Deng Yujiao and the Law

(Southern Metropolis Daily)  Deng Yujiao: The Case of the "Strong Girl" disrupted the rationality of law.  December 30, 2009.

"I want to get a job and lead a decent life"    June 16, Deng Yujiao spoke of her future plans to our reporter after the first trial

"I am not Deng Yujiao"   December 22, Deng Yujiao told the reporter about her new life

If the lawyers learned the truth from Deng Yujiao and obtained the evidence quietly instead of running crying to the media; if the netizens actually spent the effort trying to supervise the authorities instead of making loud noises only; if the media actually went back to the facts of the story instead of taking on the role of saviors themselves; if the government chose to be frank, fair and transparent instead of blocking and intercepting information ... then this very simple criminal case would not have rubbed the nerves of all of China.

It is cruel to drag Deng Yujiao out again.  This is a family dormitory building that is at least 10 years old.  Even the neighbors don't know who she is.  The stairwell is pasted with small advertising posters.  The people here live small and trivial lives.  Two nights before Christmas Eve at around 7pm, she opened the door.  The light-sensitive lamp illuminated the stairwell.

"I am not Deng Yujiao."  She turned her face towards the wall and used her hair and hand to shield herself like a frightened small animal who is afraid of her own name.

From early summer through the rest of the year, this name represented the completely opposite images of frailty and strength.  On the Chinese Internet, it created reverberations.

Finally, she made a silent admission.  We walked down two streets as she chatted about her new job where everybody is treating her well.  She is living in a television-less room.  She has a job.  She lives in a new environment.  Her life has turned over to a new page.  Even her name has been changed.  Deng Yujiao said that she was going to pick up her new identity card on this evening.

"A Pan-political incident"

In reviewing how the case of Deng Yujiao went from a simple crime to a public incident, from lawyers and netizens to the government; from the evidence collection to the verdict; from the employment arrangements for the principal; everything was clearly politicized.

On May 10, the 22-year-old Badong woman Deng Yujiao stabbed the Trade Development Bureau Deng Guida to death.  Her fate was altered from that moment on.  She was no longer a carefree small-town girl.  Her dreams of opening a clothing store or a snack cart are now even more remote than ever.  The trajectory of her first 22 years and the subsequent developments show how Fate can bring strange twists and turns.

Deng Yujiao was in a state of mental distress, and did not calm down until the fifth day after she was sent to the Enshi Prefecture Hospital for a psychiatric evaluation.

She was sent there at the request of her family.  She had a history of more than three years of depression and sleeplessness.  The police also supported the request based upon the anti-depression drugs that they found in Deng Yujiao's handbag.  At past 8pm, Zhang Shumei came out of the Yesanguan police station and called her cousin who is a civil lawyer in Yichang and the grandfather of Deng Yujiao (the Badong county retired judge Deng Zhenglan) to ask them to come over immediately.  For the family, it would seem that Deng Yujiao's unfortunate illness might be the life-saving straw.

Murder, surrender, crime scene, witnesses, medical history -- all these details were basically verified within a short time.  A simple criminal case quickly proceeded in the direction that it should be going.  In the eyes of then Badong county Political and Legal Committee secretary and public security bureau director Yang Liyong, this was a simple murder case with straightforward facts and ample evidence.

Two things pushed the case of Deng Yujiao into a public opinion storm.  First, there was the <Tonight 930pm> broadcast on Enshi TV.  Secondly, the netizen known as "The Butcer" entered the case.  The former showed the video of Deng Yujiao being tied down on the bed and crying out "Daddy, they are beating me."  The latter found the Beijing lawyer Xia Lin and others.

The TV report which carried no context or explanation let all the accumulated grievances in the real world of Chinese society find an outlet in the virtual world.  On May 16, "The Butcher" knocked on Deng Zhenglan's door.  During the conversation, "The Butcher" said: "You have to rely on people like us.  You can't do it by yourself."  This made Deng Zhenglan become wary, and that initial conversation ended in a sour note.  Two days later, "The Butcher" took Zhang Shumei to pick up lawyer Xia Lin and others at the Enshi airport and they signed a power-of-attorney agreement that was not yet stamped.

