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Journalists have been urged to remain fair and objective when covering the case of an allegedly corrupt Beijing lawyer after a "one-sided" Chinese newspaper article led to outrage among some in the legal profession.
He was allegedly turned over to police by client Gong Gangmo, a suspected crime boss detained in June during an anti-gang sweep in Chongqing municipality.
However, lawyers nationwide have heavily criticized a 5,000-word article in China Youth Daily on Dec 14 as it branded Li a liar before he had a chance to clear his name in court.
A group of 20 lawyers wrote to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, the country's top legislature, and Ministry of Public Security the day after the story was published to complain.
They demanded that authorities protect Li's rights as a lawyer and a suspect, and argued that police from outside Chongqing should investigate his case, which they said affected the entire legal profession.
"China Youth Daily's one-sided story was based on what the Chongqing police bureau told them and went against the principle of impartiality in news reporting," Li Fangping, a lawyer for the Beijing Ruifeng Law Firm and the letter's chief author, told China Daily yesterday.
"It had strong prejudice toward non-Chongqing lawyers and the story suggested non-local attorneys went to the city and defended suspected gang member clients only to make money."
Chen Youxi, vice-president of the All China Lawyers' Association's constitutional and human rights committee, wrote on the association's website last week that the story had "irresponsibly and ignorantly defamed Chinese legal practitioners".
The paper's staff had turned a news report into news commentary that showed self-importance, violating the basic principles of journalism, he said.
The Beijing Lawyers' Association (BLA) called for calm in the capital and in a press release on Saturday said: "A person's guilt is judged by the judicial authority on the basis of facts and law."
"We are very sorry that some media reporting has hurt the feelings of Beijing lawyers, as well as lawyers nationwide. We hope the press will observe professional ethics and report the case in an objective manner," the association said, without naming any media organizations.
The press release followed the visit of five senior BLA officials to Chongqing on Tuesday to investigate the case and ensure the protection of Li's rights.
The team left on Thursday after telling the local public security bureau and procuratorate that "the association hopes and believes Chongqing judicial authorities will deal with Li's case in accordance with the law".
The authorities did not allow the Beijing team to meet Li but assured them that the accused lawyer was "physically healthy and emotionally stable", according to a BLA member quoted in Beijing News yesterday.
BLA and Kangda Law Firm have referred a defense attorney to Li's family, the association said.
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