair and unreasonable excessive law enforcement also led to many Dawu Group employees being injured. To lodge their complaints, Dawu Group employees petitioned peacefully in front of the government, exercising their constitutional rights and defending their rights in accordance with the law. Their actions hardly constitute a violation of the law and they committed no crimes.
3). There are major loopholes in the logic of the prosecution for the charge of “disrupting production operations” and “coercing business transactions.” The defendants and the alleged victims’ behaviors were not held to the same statutory standard.
4). All the so-called “defrauded” workplace injury insurance funds have been refunded.
5). The Dawu Group received government subsidies for mining geothermal resources, held several related government-enterprise coordination meetings (政企对接会), and received strong support from the local government, but is now accused of illegal mining.
6). The chain of evidence supporting the charges of illegal occupation of agricultural land is missing, the court’s appraiser could not determine the coordinates of the plot involved, while the appraisal procedure seriously violated the law. The origin of the plot involved in the charge is unknown, and the basic facts are unclear.
4. Sun Dawu said that “life is worse than death in Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL).” Which specific violations of the law did he describe?
During the trial, Sun Dawu stated: “During the period I was held in RSDL, I began a three-day hunger strike to demand that I be sent to a detention center because the misery and the treatment I experienced during RSDL was worse than death.” Sun Dawu said, “If they place me under RSDL again, they will get the same confessions from me, or even worse. In RSDL, they will get whatever they want to get.”
In the Dawu case, a total of seven defendants were subjected to RSDL. All seven defendants stated in court that “life was worse than death” during RSDL. This criminal detention measure, which is supposed to be the most lenient, was arbitrarily and severely abused in this case.
(1) Residential surveillance was not carried out at the defendant’s residence
According to Article 75 of the Criminal Procedure Law, RSDL should be carried out at the defendant’s residence. The public security investigators knew very well that one of the seven defendants had a legally owned residence in Gaobeidian City, the officers even accompanied her to sign a power of attorney to sell her apartment (售卖房屋委托书), but the public security officers failed to explain this specific legal provision to the defendant, and illegally placed her in a designated residence that was not her home. In addition, the Dawu Group also owned an office in Gaobeidian City, both are legal domiciles that could have been used to carry out residential surveillance.
(2) The locations provided for RSDL failed to have basic living conditions
It is hard to call the places where the seven defendants were held for RSDL “residences.” The premises were built specifically for the Dawu defendants and freshly painted, and the the formaldehyde level severely exceeded safety standards. One investigator fainted within five minutes of entering the room. There were no windows and no ventilation on the premises. According to defendants’ statements, the original windows were nailed shut. The lights were on 24 hours a day, so it was impossible to distinguish between day and night. The police investigators, separated by only a few meters from their captives, supervised the defendants throughout the RSDL.
The 360-degree surveillance cameras left no blind spots, and the female defendants could not take a bath unwatched, so they didn’t bathe. In addition, the defendants were not allowed to read books, nor could they get fresh air, or engage in a normal conversation. Most defendants only saw the sun two or three months after they were taken into custody. The extremely harsh and depressing living environment led to the serious deterioration of the physical well-being of most defendants: many contracted hernias, developed worsening depression, etc., but never received treatment for the medical issues suffered during RSDL.
3). Rehearse prepared confessions in the RSDL room ahead of recording interrogation transcripts
According to the defendants’ statements in court, before a defendant was brought to the case-handling center for interrogation, the defendant had to rehearse his or her prepared confession with the investigators. “Only when my confession satisfied them would I be taken to the center to complete a transcript of it; I would have to rehearse with them until it was to their satisfaction.” “What’s in the confession is what they said, and what they wanted.” “When I refused to rehearse the confession, I was told that I had a bad attitude; others have all confessed, you will not be released with such a bad attitude.”
The illegal deprivation of the personal liberty of the defendants constitutes the crime of illegal detention. The confessions of the defendants obtained under such circumstances are illegal evidence and therefore must be excluded.
5. Apart from the illegality of RSDL, has there been other illegal conduct during the investigation of the Dawu case?
In addition to the serious illegality of RSDL, the defense lawyers also discovered during the trial that the Public Security and the Procuratorate had fabricated and concealed evidence. For example, the same investigator separately collected evidence from two witnesses at the same time; before the case had even been filed, the public security officers had already investigated the case-related sites; despite investigating and collecting evidence from a large number of witnesses, [how could it be that] no one expressed a favorable opinion of Sun Dawu and the Dawu Group; all witness testimonies were detrimental to the defendants; the prosecution refused to submit real-time audio and video recordings of the defendants’ interrogations; and the original copies of important evidence have never been submitted to the court.
6. How have the defense lawyers responded to the illegal conduct of the investigators and what defense strategies has the legal team employed?