The lawyer Xia Lin met with Deng Yujiao and came out crying and begging for help.  Next came the controversy over the dismissal of the lawyers.  This caused the case of Deng Yujiao to be derailed as a legal case.  All of a sudden, people with various kinds of motive converged towards Badong.

Over at Yichang across the river, the government intercepted several groups of netizens carrying banners.  The Badong government Information Office spokesperson received about 10 international calls each day, especially from France.  Certain inflammatory telephone calls were made to the leader of the Enshi Political and Legal Committee.  The Badong county government and even the Enshi Prefecture government have never been so nervous before.  Based upon the lesson from the Weng'an incident one year ago, the government shut down all access to Badong by land or water.  They set up road blocks and they swept through all the hotels and entertainment facilities in the Prefecture.  All the same, there was still a case of reporters being assaulted.

In terms of information dissemination, our interview of Badong county Political and Legal Committee secretary Yang Liyong was a turning point.  This person who said that he was fair, unbiased and wanted a solid case addressed the media in an open manner.  But the result was undesirable, because it only drew more online curses.  The Badong government then shut off all communication channels.  No government officials gave any more media interviews.

Yang Liyong paid the price for doing a media interview "without clearance."  He was dismissed from his post and transferred out of Badong county.

The state of siege in Badong county began to be lifted gradually until the court hearing in mid-July.  Before the hearing, the government did two things.  First, it persuaded the family of Deng Guida to give up their demands for criminal and civil compensation.  Secondly, they held a rehearsal several days before the hearing with both sides presenting their evidence.  On the day of the hearing, a large number of armed policemen were present in the court's parking lot as a precaution.

As for the Badong county court, this was their first experience dealing with Internet public opinion.  In September, Hubei province High Court deputy director Wang Chen was a guest at People's Net and spoke about why the court might hand a lenient sentence to Deng Yujiao: She has a mental illness and public opinion is on her side.

Our reporter learned that before the court began, the Badong court chief judge locked himself up in his office and printed a number of Internet commentaries for his files.  "It has less to do with the perceptiveness and more to do with the quality of the writing.  There are many netizens who have professional knowledge, but they are weak on the facts.  Therefore, their commentaries are off the mark."

The verdict: Deng Yujiao was not given any punishment.  Between a suspended sentence and no punishment, the judges chose the latter.  The reasoning was as follows: "Under either option, the defendant does not serve prison time.  The former requires that reports be made periodically about the defendant during the probation period.  If the defendant misbehaves again, she would have to serve the time.  The latter releases the defendant.  For a public servant, a suspended sentence would lead to job dismissal, but it does not mean much to an ordinary person.  In the present case, Deng Yujiao had three mitigating circumstances.  First, the other party acted wrongfully first; secondly, she turned herself in; thirdly, there is a history of mental problems.  Therefore, we chose not to punish her.  If only two of the three circumstances were present, we would have considered a suspended sentence."

Within the court system, there is still controversy over how this case was handled: "Although the verdict was no different, this was a case which was decided by the Central Political and Legal Committee from above even though it was articulated by the presiding judge."  One judge thinks that this has damaged "the spirit of the law."

The verdict may have put an end to the legal case of Deng Yujiao, but the political case continued even after Deng Yujiao was released.  One company wanted to hire her at a very high salary; a professor wanted to recruit her to become a graduate student.  The former has unclear motives while the latter is being naive.

Of course, the government had already made plans.  On the day after being freed, Deng Yujiao was sent to the Enshi Youfu Hospital to receive free medical care.  In order to avoid more disruptions, Deng Zhenglan told the group of eight netizens including "The Butcher" in early July that Deng Yujiao was receiving medical treatment in Wuhan city.  In September, the family requested that she be discharged.  The government arranged a job for Deng Yujiao.

In late November, the Central Political and Legal Committee sent workers to Badong county to make a video record of the Deng Yujiao case.  This will be used along with the Weng'an incident as four cautionary tales of mass incidents.  The case has been defined as a "pan-political incident" with the internal designation as the "5.10 incident."

The Truth Lies In The Details

The May 10th incident headed towards a political case with the dismissal of the lawyers.  On the afternoon of May 21, the laywer met Deng Yujiao for the first time and came out crying to the media and the netizens.  He claimed that he had proof that Deng Yujiao was sexually assaulted; on the next day, the lawyer claimed that "the key evidence had been laundered"; on May 23, the government announced through the local media: Deng Yujiao's mother Zhang Shumei had rescinded the power of attorney with the lawyer.

