Zhang Sizhi, Lawyer Who Defended Chinese language Dissidents, Dies at 94


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Zhang Sizhi, a Chinese language lawyer who defended politically contentious purchasers, together with Mao Zedong’s underlings, Tiananmen-era dissidents, purged officers and victims of police frame-ups, inspiring generations of human rights legal professionals along with his advocacy, died on June 24 in Beijing. He was 94.

His demise, in a hospital, was introduced by Wu Luan Zhao Yan Attorneys in Beijing, the place he had labored as a senior advisor. Fu Kexin, a lawyer who labored with Mr. Zhang for a few years, mentioned the trigger was most cancers.

Mr. Zhang survived battle after which persecution underneath Mao Zedong to develop into considered one of China’s most famed legal professionals. Outright victories had been uncommon within the nation’s courtrooms, that are managed by the Communist Social gathering. However Mr. Zhang refused to just accept that he was there as a mere decoration. He used painstaking preparation and rigorous argument to discredit sloppy prosecution allegations, problem indictment fees and, sometimes, rating victories.

“There are these in our nation who these days see Chinese language legal professionals as ornamental vases,” Mr. Zhang mentioned in an interview revealed in 2008. “However even when you’re put in a vase, you continue to have the precise to resolve whether or not you’re going to be a dew-covered rose with thorns or a stick of dogtail weed.”

Mr. Zhang started his authorized profession as a functionary of a Beijing court docket, proud to serve the Communist revolution. After the armed suppression of protests in 1989, he stoutly defended folks accused of fomenting “counterrevolutionary turmoil.”

His efforts set an instance for different Chinese language legal professionals, who more and more took on abuses of state energy. Within the final decade of Mr. Zhang’s life, China’s chief, Xi Jinping, labored to stifle the so-called rights protection motion, disbarring, detaining or imprisoning tons of of legal professionals and authorized activists.

“He was most tenacious, combating on after every defeat. He was unbreakable,” mentioned Ms. Fu, who had labored with Mr. Zhang for the reason that early Nineteen Nineties. “All his life, he firmly believed that rule of legislation was a path that China needed to take, and legal professionals undoubtedly had an essential position in that path.”

Mr. Zhang was born on Nov. 12, 1927, in Zhengzhou, in central China, the eldest of 10 youngsters. His father, Zhang Jingtang, was a physician, and his mom, Meng Yanrong, managed the family. Rising up in the course of the Japanese invasion of China, Mr. Zhang first deliberate to check diplomacy to assist his homeland, he wrote in a memoir revealed in Hong Kong in 2014.

As Japanese forces gained floor, the household moved to southwest China. Days after turning 16, Mr. Zhang joined the military of the Nationalist authorities and was despatched to battle within the India-Burma border area. After Japan’s defeat, he enrolled at Chaoyang College in Beijing, the place he studied legislation. He additionally turned more and more concerned in underground Communist Social gathering politics.

When Mao’s forces got here to energy in 1949, Mr. Zhang, one of many few social gathering activists with authorized coaching, was assigned to work as a decide in a Beijing court docket, though he was solely 21. Crammed with revolutionary zeal, he used a pointy tongue when criticizing older court docket officers, though he later got here to remorse being so harsh.

As Mao tightened his grip, Mr. Zhang additionally turned a goal of official suspicion and criticism, partly due to his time within the defeated Nationalist forces. After being labeled a “rightist” in 1957, he was stripped of his Communist Social gathering membership and despatched to labor within the countryside. His legislation books had been despatched off as scrap paper. He later taught at a college in Beijing, his authorized profession apparently behind him.

After Mao died in 1976, Mr. Zhang’s abilities had been once more wanted as China’s new leaders started rebuilding the authorized system. He acquired a request in 1980 to behave as a protection lawyer for the Gang of 4 and different former officers going through trial over their position within the extremes of the Cultural Revolution. Extra skilled legal professionals had refused the high-pressure job; Mr. Zhang agreed, although he loathed the Cultural Revolution.

