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  1. PRC: The Crackdown on Falun Gong and Other So-Called ‘Heretical Organizations’ (excerpts)

PRC: The Crackdown on Falun Gong and Other So-Called ‘Heretical Organizations’ (excerpts)

March 23, 2000 | 02:11 pm

The full report is available at:
http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/engASA170112000

LEGISLATING TO LEGITIMIZE THE CRACKDOWN

Since July 1999, a whole series of ‘decisions’, ‘notices’, ‘regulations’, ‘judicial interpretations’ and other official documents have been issued by the government and judiciary to orchestrate the crackdown on Falun Gong and other ‘‘heretical organizations’’. In October 1999, China’s legislature, the National People’s Congress, also adopted a ‘‘decision’’ to legitimize the government’s crackdown. Many of these official documents contain specific instructions on how to conduct the crackdown, how to use the law to charge those detained, and how to conduct trials. Some also introduce further restrictions on freedom of expression, association and belief in China. These documents are cited or examined below.

• On 22 July 1999, the Ministry of Civil Affairs issued a Decision banning “the Research Society of Falun Dafa and the Falun Gong organization under its control” as ‘‘illegal organizations’’.

• On 22 July 1999, the Ministry of Public Security also issued a Notice based on the above Decision by the Ministry of Civil Affairs. The notice announced sweeping new prohibitions related to the ban on Falun Gong, including prohibition of the right to ‘petition’ which is guaranteed by the Chinese Constitution. These prohibitions were:

1. Everyone is prohibited from displaying in any public place scrolls, pictures and other marks or symbols promoting Falun Dafa (Falun Gong);

2. Everyone is prohibited from distributing in any public place books, cassettes and other materials promoting Falun Dafa (Falun Gong);

3. Everyone is prohibited from gathering a crowd to perform ‘group exercises’ and other activities promoting Falun Dafa (Falun Gong);

4. It is prohibited to use sit-ins, petitions and other means to hold assemblies, marches or demonstrations in defence and promotion of Falun Dafa (Falun Gong);

5. It is prohibited to fabricate or distort facts, to spread rumours on purpose or use other means to incite [people] and disturb social order;

6. Everyone is prohibited from organising or taking part in activities opposing the government’s relevant decision, or from establishing contacts [with other people] for this purpose.

The same month, the Ministry of Personnel also issued a circular, stipulating that government civil servants were prohibited from practising Falun Gong. In a further circular issued by the General Office of the State Council (central government), local governments and departments under the State Council were asked to “properly deal with civil servants who have practised Falun Gong”.

• On 28 August 1999, the General office of the State Council (government) also issued a Notice on the implementation of ‘‘opinions’’ issued by three government bodies ‘‘concerning certain problems in strengthening the management of healthy Qi Gong activities’’. This Notice (No.77/1999) introduces restrictions for all Qi Gong groups.

This notice was one of the first signs that the crackdown on Falun Gong might be extended to other Qi Gong groups (see above, pages 13-18). The Notice was addressed to all government departments and local governments, asking them to implement ‘‘conscientiously’’ the ‘‘opinions’’ it contained. It first noted that in recent years people’s involvement in Qi Gong activities had developed rather quickly, but that a number of problems had appeared at the same time. One of these was the use of certain types of Qi Gong meetings to conduct ‘‘illegal gatherings’’, which, together with other ‘‘illegal’’ Qi Gong activities, ‘‘endangered public security, disrupted social order and harmed social stability’’. The Notice did not elaborate on why these gatherings were ‘‘illegal’’ or why they ‘‘harmed social stability’’, but it made clear that they must not be allowed. It also listed other specific restrictions (see above, page 14-15).

Two months later, the National People’s Congress (China’s parliament) adopted a decision which legitimized the government’s crackdown on so-called ‘‘heretical organizations’’.

• On 30 October 1999, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) passed a ‘‘Decision on Banning Heretical Organizations and Preventing and Punishing Heretical Activities’’.

