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China busts group staging paid protests

(Xinhua)    09:34, June 22, 2015

JINAN, June 21 -- Police in east China's Shandong Province have busted a group that allegedly organized multiple mass protests to misguide public opinion and influence court sentences, according to the Ministry of Public Security.

The group in question specialized in paying a "relatively regular" group of people who acted as mass protestors in the name of protecting the rights of petitioners and assisting lawyers advocating their rights, the ministry said in a late Sunday statement, citing police investigations.

Among the detained is Zhai Yanmin, 54, the main organizer that paid people to stage protests, and Liu Jianjun, a lawyer who accepted cases from involved parties who hoped to influence judges and assigned them to Zhai. They are under the charge of staging illegal gathering to disrupt social order.

"The group was close-knitted with specific assignments for its members, and their activities were seen in heated cases across the country," the statement said.


The statement cited one incident on June 15, when unidentified protestors holding banners saying "people have the rights to supervise justice" and "Xu is not guilty" gathered in front of the Intermediate People's Court of Weifang, a city in Shandong, resulting in a huge number of onlookers and severe traffic jams.

At the same time, pictures and stories were posted on foreign websites, claiming that petitioners gathering before the court accused the judicial organ of wrongful convictions, according to the statement.

Follow-up inquiries revealed that the protestors came from eight provinces and had nothing to do with Xu. The protestors said they only knew Xu's case was related to corruption, and they were"employed" by Zhai to stage the protest.

Zhai was arrested on the same day in Beijing.

"I had run several businesses, but they all failed... then I met some petitioners and won their praises by helping them. I felt proud once again, and came up with the idea of doing favor for petitioners to make money and build reputation," Zhai was quoted by the police as saying.

Zhai received the case of Xu from Liu, who is with the Beijing-based Kangpu Law Firm, after Xu's relatives asked Liu to find a way to have Xu's sentence revoked during the second trial at the Weifang court.

"I felt that Zhai could help since he was a man very passionate about public affairs," Liu said, adding that he later introduced Xu's wife to Zhai and they made the deal to stage protests at the court.

In addition to fake protestors "bought" at the price of 1,000 yuan (161 U.S. dollars) each person, the deal also included a"seminar" on Xu's case with the participation of university professors, experts and reporters to create a hype before the protest.

Liu received 14,000 yuan as kickback from the 70,000 yuan paid by Xu's relatives for the seminar. Zhai initially got 10,000 yuan from Xu's wife to pay for the protestors.

Referring to Liu Xing, the leading protestor instructing others before the court, Zhai said, "he had done this before... sitting in silence, shouting slogans, raising banners and uploading photos online to increase pressure on courts."

Zhai admitted that he would receive an unknown amount of extra money if the protest was effective, and if the protestors were detained, Xu's relatives would have to pay more as condolence money for the detainees.


According to the police, Zhai staged nine "mass incidents" in2014 alone, including one after a high-profile fatal shooting at a railway station in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province.

Police officer Li Lebin shot dead Xu Chunhe on May 2 at Qing'an County Railway Station while Xu attacked Li and continued to assault the police officer despite multiple warnings.

Although follow-up investigations confirmed that Li was acting within the law, the case raised public questions against the legitimacy of Li's action.

After the shooting, Zhai organized five protests attended by people across the country to root for the dead, and later held banquets for them to celebrate their "achievements," the statement said.

According to Zhai, the protests were mainly crowdfunded via the Internet and partially supported by some lawyer groups. In addition to payments to protestors, Zhai himself pocketed part of the fund.

Among the organized protestors was a female surnamed Li, who held the banner "I'm a petitioner, please shoot at me" in front of the railway station.

"The picture of Li holding the banner was much circulated on the Internet, interpreting the incident as a police officer murdering civilians. It misguided online opinions and instigated the emotions of netizens, resulting in criticism and attack on the government and severely harmed China's image," the statement said.

Li revealed that she had no regular jobs and earned a living by attending various mass incidents across the country. She also took part in the Weifang incident and gained 600 yuan, shortly after being released from detention after the shooting protest.

"There are many who earn a living like this. They meet often and will go anywhere for a protest when being called," said another regularly paid protestor also surnamed Li, adding that the Chinese offices of international organizations, embassies, government departments and courts were among their frequented locations.

In retrospect, Zhai said, "I deeply regretted all this," adding that his acts severely disrupted the work of judicial departments and social order, resulting in grave social impacts.

"As a legal worker, I should have upheld the authority of the law... However, I took illegal actions myself and guided others to pressure the government via illegal methods... I repent and will never do that again," Liu was quoted by the statement as saying.

According to the ministry, the case is under further investigation. Enditem

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Editor:Zhang Yuan,Bianji)

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