One of my favorite Wechat public accounts, the “Home of Judges” (法官之家) was closed down earlier this month. The public account had about 100,000 followers. (Wechat public accounts are explained here.) While some public accounts are used as corporate marketing platforms, “Home of Judges,” along with several other public accounts have become platforms for (primarily) young judges (and lawyers) to share their views, experiences, and analyses. The Home of Judges public account published articles by many local judges, many with their concerns and thoughts about different aspects of judicial reform, with other articles describing by current or former judges explaining why they left or were thinking of leaving the judiciary. The account holder for the public account, Li Liang, a former Guizhou Higher People’s Court judge wrote:
I had a feeling that Home of Judges would be closed down–first the News Bureau of the Supreme People’s Court contacted the news department of my court, demanding that the name of the public account be changed, but the editor did nothing, then I heard that the internal reference serviceof the Supreme People’s Court SPC) carried some Home of Judges articles, then recently the Beijing News Department deleted articles.
An anonymous article by the Sword of Heavenly Peace (长安剑) (according to some sources a pseudonym for the Central Political Legal Committee set out a seemingly more official explanation of why the account was closed down. The name of the public account was a problem, because the account holder had left the court. However the same name (Home of Judges) is used for the name of a hotel in Beijing, apparently the Supreme People’s Court’s guest house (see the comments to this hotel review).
Others (including some other legal bloggers) have said that it was because the Home of Judges was “improperly discussing” judicial reforms (妄议司改), a variation of “improperly discussing Central policy (妄议中央)”, a violation of the Chinese Communist Party Standards on Integrity and Self Restraint.
Stepping into the shoes of the Supreme People’s Court leadership for a minute, it seems likely that a public account with a large number of judges criticizing the judicial reforms approved by the Party leadership would make the SPC leadership uncomfortable. Why? Because it would indicate that they were not doing a good job of “uniting thinking” (统一思想)–uniting the judges of the lower courts behind policies drafted by the SPC that had been approved by central Party authorities.
Comments by a fellow blogger
Following the closure of the “Home of Judges,” one of its fellow bloggers commented on the current environment. Zhao Jun, a judge of the Jiangsu Higher People’s Court, who has a popular (among the legal community) public account, under the pen name Gui Gongzi 桂公梓, explained why he hasn’t been writing legal articles:
Third and more importantly , with the fluttering banner of democracy and the rule of law more and more ambitious, the space for speech is obviously tightening.
Comments from the outside
Chinese social media is an invaluable way to understand what is going on in the Chinese court system and Chinese law generally, enabling you to keep up with developments wherever you are.
It is a shame if public accounts such as “Home of Judges” are seen as a threat to the government rather than a way to understand what the younger generation of judges, prosecutors and lawyers are thinking.
The older generation?
The older generation of judges and lawyers, particularly those who have lived through the Cultural Revolution, comment privately that at this time, the best approach is to say nothing.