Denial of Fair Public Trial
Part V: Falun Dafa Information Center 2008 Annual Report
The year saw an increase in prison sentences given to adherents of Falun Gong, many of them coming after the conclusion of the Beijing Olympics and following months of pre-trial detention. Most sentences ranged from three to five years in length, though sentences as long as thirteen years were recorded. Lawyers who defended Falun Gong adherents continued to face intimidation and harassment.
In almost all instances, adherents were charged under a vague provision of the criminal code for “using a heretical organization to undermine implementation of the law.”
Adherents were systematically denied fundamental due process rights by Communist Party-controlled courts, often in contravention of Chinese law. There was no presumption of innocence and many trials were held in secret or within an extremely abbreviated time frame such as several hours. Practitioners facing sentencing were regularly denied access to lawyers and family members, increasing the risk of torture.
Throughout the year, a small group of approximately 20 lawyers continued to defend Falun Gong adherents, despite Party directives banning such action and a high degree of harassment for taking such cases. On repeated occasions throughout the year, lawyers defended practitioners in court, presenting detailed arguments as to the innocence of the practitioners in question and the broader need to observe the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion. The attorneys also raised the issue of the highly questionable legality of including personal belief in Falun Gong or related nonviolent acts of free expression under the provision of “using a heretical organization to undermine implementation of the law.” For an example of such an argument presented in court, see: http://www.peacehall.com/news/gb/china/2008/08/200808152350.shtml
The following two sample cases illustrating the above trends:
Xu Na, female, age 41—sentenced to three years in prison on November 25, 2008 for “using a heretical organization to undermine implementation of the law,” as confirmed by her defense attorney. Xu had previously been imprisoned from 2001 to 2006 for offering her apartment to Falun Gong adherents traveling to Beijing to appeal against the persecution.
See Agence France Presse report: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hVz9l5v3-NroyDGALZT2Nv6Paw2Q
On November 28, Amnesty International issued an urgent action on Xu’s behalf, citing her as a prisoner of conscience and raising concerns about irregularities in her trial and her being at risk of torture.
“On 25 January 2008, Xu Na and her folk musician husband Yu Zhou were detained after a routine search, during which the Beijing police discovered they were carrying Falun Gong materials. Yu Zhou died in detention 11 days after being taken into police custody, raising concerns over police brutality towards individuals in detention. Xu Na’s parents have not been allowed visitation rights since her detention in January.”
“Xu Na’s case was first sent to the Chongwen District People’s Court on 30 June but the court did not announce the verdict until 25 November—nearly three months after the maximum time permitted by China’s Criminal Procedure Law. Xu Na was found guilty of possessing and intending to disseminate 53 copies of Falun Gong leaflets and 11 computer disks of Falun Gong material… Concerns for her safety are heightened by the fact that she told friends and family she had been subjected to torture during her first imprisonment, including beatings, sleep deprivation, forced-feeding, and being tied into uncomfortable positions for hours.”
Xu was represented in court by Beijing lawyer Cheng Hai, who argued that the charges against her were not based on facts, particularly that the materials found in her possession included content that was within the scope of the constitutional right to free expression. He also made a general argument regarding Falun Gong’s adherents’ right to freedom of religion: “The defense lawyer believes, our country should protect freedom of religion. Falun Gong advocates Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance and does not pose any danger to society. Falun Gong should be a new, legal religious form, and its followers’ religious activities should be protected by the law.”
Liu Fengmei, female, 43—detained on February 25, 2008 together with three other adherents and held in pre-trial detention until the first week of August, when the Taihe District Court of Jinzhou City, Liaoning province put the four practitioners on trial.
Liu was represented by Beijing attorney Li Heping who entered a “not guilty” plea on her behalf. Despite evidence that Liu and others had suffered severe torture during pre-trial interrogation, including their displaying injuries in court, the presiding judge denied the attorney’s request for a medical examination for their clients.
On August 27, 2008, within days of the Olympics’ conclusion, Liu was sentenced to 13 years in prison.
The Chinese-language transcript of Li Heping’s defense of Liu was posted on the overseas Chinese news site Boxun.
Intimidation and harassment of lawyers
Lawyers known to represent Falun Gong adherents and take other sensitive cases continued to face harassment, monitoring, disbarment, and even detention or physical abuse at the hands of the authorities.
An April 2008 report by Human Rights Watch, Walking on Thin Ice, highlighted, among others, the cases of two lawyers punished by the authorities after they represented Falun Gong:
“Chinese lawyers who take cases seen by the government as politically sensitive or potentially embarrassing face severe abuses ranging from harassment to disbarment and physical assaults.… On October 19, 2005, one day after Gao [Zhisheng] published a scathing open letter to the top state leaders about abuses against religious and Falun Gong practitioners, he received an anonymous threat by phone.… An attorney from impoverished Guangxi province, Yang Zaixin, was dismissed from his law firm in January 2006 after he took a series of sensitive cases, including those of defendants accused of being members of the banned Falun Gong.”
For a comprehensive account of these two cases as described in the HRW report:
For the original report, see: http://www.hrw.org/reports/2008/china0408/
In August 2008, the Evening Standard reported on the 24-hour surveillance faced by above-mentioned Beijing lawyer Li Heping, as well as an incident from 2007 when he was abducted and shocked with electric batons: http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23541200-details/Lawyer+Li+and+the+goon+squad/article.do