Monday, November 22, 2010

Update on Wu Yuren

Unjustly jailed Chinese artist Wu Yuren had the first part of his trial last week.

We always knew that there would be a second hearing for the sentencing some time later (well, unless he was acquitted, of course; but that, I'm afraid, is a very slim hope); but in fact, even the main phase of the trial has not yet been completed.  After nearly four hours of examining the police witnesses and hearing submissions, the presiding judge granted an adjournment on the basis of Wu's lawyer's request to see a complete and unedited version of the police video which was supposed to have been the key piece of evidence against him. (It was purported to show abusive and/or violent conduct towards police officers questioning him at Jiuxianqiao police station; but the few short pieces of tape produced by the prosecution showed nothing of the kind.)

Wu's wife, Karen, was allowed into court to watch the proceedings (although the court officials hadn't had the courtesy to let her know that her request to attend was going to be granted; she turned up to the courthouse last Wednesday fearing that she would be forced to wait outside all day).  However, no-one else was allowed in, not even the official representative sent by the Canadian Embassy (Wu's wife and daughter are Canadian citizens).  The handful of other available seats in the 'public viewing area' (a single row of seats behind the accused) were apparently taken up by paid 'witnesses'!

There was quite a sizeable crowd outside - not just friends and colleagues of Wu, but a good number of curious passers-by, and also people with petitions of grievance against the government (I suppose it's possible that such petitioners may occasionally demonstrate outside a courthouse anyway, but it seems likely that most of these people had come specifically because they had heard on the grapevine that there was to be a high-profile case heard that day, and this might give them an opportunity to garner some media attention for their own causes).  Many of Wu's artist friends - including superstars of the Chinese modern art world like Ai Weiwei and the Gao brothers - had turned up, and gave interviews to the numerous reporters from international media outlets.  The police, it seemed, had known what to expect, and were  doing a surprisingly reasonable job of managing the crowd, keeping them back from the courthouse entrance without being too heavy-handed about it, and designating taped-off areas for the media interviews (although this 'interview area' was an adjacent building site, perhaps not the safest and certainly not the most comfortable setting for such activities; and some people were a little fretful that the crowd was being forced to spill backwards on to the busy main road).

Police witnesses attended to give evidence at the trial in person - something that is, apparently, almost unheard of in Chinese criminal cases.  Moreover, the judge did appear to be making an unusual effort to give the proceedings an appearance of fairness - allowing Wu and his lawyer to question the witnesses without interference.  His lawyer, Li Fangping, believes the international media attention surrounding the case (and the Amnesty letter-writing campaign on his behalf; and possibly also his wife's nationality, and the resulting involvement of the Canadian Embassy in monitoring the case) is responsible for this unusual turn of of events, and he is taking a modestly optimistic view of the likely outcome.  Unfortunately, the summit of such optimism is that Wu will be found guilty and receive at least the minimum sentence mandated for the charge against him (1 year - but with nearly 6 months already served).  An acquittal, unfortunately, is pretty much unthinkable, since it would involve too much "loss of face" for the police, the prosecution.... and the government.

Wu at least seemed in good spirits, and remained calm and dignified throughout; and he managed to snatch a few words with his wife during one of the recesses (the first time he's been able to see or speak to her since his detention).  He was also much encouraged to see how many people had gathered to support him outside the courthouse (he could see out of the windows of the van they brought him from the detention centre in)... and, doubtless, by the loud cheer that went up on his departure again.

There's a lot that might be said about the video evidence - or the lack of it - in this case, but perhaps I'll return to that topic at another time.  I think it's extremely unlikely that the prosecution will supply a much fuller version of the video recordings made at the police station that day; and even if they did, I doubt it it would really have much bearing on the outcome one way or the other.

The trial is expected to resume some time next week.  And Lawyer Li has been promised that he will receive a generous 72 hours' notice of the new hearing date.... but we shall see.  Let's hope so.  I'll post details on here as soon as we know.

The trial was extensively covered by the overseas media; for example, by the The New York Times and  The Washington Post.  But in the Chinese media??  Probably nothing.  Even the Global Times (an English-language offshoot of official Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily, but noted for being one of the occasionally more daring and 'liberal' of the state-run publications here), though it has carried a number of items on Wu over the past 9 months, does not appear to have mentioned his trial (the last article I can find on there is this one from two months ago, describing the strange meeting his wife was summoned to with a group of police officers back in September).

You can read a far more detailed account from Wu's wife, Karen Patterson, of what happened at the Wenyuhe courthouse last Wednesday here and here.

Keep an eye out for further developments.


kpinchina said...

In fact, according to the lawyer, this case was unprecedented in that police have never sent their officers to court to act as witnesses. Let's see what next session brings in the form of delicious tidbits of juicy 'Chinese characteristics' which we have come to love and look forward to on a daily basis ...

Ruby said...

Here's a link to photos taken outside the courthouse on the day of the trial:

Froog said...

Well, I have heard of calling police witnesses before, KP... but only in cases of rather larger criminal magnitude! There's certainly something a bit unusual with the way they're handling this.

Thanks a lot for the photo link, Ruby.