But on the morning of that day, Zhang Shumei denied this was the case.  In the afternoon, the case took a quick turn when Zhang Shumei said that the attorney relationship has indeed been rescinded.

Did the government fabricate facts?  Did the family cause trouble?  What happened among the government, the family and the lawyers?  This was unknown until now.  Like the mass incident itself, the truth about the details became murky afterwards and nobody was interested in chasing after it.

On December 24, this reporter went back to Badong.  He interviewed Deng Zhenglan to fill in the missing details.  Deng Zhenglan said that Zhang Shumei originally asked him to hire a lawyer.  But then Zhang Shumei signed an agreement with the lawyers herself first before telling Deng Zhenglan.  During this period, Deng Zhenglan asked to meet with the lawyers many times but Zhang Shumei refused.

Before 1982, Deng Zhenglan was a teacher.  During the first anti-corruption campaign, he was assigned on loan to the public security bureau.  In 1984, he went to work at the county court.  In 2002, he retired from the Badong county court.

Previously, he learned that Deng Yujiao was taken back to the Badong county detention centre.  So he called up the detention centre to check on her physical condition.  He was told that she was recovering emotion-wise and she was eating the food that she ordered for herself.

On the evening of May 21, Deng Zhenglan saw the story of lawyer Xia Lin shouting "no conscience and no humanity" and he had his doubts.

He asked Zhang Shumei about what happened at the Yesanguan police station.  Zhang Shumei said: The police never put handcuffs on Deng Yujiao, not even on the road to the Enshi Youfu Hospital.

Deng Zhenglan determined from this that the two lawyers were staging a show.  He thought that the nature of the case has changed.  On May 22, he met lawyer Xia Lin for the first time.  They shook hands and traded one sentence.  Then the police called Xia Lin away.

In the afternoon, Deng Zhenglan proposed to change lawyers on the grounds that the current lawyers did not carry out their duties, did not provide material legal aid to the client, deviated from the directive of the client and fabricated facts to the detriment of the interests of Deng Yujiao.  Zhang Shumei disagreed because her view was that "when something like this happens, the government obviously wants to protect its image."

Deng Zhenglan offered counter-examples, "Over the past three years, Badong county has arrested one corrupt department chief each year.  Is the government trying to protect its image?"

Zhang Shumei did not say anything more at the time.  That evening over at Deng Zhenglan's home, Zhang Shumei agreed to dismiss the lawyers.  The Badong county judiciary department director and the Women's Association chairwoman were present, and the latter confirmed this story to the reporter.  In front of everybody, Zhang Shumei called Xia Lin in order to inform him.  But Xia Lin's telephone was off.  The actual situation was that Xia Lin had gone through "thinking that one punch of the iron fist would seal the case" to "all hope is gone and losing emotional control."  He had checked out of his hotel and turned his telephone off.  New lawyers were already on the way from Beijing.

A government official proposed to record a video statement over at the television station.  Zhang Shumei and Deng Zhenglan agreed and said that the evidence will be preserved but not publicized.  Before leaving, Zhang Shumei reminded the government officials again not to publish the news yet.  She said that the lawyers must be informed first before it can take effect.

That evening, the video statement was turned over to the Badong county Information Office director Ouyang Kaiping.  He told our reporter: 1. The evidence is real; 2. the public is concerned; 3. it is related to the case and must be published.  So the government prepared a bulletin that evening and released it to the local media to say that Deng Yujiao's mother Zhang Shumei has announced that she has dismissed the lawyers.

On the morning of May 23, Deng Zhenglan was about to go see Zhang Shumei.  Zhang Shumei got a telephone call and said angrily: "They said that they won't announce it, but they did.  The government is toying with me."  She could not dismiss the two lawyers now because Deng Yujiao would be endangered.  "Grandpa, you don't have to deal with this case anymore.  Me and my husband will deal with it."

Zhang Shumei then called Xia  Lin to say that the lawyer-client relationship is intact and they can talk later.  Xia Lin began to pace back and forth in the hotel corridor as he waited.

On this day, a smokeless war was actually going on in the tranquil city of Badong county.  The combatants were the Badong county government and lawyer Xia Lin.  The key to victory depended on Zhang Shumei.

