The mob lawyer speaks

Zhou Litai

"Mickey Mouse" went on trial in Chongqing on October 13.

The mouse was Li Yi, the alleged boss of a criminal organization that has menaced the town of Linjiang for years. He and twenty-seven associates face a raft of charges ranging from arson to extortion to illegal possession of firearms to tax evasion. The case is part of a larger anti-crime campaign going on in the city.

On Saturday, The Beijing News printed an interview with Zhou Litai (周立太), a lawyer representing one of the suspects in the Li Yi gang case. Zhou has been criticized for taking on the case and accused of not supporting the local government's efforts to crack down on organized crime:

Suspects Have Basic Rights Too

Interview with Zhou Litai by Wu Wei / TBN

Zhou Litai, one of the lawyers representing the Li Yi gang in Chongqing. He has been called the "migrant worker lawyer" for finding justice for a migrant worker who died of work-related injuries, and has been honored with the title "Leader in Protecting the Rights of the Disabled" by the Justice Department and the China Disabled Persons Federation.

Why defend gangsters? "Because suspects have basic rights, too."

The Beijing News: How did you decide to act as legal counsel for Li Zhigang, a member of the Li Yi gang?
Zhou Litai: At first I wasn't aware of what had happened in Kaixian, and then before National Day, Li Zhigang's mother found me and retained me as her son's lawyer.

TBN: What is Li Zhigang charged with, and what role did he play in the gang?
Zhou: The case claims that Li Zhigang with being a key member of the Li Yi gang and charges him with provocation, extortion, and taking part in organized crime.

TBN: Why did Li's mother seek you out?
Zhou: Probably because I'm from Kaixian myself.

TBN: You've been praised your work defending the rights of migrant workers, but yesterday there were lots of comments online saying that you're a crook for defending someone involved in organized crime.
Zhou: Those people don't understand the law. I am a lawyer, and anyone who is charged with violating the country's laws can retain me, and I have the right to be retained. This is a basic principle laid out in the State Criminal Procedure Law and the Law on Lawyers and Legal Representation.

TBN: Lots of lawyers are avoiding this case.
Zhou: I won't. This is a duty that the law has put upon me. Because suspects have basic rights, too.

People are saying that you don't support the crackdown on organized crime. "I support the crackdown, but gangs are not the same as organized crime."

TBN: In court, you said that the Li Yi gang was not organized crime. Why?
Zhou: There is a strict definition for "organizations with characteristics of a criminal syndicate" (黑社会性质组织). According to the judicial interpretation of the Supreme People's Court, such organizations have the following characteristics: (1) a highly structured organization with a leadership, basically stable membership, and relatively strict discipline; (2) pursues economic benefit through illegal activities and possesses a certain economic strength; (3) seeks to shield itself through bribes and threats; (4) its criminal activities bring serious harm to economic and social order.

TBN: And you believe that the Li Yi gang does not satisfy these four conditions?
Zhou: Li Yi and his cohort are connected through local family relationships, and they established a series of group ties that threatened social safety and economic order in the town of Linjiang in Kaixian, so they can be called a gang, but they aren't a criminal syndicate.

TBN: Could we put it this way: "organizations with characteristics of a criminal syndicate" is a legal definition, while "gangs" are a way to understand them in society?
Zhou: You could put it that way.

TBN: Because of things you've said to the media, netizens believe that you do not support the crackdown on gangs.
Zhou: Fighting gangs is something I support. In some places, "organizations with characteristics of criminal syndicates" have indeed appeared and are threatening the people's livelihood, and we ought to approve and support striking back at them. But I believe that this should not be made into a campaign.

TBN: Liu Guanglei, secretary of the Chongqing Politics and Law Committee and head of the Chongqing Anti-Gang Task Force, has demanded that "gang cases be iron-clad," so as to prevent unfounded cases.
Zhou: I'd like to say that the Chongqing prosecutors should have a proper understanding of party secretary Bo's words. Bo Xilai and Politics and Law secretary Liu Guanglei have been very clear that we must carry out strikes and trials according to the law, and must put together cases strong enough to withstand the test of history.

TBN: How do you interpret "cases strong enough to withstand the test of history"?
Zhou: Facts in hand, sufficient evidence, and clear law: this is Bo and Liu's demand for iron-clad cases. And if we do not follow strict legal procedures, then we have not truly understood the spirit of their words.

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