This Decision was said to be based on existing legislation, but it effectively called for a political crackdown against ‘‘heretical organisations … Qigong or other illicit forms”. It states: ‘‘All corners of society shall be mobilized in preventing and fighting heretical organizations activities, and a comprehensive management system shall be put in place.’’ An official from the NPC commented in December 1999 that the Decision provided “a legal system to ensure the efforts of banning heretical organizations, preventing and punishing heretical activities, safeguarding social stability, protecting people’s interests and guaranteeing the smooth progress of reform, opening up and socialist modernization.”(30)

The Decision states that, in carrying out the crackdown on ‘‘heretical organisations’’, the principle of “combining education with punishment” should be followed in order to “unify and instruct the majority of the deceived public and to mete out severe punishment to the handful of criminals.” Official commentaries show, however, that those liable to receive criminal punishments are more than a “handful of criminals’’ -they may in fact include all those who refuse to renounce their beliefs or who peacefully protest or appeal against the ban on their organization. According to such commentaries published in October and December 1999, those to be punished ‘‘according to law’’ include not only the organisers of banned organizations, but also those ‘‘active’’ or ‘‘enthusiastic’’ participants ‘‘who refuse to mend their ways despite repeated education’’. Furthermore, even those ‘‘who surrender themselves to the law or have done a deed of merit’’ may not totally escape punishment; according to the commentaries they ‘‘can be dealt with leniently, have a reduction of sentence or be granted exemption from punishment according to law.’’(31)

In the case of Falun Gong practitioners, this means that anyone who has petitioned the authorities or taken part in peaceful assemblies or demonstrations against the ban on the group, or who continue to practice Falun Gong despite the ban, is liable to be punished.

• At the same time as the NPC Decision, the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate (SPP) issued on 30 October 1999 a judicial interpretation entitled “Explanation on Questions Concerning the Concrete Application of Laws in Handling Criminal Cases of Organizing and Making Use of Heretical Organizations” [hereafter cited as SPC/SPP Explanation].

In a commentary on the SPC/SPP Explanation cited by the official Xinhua news agency on 19 November 1999, the “person in charge of the Beijing Municipal High People’s Court’’ said that this judicial interpretation will help courts to “distinguish more accurately whether or not an offence has constituted a crime and whether or not a crime is serious. Consequently, the people’s courts will be able to integrate severe punishment with lenient treatment, severely punish an extremely small number of criminal elements … and educate and save hoodwinked people and criminal elements who have repented and rendered meritorious services”.

The SPC/SPP Explanation defines the specific activities which will be considered crimes and punished under the Chinese Criminal Law (1997), notably Article 300 of the law (see below). It shows that many activities which involve the peaceful exercise of fundamental human rights, such as peaceful assemblies and demonstrations, are treated as crimes.

Article 300 of the Criminal Law sets out the punishments for people who “form or use secret societies or heretical organizations’’ or who use ‘‘superstitious beliefs’’ for certain purposes. Article 300 is divided into three sections, with sections 1 and 2 providing for the same punishments. Section 1 punishes those who use ‘heretical’ groups or superstition ‘‘to undermine the implementation of the law or administrative rules and regulations of the State’’, while Section 2 deals with those who use such groups ‘‘to deceive people and cause death’’. Both are punished with terms of imprisonment from three to seven years, or by ‘‘not less’’ than seven years’ imprisonment in cases which are considered ‘‘especially serious”.

According to the SPC/SPP Explanation, the activities which fall under Section 1 of Article 300 include gathering people to ‘‘besiege’’ government institutions or enterprises, or holding ‘‘illegal assemblies’’ or demonstrations in public places. They also include any of the following activities: resuming the banned groups or continuing their activities, instigating others into civil disobedience, publishing, printing, duplicating or distributing publications or symbols of the ‘‘heretical organizations’’, and ‘‘other activities that violate State law or administrative regulations’’. The Explanation states that the cases which are considered “serious” (punishable by at least seven years’ imprisonment) are those involving the setting up of heretical organizations or recruitment of members ‘‘across provinces’’, or ‘‘collaboration with overseas groups’’, or publishing or distributing sect materials in ‘‘large amount’’, or else instigating members to violate laws or regulations when this results in ‘‘serious consequences’’.

The SPC/SPP Explanation also gives a definition of ‘‘causing death’’, as covered under Section 2 of Article 300. According to the Explanation, this refers to cases in which ‘‘heretical organisations’’ and other such organizations ‘‘deceive their members or others to practice fast, inflict wounds upon themselves, or prevent patients from taking normal medical treatment, resulting in their illness or death’’. ‘‘Serious’’ cases of ‘‘causing death’’ (punishable by at least seven years’ imprisonment) are those in which individuals are deemed to have caused at least three deaths or injury to many people or ‘‘other special serious consequences’’, or those in which people ‘‘who have received criminal or administrative penalties for engaging in heretical activities continue to establish or use heretical organisations to deceive people, resulting in deaths’’. According to the Explanation, these offences may also be treated as ‘‘attempted murder’’or ‘‘inflicting injury’’and punished severely under other articles of the Criminal Law.

