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Lawyer Vows to Bring the “Shanghai Cluster” to Light Despite Serving Time

Three years of imprisonment didn’t break this Shanghai civil rights
lawyer’s determination to take on the powerful Shanghai Party leaders
who sent him to jail.

Mr. Zheng Enchong was released on June 5, 2006, after having served three years in prison. Before his arrest, Mr. Zheng, a lawyer in Shanghai, had defended the economic and social rights of people who were displaced by Shanghai redevelopment projects. While working on those civil cases, he uncovered huge corruption scandals involving the Shanghai authorities and the most senior Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders in Shanghai. He was arrested and put into prison in an apparent effort by regime authorities to silence him.

"I am innocent," he told the Associated Press in a telephone interview the day after his release. "I am also going to report the corruption, irregularities in land-use approval, and violations of human rights in Shanghai redevelopment projects to the central government."

Mr. Zheng’s arrest and his recent release highlight not only the communist government’s corruption but also the struggle for power among the Party factions.

Three years ago, Attorney Zheng assisted displaced families in more than 500 cases, all of them relating to Shanghai’s urban redevelopment projects. On May 28, 2003, Mr. Zheng represented six displaced families in a lawsuit against the alleged corrupt collusion between Shanghai regime government officials and a wealthy property developer, Mr. Zhou Zhengyi. The case alleged that Mr. Zhou was able to obtain a 70-year land lease from the Jingan District Property Development Bureau only because the district government had given instructions for the Bureau to agree to the deal. The Shanghai authorities improperly allowed Zhou’s company to redevelop the 43,429-square-meter (52,000 square yd.) property without paying a land lease fee valued at about 300 million yuan (US$36.3 million). Under the conditions of that illegal land lease, Mr. Zhou was able to force 2,159 residents and original property owners on West Beijing Road to relocate to a fringe district.

After filing the civil lawsuit, Mr. Zheng wrote to CCP leader Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, bringing the corruption case to light. In his letter, Mr. Zheng revealed the involvement of the so-called "Shanghai Cluster," a group of officials with a close relationship to the previous CCP leader, Jiang Zemin. He particularly criticized former Shanghai Mayor Huang Ju, who is now a politburo standing member.

At that time, property tycoon Zhou Zhengyi was also being sought after in the Hong Kong courts for his business dealings involving massive illegal loans from the Bank of China. The litigation dealing with Zhou’s illegal loans was reportedly the biggest case of financial fraud since the founding of the P.R.C. Facing mounting public pressure, the Shanghai authorities sentenced Zhou to three years in prison for falsely reporting his company’s holdings as well as manipulating stock prices. As for the civil case filed by the displaced families against Zhou, it hit a political wall and cost them their representing attorney.{mospagebreak}

Shanghai authorities arrested the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Zheng Enchong, and charged him with "illegally providing state secrets to entities outside of China." On October 28, 2003, the authorities sentenced him to three years in prison and deprived him of his political rights for one year.

By putting both Zhou (the defendant) and Zheng (the plaintiffs’ lawyer) in prison, the Shanghai authorities put a lid on the case and minimized the political damage to the Shanghai Cluster. Three years later, both Zhou and Zheng have been released after serving their terms. They may add new fuel to the Shanghai corruption scandal. Seeing that Huang Ju, the leading figure in the Shanghai Cluster, is also one of the nine standing members in the most powerful CCP politburo, repercussions from the Shanghai corruption scandal could be far reaching in China.

Mr. Zheng is well aware of who directed his arrest. "My case is related to Huang Ju," he told reporters recently. Mr. Zheng is also confident in his pursuit of the criminals: "I have direct evidence," he said. In his 500-plus civil cases since 1994, Mr. Zheng has documented more than 200 non-natural deaths and more than 2,000 physical injuries that occurred to Shanghai residents who fell victim to forced evictions.

The corruption case against Zhou Zhengyi involved over 300 million yuan (US$36.3 million) in an unpaid land lease, but that is only a small portion of all the land deals that the Shanghai government has engaged in. Their overall stake in the Shanghai corruption scandal is likely to be much larger.

For his legal work in representing the displaced Shanghai families, Mr. Zheng was seen as a threat to the Shanghai Cluster. He lost his freedom for three years and is currently under the watchful eye of State Security. Yet Mr. Zheng is determined to stand up for his clients and for his own rights and dignity.

After his release from prison, Mr. Zheng wrote letters to the United Nations, to the German government that had granted him a Human Rights Award, and to Chinese leader Hu Jiantao to expose the crimes of the Shanghai Cluster members. While the Shanghai Police have warned him several times not to accept interviews from foreign media, he publicly states, "I am organizing my documents, and I will continue to lodge accusations against them until I see justice is being done."

To achieve justice for all the displaced Shanghai families, Mr. Zheng declares, "It is time to bring to light the Shanghai Cluster."