August 22, 2016
Zhou Shifeng’s final statement did not come quite as expected.
Like the other three activists tried in Tianjin at the start of the month, the head of Beijing’s Fengrui law firm, where more than 10 employees were arrested last year in a crackdown on civil society, was supposed to read from a script.
He was supposed to express little beyond regret for his “subversive” acts and gratitude towards the prosecutors and judges, who sent him to jail for seven years, for handling the case “fairly”. It was also supposed to hit the headlines the next day.
But under the watch of attendees including journalists from the South China Morning Post and four overseas news organisations invited by the Ministry of Public Security, he delivered something very different.
In a 10-minute final statement, the Peking University law school master’s degree holder praised China’s legal system, saying it was “so much beyond the Western rule of law”, and that the trial would “stand the test of the world”.
The praise was not included in the official transcript published hours later. His speech was condensed into a few paragraphs, in which he pleaded guilty and thanked the court for its fairness.
There was also no reference to Zhou delivering his statement with his arms outstretched as if on a street soapbox, before court police gently pressed them down. The judge managed to interrupt after a few attempts.
“The trial fully represents the fairness of a socialist legal system with Chinese characteristics,” Zhou said after the verdict.