China's Broken Olympic Promises

Legal Services for Ordinary Citizens

After presenting his case to the disinterested officials at the petition office, he was taken to the guesthouse of Zhangzhou, a city in Fujian where he had lived for many years. The next day, he was put on a train for the 19-hour journey to Fuzhou, the provincial capital. From there, he was taken by car to Zhangzhou, a 300-kilometer journey, where he was detained at the "Hotel of Agriculture" and kept under house arrest. Searching for him, in China, would have been an impossible undertaking at the time. The Chinese authorities operate in secrecy, politicians have no interest in transparency, the police are world unto themselves, and the judiciary is an anonymous machine in which cases are only heard in public when they are likely to serve the propaganda interests of the party and government. The more sensitive issues, including those with relevance to the system, are handled behind closed doors. At first the authorities faced a hurdle in Ji's case: They had no case. No crime had been committed, not even a minor offence.

In 2002 Ji Sizun, a delicate man, unmarried and living alone, undoubtedly somewhat eccentric, moved from Zhangzhou, where he had grown up and spent much of his life, to Fuzhou, a port city surrounded by rolling mountains with tea plantations on their slopes. Fuzhou is a comfortable city by Chinese standards, with fig, palm and mimosa trees lining its streets and, in its downtown area, a large, snow-white statue of Mao Zedong, which is brightly lit at night. The weather is humid and oppressively hot in the summer. Ji lived in the Taijian district, in a neighborhood called Cangxia, at Zhuangyuan Lane 9.

The entrance to his short, narrow street is flanked by a snack bar that smells of old fish and a colorful general store. A neighbor wearing a ribbed undershirt is standing in front of the door to Ji's former house, which resembles a garage door, and when is he asked about Mr. Ji, he says: "Mr. Ji? But he moved away from here about a year ago."

In the years leading up to his arrest, Ji had provided legal services to ordinary citizens. It was his passion. After the Cultural Revolution, Ji worked in a mine and was later assigned an office job. He read up on the law and became a self-educated, amateur legal expert, representing people who couldn't afford a real lawyer. In some cases, he waived his fee if his clients, who he believed to be in the right, were unable to pay.

A Case, an Indictment and a Confession

He helped migrant workers defend themselves against police abuse, and he went to court with elderly women who had been expropriated without compensation in connection with hydroelectric dam projects. He helped teachers secure their pension payments, and he negotiated damage payments for people who had been the victims of work accidents. But in the summer of 2008, he paid dearly for his determination to take action against abuses committed by the police, the party and government officials. The police in Fuzhou, against whom he had successfully prosecuted cases again and again, began to harass him, looking for an opportunity to get rid of this notorious troublemaker, a man who, in 2005, had managed to expose a ring of corrupt local politicians, party members and police officers and take them to court. Seventeen people were indicted in the case and were collectively sentenced to 113 years in prison. If there was anyone who had enemies in Fuzhou, it was Ji Sizun.

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