With regard to the illegal activities of the investigators during the public security bureau’s investigation of the case, the defense lawyers jointly submitted to the court “Lawyers’ opinion requesting the court to investigate the criminal responsibility of the investigators of the Dawu case in using their authority to carry out illegal detention and the legal responsibility of the procuratorate for failing to conduct oversight”, “Request for judicial and administrative officials who have been present at the Gaobeidian Court for the trial to hear the opinions of the defense lawyers”, “Application for evidence collection”, “Application for trial postponement”, and other legal documents. The defense lawyers have continued to request the real-time audio and video recordings of the interrogations of the defendants, and to file applications for exclusion of illegal evidence and to request bail for the defendants.
As far as defense strategies are concerned, the defense lawyers have been firm in presenting a defense of “not guilty”. As we defend our clients in court today, we are also putting our defense to the test of history and future. The defense lawyers firmly believe that Sun Dawu and Dawu Group have been conscientiously practicing socialist values, and should not be subject to meritless charges, prosecution, and conviction.
7. What about the attendees at the trial, and the media coverage?
The court continues to limit people who can attend the trial. There is no meaningful improvement in this regard. For each defendant, only one family member is allowed to attend the trial; all other seats have been occupied by Justice Bureau personnel from different cities and various provincial Justice Departments. The audience can only watch via livestream in separate rooms, and there has been no one sitting in the courtroom itself.
A large number of stability maintenance personnel have been deployed inside and outside the courthouse, making it nearly impossible for media to report on the trial. The social media accounts of the leading defense lawyers were suspended before the trial began, and all defense lawyers have been ordered not to give media interviews. The legal team has posted objective information for friends from all walks of life who are interested in the progress of the case, but the postings have been either instantly deleted, or limited from being circulated widely, or the public has been denied access.
8. Has the collegial bench made any decision on the lawyers’ bail requests?
From the beginning of the case until now, none of the 20 Dawu defendants has been released on bail. Even though the procuratorate returned the cases of Sun Dawu’s wife and daughters-in-law to the public security bureau for supplementary investigation, none of them has been released on bail either. With the detention of the entire Sun Dawu family, their close relations and the Group’s senior and middle-level management[AJW1] , government work groups have taken over the routine operation of Dawu Group. During the pretrial meetings, the procuratorate promised to “deal with lawyers’ bail applications as a top priority,” but that promise has not been honored.
9. The vice-president of Gaobeidian Municipal Court Zhu Lixin (朱立新) is under investigation by the Party, while Xushui District held its third Communist Party representatives meeting at the Dawu Group Auditorium. Are these two news items related to the Dawu case?
On July 19, 2021, Baoding Communist Party’s Commission for Discipline Inspection and Supervision Commission announced that Zhu Lixin, former Party deputy secretary and vice president of Gaobeidian Municipal People’s Court is under investigation by the two commissions for alleged serious violations of Party discipline and the law.
On July 22, 2021, the Communist Party of Xushui District of Baoding Municipality successfully held its third representatives meeting at Dawu Group.
These two news items, it should be said, have no direct and intrinsic connection to the Dawu case, nor do they indicate a particular outcome for the case. Though Zhu Lixin is not a member of the collegial bench in the Dawu trial, the fact that the vice-president of the court is under disciplinary investigation should have some effect on the public security, the procuratorate, and the court in Gaobeidian, including members of the collegial bench of this trial; it should be a reminder that all judicial personnel involved in this case should handle the case according to the law and fulfill their duties conscientiously. As Sun Dawu told the court the other day: “Today it is me standing trial, (but if you wrong the innocent,) who will be standing trial in the future? You!”
Though nearly all of the senior executives are in custody, Dawu Group is still operating on its established course thanks to years of good management, excellent business reputation, and stable profitability. It is still a leading enterprise in Xushui District. The local government clearly understands the importance of Dawu Group to local development. But the Dawu Group is also a defendant and the ruling of Gaobeidian People’s Court will have a critical impact on the future of the Dawu Group.
10. What’s the prospect of the Dawu rulings?
The court pushed the Dawu trial as fast and as forcefully as it possibly could. The defense lawyers repeatedly submitted requests for witnesses to appear in court, for the court to collect new evidence, exclude illegal evidence, re-appraise evidence, examine case-related sites, release the defendants on bail, etc., but the collegial bench has either not responded or directly dismissed these requests. Considering many various factors, it’s hard to be optimistic about the verdicts in the first instance trial of the Dawu case, and at the very least, Sun Dawu probably will not be able to receive a reprieve as he did in 2003.
Sun Fushuo (孙福硕), Sun Dawu’s younger son, said it plainly during the trial: “We all know that, no matter how outstanding the lawyers who defended us are, it will not change the rulings against us.” Most defendants are pessimistic about the outcome of the case, but nonetheless they believe the judiciary will be just and will have the best interest of the people in mind.
Dawu Legal Team
July 25, 2021
Translated by China Change from 大午案第十一日庭审简报
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Sun Dawu: A Chinese Agricultural Entrepreneur’s 36-year Dream in the Era of Reform and Opening Up (Part Two), Yaxue Cao, April 2, 2021.