The defendants — together with Jiang Qing, Mao’s widow — had been accused of usurping energy and persecuting officers. Ms. Jiang rejected Mr. Zhang’s provide to characterize her, and he later mentioned he regretted that he couldn’t defend her vigorously within the extremely rehearsed trial.

When one other former official, Li Zuopeng, stood trial, Mr. Zhang and his colleagues persuaded the judges to reject two of essentially the most critical accusations. Ms. Jiang acquired a suspended demise sentence, commuted to life in jail; Mr. Li was sentenced to 17 years in jail.

Mr. Zhang waded again into legal protection work after 1989, when he defended activists and a former senior official, Bao Tong, accused by the Communist Social gathering of backing the Tiananmen Sq. protests demanding political liberalization.

Mr. Zhang “put his coronary heart and soul into defending the rights of residents and the dignity of the legislation,” Mr. Bao mentioned in a written message. Mr. Bao was sentenced to seven years in jail, though he and Mr. Zhang methodically contested the costs at a 1992 trial. “The legislation is all the time a shedding battle,” Mr. Bao wrote, “as a result of it’s a creature of politics.”

By the Nineteen Nineties, Mr. Zhang had honed his technique: Pore via the tons of of pages of proof, an exhausting feat earlier than photocopiers had been frequent; find the weaknesses within the prosecutor’s case; and develop a watertight argument that would maybe persuade, or disgrace, judges into decreasing fees or giving a comparatively mild sentence. Even when courts often ignored his arguments for locating somebody not responsible, former purchasers mentioned, Mr. Zhang labored each angle.

“Zhang Sizhi all the time performed a protection throughout the framework of Chinese language legislation,” Gao Yu, a journalist in Beijing whom Mr. Zhang defended in 1994, mentioned in an interview. She credited him with cajoling the court docket to just accept lesser fees after she was indicted on a cost of leaking state secrets and techniques.

“That legislation has many faults,” Ms. Gao mentioned, “however he would all the time discover locations in that framework that helped his shopper.”

Mr. Zhang continued defending or advising purchasers in dozens of long-shot circumstances, striving to remain calm within the face of obstacles set by prosecutors and court docket officers.

These he represented included Tenzin Deleg Rimpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist monk convicted on a bombing cost that his supporters denounced as a frame-up; Wu Ying, a businesswoman who fought, and finally overturned, a demise sentence on a flimsy cost of monetary fraud; and Nie Shubin, a manufacturing unit employee executed in 1995 on false fees of rape and homicide. In 2016, China’s highest court docket exonerated Mr. Nie.

“Even in his 60s, 70s and 80s, he was terribly acute in figuring out the authorized connections and the essential info,” Pu Zhiqiang, a lawyer in Beijing who labored on circumstances with Mr. Zhang, mentioned in an interview.

Mr. Pu was arrested in 2014 after participating in a gathering in Beijing to mark the twenty fifth anniversary of the Tiananmen Sq. crackdown, and Mr. Zhang was getting ready to defend him when he suffered a stroke, forcing him to curtail his court docket work. Mr. Zhang continued to advise and encourage Chinese language legal professionals, typically scolding these he thought put publicity forward of their purchasers’ pursuits.

“The place are there any fellows like him now?” requested Mr. Pu, who has been banned from court docket work. “There’ll actually by no means be one other like him.”

Mr. Zhang is survived by his spouse, Qu Yuan; a son, Zhang Ji; a daughter, Zhang Jian; a granddaughter; a great-grandson; three brothers; and 4 sisters.

After his demise, many Chinese language legal professionals supplied tributes. However the authorities saved his funeral temporary and restricted attendance to twenty folks, citing Covid limits, Mr. Pu mentioned.

Their actual fear, he mentioned, was Mr. Zhang’s legacy.

“I’m not keen to be pushed round, so I’ve needed to continuously resist,” Mr. Zhang mentioned in a chat in Hong Kong in 2014. However in up to date China, he added, “it’s inconceivable to realize the targets of making certain rights and defending justice, and I’ve shed tears over this.”


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