In addition, Section 3 of Article 300 punishes those who use ‘heretical’ and other such organisations or superstition ‘‘to rape women or swindle money and property’’. Charges of swindling and rape are often brought against leaders of charismatic religious groups in China. ‘‘Rape’’ is usually given a very broad meaning. The SPC/SPP Explanation defines ‘‘rape’’ as being the use of ‘‘seduction, coercion, deception or other ways to sexually exploit women or young girls’’. Section 3 of Article 300 provides for this offence to be punished as ‘‘rape’’ under article 236 of the law (by anything from three years’ imprisonment to the death penalty). It also provides that ‘‘using heretical organizations or superstition’’ for ‘‘swindling’’ will be punished as under Article 266 of the law, by penalties ranging from ‘‘public surveillance’’ to life imprisonment.

The SPC/SPP Explanation also provides for members of ‘heretical organizations’ to be charged with ostensibly political ‘‘crimes’’. It states that those who form or use ‘‘heretical organizations’’ in order ‘‘to organize, scheme, carry out or instigate activities of splitting China, endangering national unity or subverting the socialist system’’ shall be dealt with according to the provisions on ‘state security’ offences, as stipulated in the Criminal Law.

• On 5 November 1999, the Supreme People’s Court issued a Notice giving instructions to local courts on how to handle the cases of people charged with crimes for ‘‘organising or using heretical organisations, particularly Falun Gong.’’ [Hereafter cited as SPC Notice.]

The SPC Notice (No.29, 1999)(32) was addressed to all high people’s courts of provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions, the military affairs court of the People’s Liberation Army, and the ‘Bingtuan’(33) division court of the High People’s Court of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

This Notice was issued shortly before the trials of Falun Gong leaders and organisers started. It gave an unambiguous political message, making clear to all courts that it was their ‘‘political duty’’ to punish those charged with crimes for their role in ‘‘heretical organisations’’, ‘‘particularly Falun Gong’’.

The Notice called on courts at all levels to ‘‘unify their thinking’’, ‘‘grasp the heretical character of Falun Gong’’ and the ‘‘threat’’ it represented, and ‘‘fully understand’’ the spirit of the important directives given by the central authorities on ‘‘how to deal with and resolve the Falun Gong question’’. In a language reminiscent of that used in the distant past, the Notice said the courts must be ‘‘fully aware’’ of the ‘‘important, complex and long-term’’ nature of this ‘‘struggle’’ (douzheng); they must make it their ‘‘serious political duty’’ to punish ‘‘every kind of heretical organizations crime’’ and fulfill their role by ‘‘resolutely imposing severe punishment’’. It called on courts to correctly use ‘‘the law and policy’’ in distinguishing between different kinds of ‘‘contradictions’’, so as to ‘‘treat leniently’’ people who have been deceived and ‘‘punish severely’’ the ‘‘small number of criminal elements’’.

Finally, the Notice made it plain that ‘‘courts at all levels’’ must handle these cases ‘‘under the leadership of the Party committees’’ and of their political-legal committees. Courts were also instructed to ‘‘unite closely’’ with the police and the procuracy, and ‘‘vigorously’’ bring to trial the cases presented to them for prosecution by the procuracy. Higher courts were asked to supervise lower courts and use the media to publicize some significant cases in order to increase the social impact of the trials. Other means were also to be used to publicize the results of some trials so as ‘‘to educate the large masses of people’’ and make them aware that ‘heretical organisations’ were ‘‘opposing science, humanity, society and the government’’.

• On 24 November 1999, the Ministry of Public Security also issued some “Regulations on Managing Mass Cultural and Sports Activities”, which are intended to control and restrict certain types of public gatherings, including those by Qi Gong groups. They specifically ban gatherings that ‘‘threaten national security and public order’’ without further defining what this ‘‘threat’’ might be.

