China's Broken Olympic Promises

Liu is so disconcerted because, on April 21, the court upheld the trial court's ruling on all counts, seemingly ignoring the facts of the case. It upheld the three-year prison sentence, and it confirmed the charge that Ji committed forgery of "national documents" and "sovereign seals." The situation is straight out of Kafka. The evidence on which court based its decision was in fact evidence of the condemned man's innocence. Any child can see that the stamp on the documents, be it forged or authentic, is oval, not round.

'He Should Not Have Gone to Beijing'

According to the attorneys, the judge presiding over the appeal hearing never asked a single question and was silent throughout the hearing. This could only mean that he knew from the start what his ruling would be. And this is where it becomes apparent that two worlds intersected -- that of international politics in the days of the dazzling Beijing Olympics and that of the provincial corruption in Fuzhou and the surrounding region. "He should not have gone to Beijing," says the elderly attorney Lin, as he sits in front of a calligraphy scroll of a poem by Li Bai about the beauty of the three rivers. "The government was very nervous at the time, and that wasn't good," says Lin.

Ji, a lone champion of the law, committed a decisive error in August 2008. It was as if his enemies, of which there were many, had only been waiting for him to slip up. He had traveled to the capital as the representative of his clients, hoping to argue their cases to the best of his ability, to bring them to the attention of the powers that be. Perhaps he went to Beijing believing in the impossible, believing that a nobody could find his way to the emperor's throne and make himself heard.

In the end, on the day of his arrest, Ji was not standing in front of that throne. Instead, he was standing on the street, surrounded by dilapidated modern buildings, tightly holding on to his red notebook that contained all of the documentation on the 11 unresolved cases that had become stuck in the bureaucracy at home in Fujian. One of the cases dealt with a man whose house had been destroyed for no apparent reason, and another was about a man who had died in prison and whose family was never compensated. The documents told the stories of people whose land had been confiscated arbitrarily, of people who had been injured at work and were never compensated, and of those whose cases were never even heard.

Ji was their advocate. And he must have believed the promises of his government and the Olympic family, the promises that the time had finally come when he could speak his mind freely, for all the world to hear, and with no fear of repercussions. On the morning of his arrest, on Aug. 11, 2008, he said: "There are great powers that oppose me. But I am not alone. We are many." He was sweating, even though it was early in the morning and still cool outside, and his thinning hair bristled as if it were electrically charged. An hour later, he was gone.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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