FOSHAN - As a professional criminal defense lawyer, I have been to detention centers everywhere. They are of course all different, but at a recent first-time meeting with a criminal suspect he was separated from me by frosted glass.
Because I had come all the way from Beijing, the pre-trial official of the Public Security Bureau at Foshan City, Guangdong Province was very straightforward and agreed to “accompany” me to the meeting the following day.
The center, which is situated in the Nanhai District of Foshan, greets visitors with a very tall gate. The road in front is wide with large, dense trees on either side.
The detention center looks quite impressive.
Like a lot of other family members and lawyers waiting for their planned encounter, I squatted at the roadside under the shade of the trees and waited for their opening hours after the lunch break. It didn’t take long before the pre-trial policeman arrived in his official car. I followed him into the reception room.
After some formalities I was led in to the innermost interview room at the end of a narrow corridor. The room was very old and no bigger than about six or seven square meters, separated into two parts. The larger part is for the lawyer and occupies two-thirds of the room, equipped with one broken desk and two chairs on which you can barely sit near the inner side of the room.
The lower part of the partition wall is made of brick while the upper part is completely sealed by a transparent frosted plastic board, turning yellow with age.
At one side of this partition is a wobbly door. On the other side is where the prisoner sits. It’s a long but very narrow inner room. There is no ventilation whatsoever.
We heard a noise, and suddenly all the criminal suspects appeared escorted by guards.
“Here they are!” roared the pre-trial policeman. A small and pale criminal suspect walked towards us with quick, short steps. “In you go! In you go!” The policeman's voice echoed in the tiny meeting room. Once the small pale man had gone through the wobbly door, he was shut into the small, unventilated space.
“Hello. Are you…?” I said, pronouncing his name quite loudly toward the plastic board while staring hard in an attempt to recognize the person inside. But I couldn’t see clearly at all through the frosted glass separating us.
The obscure shadow made some echoing noise. Like when the egg white and yolk have been beat together, everything was impossible to separate. Some sound emanated from the door crack. I couldn’t understand a thing.
“”Hey, I can’t hear you…get closer! I cried out loud to the blurred shadow. Out came another series of turbid cries of the voice, before I saw a vague face pressed up against it. I could hardly distinguish his nose, let alone other parts of his face.
It was extremely hard to have a conversation. Almost every sentence was to be repeated many times. The interview dragged on like this.
Our time was almost over. Our dialogue was still floating somewhere in the cloud. Finally, the policeman accompanying me saw it was all so unbearable that he suddenly yanked open the door. The noise from inside suddenly rushed out. I gasped a big sigh of relief. Even though there was still an echo I could at last hear the person clearly. I felt so exhausted after 30 minutes of desperately trying to see the person during the whole interview. Of course, I knew the person inside must have been far more anxious than I was. The lawyer he had long waited for had finally come, yet he couldn’t even see what I looked like.
It has been more than a month since I came back from Foshan City, but I just can’t wipe that blurred face and muddy voice from my memory. A colleague laughed at me by saying, “You were not there on a date. What does it matter that you didn’t see the person’s face?”
But yes, we are often forced reluctantly to work under such conditions and people much too often accept it as normal. But has anyone thought about how many wrong verdicts have come about because of such tough conditions? How many have lost their lives unjustly because of these restrictions?
In the detention center, ripping away those plastic boards and replacing them with steel bars would have transformed the way the lawyers meet their clients and would have made the meeting much more productive. Effective communication would be beneficial to the criminal proceedings themselves, but would also show criminal suspects that they are fairly treated. Would the detention center ever think to allow that?
Zhang Yansheng is a criminal defense lawyer who writes for Caixin
A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.
BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.
Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.
The incident at the cemetery
They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."
There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.
It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.
The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.
The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender
Crimes against Jews are rising
Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.
Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.
Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.
And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?
Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously
This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.
Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.
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