At the same time, Deng Zhenglan was making a request to Zhang Yougang, who was the Badong county Public Security Bureau Political Commissar, to be allowed to visit Deng Yujiao.  The Hubei province Public Security Bureau deputy director Sheng Wu and Enshi Prefecture Political and Legal Committee secretary Li Yunkai were both in Badong at the time.  So Zhang Yougang said that he needed to get clearance.  Ten minutes later, Deng Zhenglan was told that his request has been approved.  Deng asked whether he could bring Zhang Shumei with him.  The request was also approved.

At around 11am, Deng Zhenglan and Zhang Shumei met with Deng Yujiao at the Badong county detention centre.  The two witnesses were Badong county party deputy secretary and the county Political Consultative Conference vice-chairman.

The meeting lasted about 15 minutes.  Deng Zhenglan asked the following questions: 1. What did Huang Dezhi say in the water treatment room?  Deng Yujiao replied: "Huang said, 'You give me a bath'."  2. Was there any sexual assault, or tearing clothes off?  Deng Yujiao said: "No.  He came over to grab my hand but I got free."  3. What kind of sofa was in the rest room?  Deng Yujiao replied: "A single seat sofa."

Deng Zhenglan could then believe the case details released by the public security bureau on May 18th: "If it was a single seat sofa, it was accurate to use the term 'push into a sitting position.'  If it was a double seat sofa or a bed, it would be more reasonable to use 'push down onto'."

Deng Yujiao said that the lawyer showed her his notes after the morning meeting, and she signed.  In the afternoon, he only read out the notes to her and she did not read the actual notes.

Before leaving, Deng Zhenglan asked, "Is everything that you told the public security bureau true?"  He told her again: "You have set up many circumstances for reducing your sentence.  But if you did not tell the truth, then the fact that you turned yourself in won't count."

According to the witnesses, Deng Yujiao wept after Deng Zhenglan left and she pressed the bell to demand to see the "fat bespectacled policeman" at the Enshi Prefecture Public Security Bureau.

All The Parties Took The Wrong Positions

One year before the May 10th incident, 17-year-old second-year middle school female student Li Shufen drowned in a river in Weng'an county, Guizhou province.  The police drew the conclusion that "she jumped into the river herself and drowned."  Her family was dissatisfied and brought together more than 300 people to march in Weng'an county city.  A violent incident followed.

Guizhou province party secretary Shi Zongyuan defined the 6.28 incident as follows: A simple case was used by persons with ulterior motives (including organized crime figures) to set off a mass incident that openly challenged the Party and the government.

Even as Badong county was still being battered, a mass incident occurred in Shishou (Hubei) when a hotel chef suffered an unusual death.

Everybody has his own image of Deng Yujiao, just as everybody has his own ideas about Weng'an and Shishou.  Strong girl, weak girl, female knight, murderer?  Which of the thousands of images do you believe in?

The experts explained the general atmosphere as one in which conflicts occur during the transitional stage of Chinese society leading to accumulated grievances that result in riots.  That cannot be denied.  But the question is, What is the truth?  Does anyone care?

In the May 10th incident, the relevant parties are the lawyers, the netizens, the media and the government.  Among them, the lawyers and the netizens are closely linked and work with each other to promote the dominant view: they believed a priori that Deng Yujiao was defending herself properly and should be declared innocent and released immediately.

Meanwhile the media was fanning the flames from the side.  For example, the Enshi Prefecture TV program <Tonight at 930pm> victimized Enshi Prefecture's Youfu Hospital deputy director Yang Yongxin: "The media's intent was to raise concern and sympathy for Deng Yujiao.  But their very partial video inflamed public opinion and damaged the hospital."

The government's approach to problem-solving was not quite brilliant.  First of all, they banned local news coverage and investigated the first local reporter to report on the case.  Then they broke their promise and went ahead to announce that the lawyers had been dismissed.  When the dust finally settled down, they dismissed Political and Legal Committee secretary Yang Liyong for speaking to the media without clearance.