Under the regulations, holding concerts, sports meetings, Qigong or other body exercises, and other mass congregations involving more than 200 participants in public places ‘‘shall be subject to approval by public security (police) departments above the county level.” Events which may involve more than 3,000 participants require approval by the public security body at or above the prefecture level, and events involving two or more localities shall get the go-ahead from a higher public security department responsible for these areas.

Nine categories of gatherings are specifically prohibited under the regulations, including those that “violate the fundamental principles of the Constitution, or endanger national security and public order; infringe upon customs of ethnic minorities, violate ethnic unity and instigate national separatism; propagate superstition and heresy, pornography and violence that are detrimental to the health of the people.” This prohibition goes far beyond the crackdown on Falun Gong or the control of Qi Gong activities. It potentially empowers the police to prohibit any group’s cultural or sport activities which they deem to be a ‘‘threat’’. The regulations also rule that “mass congregations shall not be held near places of government agencies above the county level, radio and television stations, foreign embassies and consulates, military establishments and other vital institutions …”(34) The regulations also empower the police to fine or detain people who do not comply with these provisions.

POLITICALLY MOTIVATED CHARGES

The charges brought against most members of Falun Gong who have been prosecuted under the Criminal Law are essentially political in nature. They include “disturbing social order”, “assembling to disrupt public order”, ‘‘stealing or leaking state secrets’’ and ‘‘using a heretical organization to undermine the implementation of the law”. This latter charge is in fact a catch-all phrase for a variety of other accusations which range from organising demonstrations to using the Internet to disseminate information about Falun Gong. Some people have also been charged with “taking part in illegal businesses” or ‘‘illegal trading’’ because they printed, published or sold Falun Gong publications, videos or cassettes – in most cases this referred to publishing or selling such publications before the group was banned when such activities were not illegal. Two examples of the use of such charges are given below.

Xu Jinliang, a manager at the Science, Technology and Culture Service Centre in Shandong province, was charged on 25 November 1999 with “using a heretical organization to undermine the implementation of the law” and “being involved in an illegal business”. He was accused of having created 4.3 million cassette tapes and videos promoting Falun Gong teachings – one of the largest such collections of videos and tapes. He also allegedly transferred large sums of money into an account for the Falun Gong. Official sources have not explained what was ‘‘illegal’’ in these activities, apart from the banning of Falun Gong.

Xu Yingquan, a deputy division head of the Changchun city Public Security Bureau, was reported in October 1999 to have been charged with “gathering a crowd to disturb social order’’ and ‘‘printing illegal publications”. According to China Women’s News from October 1999, Xu Yingquan was one of five people charged with this offence. He was reportedly detained for having “plotted in December 1998 to take more than 300 Falun Gong practitioners to surround Jilin TV station” and for having “gathered more than 10,000 practitioners outside Liaoning province Party Committee offices”. These protests occurred long before the ban on Falun Gong.

A few people who have been tried as key members of Falun Gong were also charged with “causing deaths’’, a vague accusation whose validity in these cases has not been demonstrated by the authorities (see above, pages 6-7 for further information on this issue).

As to the more ostensibly political charge of “leaking state secrets”, it is commonly used in China against people detained in violation of international human rights standards. It has often been used against people who have published or made available to people outside China information which the Chinese government considers to be sensitive. Such information is often treated as a ‘‘state secret’’ even though it would not be regarded as such in many other countries. In the case of Falun Gong practitioners, this charge seems to have been used mainly against people who have circulated information about the crackdown on the group, or the detention and ill-treatment of practitioners. Some examples are cited later in this report.

UNFAIR TRIALS AND HARSH SENTENCES

The information available from many sources, including Chinese official sources, shows that the trials of those prosecuted for their role in Falun Gong were grossly unfair – the judicial process was biassed against the defendants at the outset and the trials were a mere formality. In most of the cases, legislation was used retroactively to secure convictions and defence lawyers were prevented from entering pleas of ‘‘not guilty’’ on behalf of their clients. This in itself breaches fundamental principles of international law.

In addition, before the trials started, it was made clear to the courts that they should ‘‘fully understand’’ the political importance of these cases and treat them accordingly. This usually means finding the defendants guilty, whatever the charges or the evidence against them. A Notice issued by the Supreme People’s Court on 5 November 1999, for example, gave clear political messages to all local courts, instructing them notably to do their ‘‘political duty’’ in bringing to trial and punishing ‘‘severely’’ those charged with ‘‘heretical organizations crimes’’, ‘‘particularly Falun Gong’’, and to handle these cases ‘‘under the leadership of the Party committees’’ (see above, page 22, for further information on this notice).

