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Must We Gossip to Convict Criminals in Power?

By Robert Woo, Global Voices  Posted by Jason Paz (about the submitter)     Permalink
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China: Law or Justice?

According to Chongqing Evening News, by November 15th, 2905 suspects had been arrested during a massive crackdown on gangs in the municipality of Chongqing, a major city with 30 million people and provincial status. The campaign was unprecedented both in its scope and its depth as it brought down a large number of government officials including the Director of Justice Bureau Wen Qiang, Deputy Police Chief Peng Changjian, plus scores of other police officers, government officials, prosecutors and judges. It is one of the first times that the linkage between political power and the black underworld in so many parts of China has been so publicly exposed.

The success of the campaign has won tremendous popularity for Chongqing's leadership, especially for the party secretary Bo Xilai, also a member of the powerful Politburo. However, many people expressed doubts as to whether the procedural justice was respected, whether Bo launched this campaign solely out of his own ambitious agenda, and also whether such a Mao-style campaign would be effective in solving long-term problems. In September, John Kennedy of GV reported on this debate by asking whether Bo Xilai's corruption crackdown is good for China.

The debate reached another dimension when the State-run newspapers started to report on the sensational drama that was involved in Wen Qiang's interrogation. The following quote comes from a tabloid-style 'news story' reported by Yangtse Evening News, a widely distributed regional affiliate of Xinhua News Agency, based on the information provided by an 'anonymous insider':

After being internally disciplined, Wen Qiang understood that he could not avoid pleading guilty for some of his crimes, therefore he pretended to be very honest and during the interrogation, he bragged about the great number of tales on how he had loved women and seduced women. He even recounted the stories of how he had raped young girls and seduced actresses. He said whenever there was an actress or a female singer came to perform in a show in Chongqing, he would always go to bed with them by bribery or extortion or any other means. However, he outsmarted himself. When his wife was informed of these stories, "she cried and kept calling Wen Qiang a beast", said the anonymous insider. "Then she gave up some information about Wen Qiang and took us to dig out the bribes he had hidden at a fishing pond."

This story raised the eyebrows of many, notably those of columnist Chang Ping, who wrote an article on the matter in The Financial Times' Chinese website. In the article, Chang Ping suggested that the so-called 'anonymous insider' could only be one of the investigators of Wen Qiang's case. He went on to question whether the investigators had followed the proper procedures by making this criminal case into a tabloid sensation. He speculated that the police most likely had not even verified the information with any of the so-called 'actresses', neither did they follow the principle that no matter how bad a suspect seemed to be, they should not be treated and vilified as a real criminal before the formal indictment took place.

In China, there will almost always be some gossip about fallen or corrupt officials. Yet, the source of the gossip is not gossipers, but government institutions, either the police or the propaganda organs. Different from regular media, they have very serious motivation for releasing such gossip, namely, to allege that the person in question is morally degenerate. Moreover, from their perspective, to degrade and defeat a person on moral grounds is more important than to verify the facts through legal procedures during this stage.

So, why do the investigators think that 'raping young girls and seducing actresses' is the more important information? It has to do with the Chinese Communist Party's historical tradition where the authority is never content with simply indicting the fallen or the suspect through legal processes, but has to completely 'topple him' and to 'defame him'. The 'life-style issue' is an endless TV series, and the people of this nation have been more and more entertained.

However, Chang Ping's essay has sparked a heated discussion which seems to suggest that many people believe sometimes to attack the evil, political tactics must take precedence over the due process of law. In this sense, the very mindset Chang Ping is attacking, still possesses a great deal of currency. Following is a sample of such comments.

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"The anti-gang crackdown is an act of justice. How dare you call it power struggle? I think you are precisely the one who has the mafia sympathies. No matter whether you call it power struggle, if good power struggles successfully against the bad one then it is good for the people. In the past, when the Communists fought the KMT, you could also name it as a power struggle. However, the great majority of the poor -- the roots of Chinese civilization -- were indeed liberated! Such is the will of heaven!!!! Gangsters are a tumor in the society and whichever public official feeds them, he is an enemy of the People. We must struggle against them!

"After reading this essay, I feel really hopeless. I always have high opinions of you intellectuals and feel offended when politicians and masses scorn people like you. However, after reading your essay, I only have one feeling -- pedantic, despicable!

"When you entangle yourself in meaningless details, do you realize how far you have digressed from the right path? Given present circumstances in China, will those evil people be punished if not by exceptional measures? These brave people are wielding machetes on the 'jackals and wolves' of our society at the risk of their own lives, while you sit there and criticize as if they have violated some sort of 'animal protection' laws. Aren't you aiding the evil so that they can become even more evil?"

Obviously, this author wrote here to dupe others even though he knows very little about Chinese politics. Remember, when we look at something, we don't ask about the motivation, but the result. If this thing eventually leads to the death of bad people and the benefit for good people, then this is considered a good thing. In this case, Wen Qiang is a bad person and it is only natural for him to pay the price for being bad. Now, what do you try to prove by flirting with this Western notion of 'presumption of innocence'? Do you want to say that in the parable of the farmer and snake, kindness should be granted also to the snake? Obviously, by writing this kind of essay the author was kowtowing to the western media and all he wanted was only his payment.

Chang Ping always thinks he is correct. His mouth is always full of rule of law and he always takes the moral high ground. No matter whether his comments are correct or not, they all sound so professional, so close to the crux of matter. Take this case as an example. All corrupt officials indulge in debauchery and there is plenty of this kind of report in China. But when he brings out the rule of law, then human rights flow and readers are suddenly elevated to a whole new level. It is as if this should actually be the case. He is so logical.
To be fair, many people also show support for the ideals that Chang Ping stands for.

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If there is no proof offered, then isn't all this just fabrication? Judicial institutions are not media entertainment companies. Shouldn't they be held accountable for their own words?

I believe Chang Ping's thoughts deserve to be heeded carefully. In fact, the over-emphasis our media has placed on sex has diverted the attention from the more serious theme which is corruption. In addition, we must take legal processes seriously and uphold the basic rights of the suspect because we have to profoundly re-examine our system and to avoid the present cycle of 'winner is the king, loser is the prisoner'!

Chang Ping is one of the few media people who still stick to professional ethics. Yet unfortunately, most people don't care about this.

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