In retrospect, chaos reigned in the May 10th incident.  The main reason was that all the parties took the wrong positions.  Imagine a much clearer situation: If the lawyers learned the truth from Deng Yujiao and obtained the evidence quietly instead of running crying to the media; if the netizens actually spent the effort trying to supervise the authorities instead of making loud noises only; if the media actually went back to the facts of the story instead of taking on the role of saviors themselves; if the government chose to be frank, fair and transparent instead of blocking and intercepting information ... then this very simple criminal case would not have rubbed the nerves of all of China.

In the end, Deng Yujiao received no punishment for her crime.  It is hard to say which side won.  The controversy over lawyer Xia Lin continues today; the intrusion of the political factor into the case also damaged "the spirit of the law."

As the expert said about the general atmosphere in Chinese society, it is inevitable that some of these principals in mass incidents may find themselves in the wrong position.  This is the conflict that exists between the people and the government.

A Life That Should Not Be Disrupted

While her case was being processed, the prefecture leader came to visit.  The family mentioned that the priority was for Deng Yujiao to get medical treatment, followed by her future plans.  The leader took note.  Afterwards the government promised to provide aid.

It was not easy for the Enshi Prefecture Political and Legal Committee to locate a job opening.  According to information, the initial placement in September was with the Prefecture Electricity Company.  But the company general manager vetoed the arrangement.  Eventually, Deng Yujiao was arranged to go to a microwave station.

Deng Yujiao was not included in the ranks of public service workers.  Her job was placed by the Enshi Prefecture Political and Legal Committee via a contract with no term limits.  Her wages and rent for the first year were paid for by the Badong county government.  Enshi Prefecture will decide what to do afterwards.

The microwave station where Deng Yujiao works is located on the top floor.  The environment is nice and quiet.  The stairway has a steel gate that keeps out unwanted visitors.  The station will receive new equipment next year.  Meanwhile, there are only several pieces of old equipment in the machine room.  The office has two monitor screens to test the microwave signals.

Because she has no technical expertise, her daily job is to turn the machines on or off.  She will learn to perform the more intricate tasks later on.  Even so, her colleagues at the microwave station will not let her work alone.  "They remind her not to go into the machine room, because there are high-voltage unshielded equipment there."

The microwave station emphasized training her to follow work discipline as a part of the team.  A colleague said, "Her previous experience made her more undisciplined, so she must go through a process."

This colleague said: "The colleagues are almost all about the same age as her mother Zhang Shumei.  They treat her like their own daughter."  When Deng Yujiao first came, she looked wan and sallow.  She had sleeping disorder and needed to take 3 sleeping pills each night in order to sleep.  The colleague advised her that sleeping pills may need to addiction if over-used.

Deng Yujiao said that she is reducing the number of sleeping pills gradually.  She is down to 1 pill, or sometimes even 1/2.

Outside the office are a brand new jogging machine and a stationary bicycle.  The unit leader ordered these especially for Deng Yujiao.  "She did not eat a lot of meat.  She was in bad physical condition.  Sleeping disorder cannot be healed by medicine alone.  She needed to get physically fit to get to the source of her illness."

Before getting the job, Deng Yujiao changed her name.  But the new name is not the previously reported Deng Qingling.  Her colleagues do not approach her about the subject of what occurred on May 10th.  On one occasion, there was a television scene in which a woman wanted to kill a man but was persuaded to put down her knife.  The colleague was terrified and wanted to change the channel.  But the remote control device was in Deng Yujiao's hand.  Then Deng Yujiao said, "That was only because she is too pretty."  The colleague was relieved that she could think that way.

Even in a new environment, Deng Yujiao is often recognized.  In elevators, she stands with her face turned towards the wall.  After a while, people begin to feel normal.  Deng Yujiao said that she had not seen her friends in Yesanguan ever since she left Badong county.  She misses them.  She does not have any friends here, so she does not want to go out.

It would take a lot of courage for Deng Yujiao to return to Yesanguan.  There are many unerasable memories on those slopes.  Deng Guida's son dropped out of high school because the social pressure was too much.  His family is hostile to anyone who brings up any mention of the incident.  All those topics constitute invisible shackles on them.

But life goes on.  Basically, Deng Yujiao has adjusted to her new work environment.  She goes to work at 830am and gets off at 530pm.  When she has time, she does sewing.  She has not completed her sewing project here.  There is a framed angel with wings on her office desk.  The frame has been completed and she is going to sew a small angel with wings next.