On September 22, Chinese lawyer Xia Lin was found guilty of almost 10 million yuan in fraud, deprived of his political rights, fined 120,000 yuan and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Xia Lin and I met in 2010.
I planned to sue the Public Security Bureau in Sichuan for exercising violence; Xia accepted my offer to hire him as a lawyer and went with me to Sichuan. Despite our efforts, we were unable to file a lawsuit in the Sichuanese courts. The Public Security Bureau, the Sichuan People's Procuratorate, and the provincial courts all denied any physical abuse took place.
It is a difficult struggle to be a lawyer in China. The law stands behind those in power, and the judicial system lacks independence. I knew that bringing Xia Lin along could not change the situation. He also felt helpless about it.
For that case, he partnered with Xia Lin, who was a colleague from the same law firm. Xia left the team after working on the case for a period of time. I could not agree with his reason for parting ways. Regardless, Pu Zhiqiang insisted on acting as the case's defense attorney until the end. This is as far as I am acquainted with Xia Lin. He was one of the earliest legal associates that I have worked with, he was not a primary defense attorney, and he left the position midway through the case.
When Xia Lin was arrested, I immediately connected the incident to his role in Guo Yushan's case. I was relieved to hear of Guo's release, thinking that this could indicate that Xia's sentence would not be too severe. However, Chinese politics and rule of law do not follow any logical reasoning, and my analysis was once again proven wrong. Xia Lin received a harsh verdict and an unjustifiable one.
Xia's case has at least several reasons for concern.
He was accused of failing to repay his loans on time. The party that offered him the loan should be the litigant in this kind of civil dispute. From what I have learned from other lawyers, including Pu Zhiqiang, Xia Lin's loan was not due and there were no civil lawsuits being filed.
Instead of treating the case as a civil suit, the Public Security Bureau arrested and charged him for fraud. This approach violated protocol and was illegal. It reminded me of the time when I was taken away at the Beijing Capital International Airport in 2011. The Public Security Bureau accused me of tax-related crimes and charges were made against the company that I served.
The execution of the entire arrest, investigation and trial process was illegal under Chinese law. There was no clear conclusion to the case and they failed to provide any presentable evidence. Even if I did not understand Xia Lin's case completely, I am convinced of, and can relate to, the violations of procedure that he experienced.
The Chinese judicial system has never been independent and will never become independent.
The Chinese political regime is afraid of discussing this topic and acknowledging that they refuse judicial independence. It is only a tool that operates under the Communist Party's directives.
The country's rule of law has never fulfilled its responsibility to serve justice. Given such conditions, all verdicts under such a system are unfair by nature.
Without a platform for debate, information disclosure, and transparency for the nature of evidence in trial, we can only presume that these judgments are unfair.
The judicial system is obligated to prove that it is fair and just. As citizens -- or even a lesser existence without the right to elections -- we are owed the right to a fair trial. If the courts fail to prove that it is fair, then it should be presumed unfair.
Xia Lin's sentence is no exception. I find it absurd that he was sentenced to 12 years for a loan dispute. This shows that China manifests significant discrepancies on its treatment of justice issues and on its parameters for criminality. Xia Lin is not a corrupt official who embezzled public funds. His fault, if any, related to a private loan dispute.
Further, we cannot separate the harsh sentence from his longtime concern for human rights. If one person is treated unfairly in our society, the whole world dulls in color.
Ai Weiwei is a Chinese artist and dissident. The views expressed below are his own.