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January 9, 2010

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Defense lawyer sentenced as controversy swirls

THE former attorney of a suspected mob boss was sentenced to two and a half years in jail yesterday for falsifying evidence and obstructing testimony in a widely observed case that continued to generate controversy.

Li Zhuang, the detained attorney, said after the sentence that the court itself is against the law and that he would expect no justice in appeals courts.

Yet his lawyer, Gao Zicheng who represented Shanghai's former Party chief Cheng Liangyu in his corruption case, said they will appeal.

The case started when Li's former client, Gong Gangmo, the alleged leader of a "murder club" in Chongqing, told police on December 10 that the Beijing-based criminal defense lawyer promised him lighter punishment if he withdrew his former confession in court and lied that he was tortured into making his admissions.

The lawyer was arrested two days after Gong talked to the police.

Li's case developed surprisingly fast, according to Li's lawyer Gao. He said the court opened the trial only one day after prosecutors filed the suit and left him barely any time to prepare for the defense.

Heated debate between the defense team and the prosecutors lasted for more than 16 hours on December 30, yet the seven witnesses related to Li's case did not appear in court; the prosecutors said that's because they were all in detention.

Chen Jiuhong, deputy head of Chongqing' Jiangbei District Prosecutors, told China Youth Daily they had no material evidence Li had advised lying, and that Li's arrest was based solely on Gong's allegations.

Gong said in an interview with China Central Television he sensed Li was telling him to lie about being tortured to induce a confession as Li was "winking at him" during meetings.

Li's request for a third-party medical test on Gong to determine whether he has been tortured by police was denied and answered with a police announcement that Gong was perfectly healthy.

In a separate trial for Gong and his alleged gang members, which started on Tuesday, all suspects except Gong said in court that they were tortured into confessing, according to Southern Weekend yesterday.

Legal experts from Beijing described Gong's acts as "extremely uncommon." Gong said he was trying to get some credit so that he could avoid a death sentence.

The case against Li has sparked tense debate outside the courtroom, with legal experts criticizing the prosecutors for compromising judicial independence, but many Netizens supporting a guilty verdict.

Over 20 lawyers signed and handed to the court a public letter pleading for the case to be transferred outside Chongqing to guarantee impartiality.


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