At least 40 members of Falun Gong are known to have been tried in various places in China since November 1999. The total number of those tried is believed to be higher, with some trials being held secretly or without being publicly reported. Chinese official sources have publicised the trials and sentences passed against some alleged leaders or key members of Falun Gong, most of whom have received harsh sentences. Most of these trials have been closed to the public, though selected information on the cases has been widely publicized by the state media. In one particularly significant trial held in Beijing in late December 1999, part of the court hearing was shown on Chinese central television. Despite the high profile given to these cases, the Chinese authorities have not provided evidence that the defendants were involved in activities which would legitimately be regarded as ‘crimes’ under international standards. In other cases, trials have been held behind closed doors and, in some cases, even the relatives of the defendants were denied access to the court.

The information available on a number of cases shows that these trials have been grossly unfair. Some of these cases are described below. Amnesty International believes that the prisoners have been arbitrarily detained, convicted and sentenced for the peaceful exercise of fundamental human rights, in violation of international human rights standards.

• LI XIAOBING AND LI XIAOMEI

Li Xiaobing and Li Xiaomei, two sisters from Beijing, were among 22 Falun Gong practitioners who were tried in secret in Beijing on 28 January 2000, in three separate sessions of the Dongcheng district Court. Li Xiaobing and Li Xiaomei were tried in one of the court sessions and sentenced to seven and six years’ imprisonment respectively. Their case illustrates in several respects the arbitrariness of the judicial process against members of Falun Gong.

The two sisters were charged with and convicted of ‘‘illegal trading’’. This charge referred to the sale of Falun Gong publications by the two sisters, who were running a bookstore in Beijing before their arrest. Both, however, had been arrested on 20 July 1999 – two days before Falun Gong was banned – and the sale of Falun Gong publications was not illegal before the ban. Following their detention by police, they were held for over three months without charge, in violation of the provisions governing the time limits for detention without charge in the Chinese Criminal Procedure Law. They were denied contact with their family throughout their detention and their relatives were not allowed to attend their trial.

On 15 August 1999, before formal charges were even issued against them, the official Xinhua news agency published accusations against them, showing clearly that they were already considered guilty. The Xinhua report described them as ‘‘key members’’ of the ‘‘outlawed’’ Falun Dafa Research Society in Beijing and accused them of earning large sums of money from the sale of Falun Gong publications and audio-visual material since 1997, with most of the money being given to another ‘‘leading’’ member of the Falun Gong, Yao Jie (f), who was tried and sentenced in Beijing in December (see below). Xinhua also said that the two sisters had contracted and registered a bookstore in Dongcheng district in 1998 ‘‘in the name of others’’, ‘‘using it as a base to spread the fallacies of Falun Gong’’. According to unofficial sources, the Ditan bookstore and audio-video shop, which the sisters run, was a legal business. It belonged to the Wenhua Publication Corporation, itself subordinated to the Ministry of Culture. Furthermore, the sale of Falun Gong books and other material was not illegal until the group was banned on 22 July. This fact however appears to have been ignored and legislation was used retroactively to convict them. According to unofficial sources, their lawyer was put under pressure not to present a plea of ‘‘not guilty’’ at their trial.

It is clear that several fundamental principles of international law were violated in these cases, and that some standards of Chinese law itself were ignored or bent in order to convict Li Xiaobing and Li Xiaomei. They were illegally detained for three months without charge; legislation was used retroactively in order to charge and convict them; they were presumed guilty long before they were tried; they were tried in secret and their right to defence was severely restricted.

• LI JIANHUI

Li Jianhui is another member of Falun Gong who is reported to have been denied the right to plead not guilty at his trial, in violation of international standards for fair trial and of Chinese law itself. Li Jianhui, a Falun Gong contact person in the southern city of Shenzhen, was detained together with his wife, Dai Ying, in September 1999. Dai Ying was released in November without being charged, while Li Jianhui was charged with ‘‘using a heretical organization to undermine the implementation of the law’’. According to various sources, shortly before his trial on 24 January 2000, the Futian district court in Shenzhen forced Mr Li’s chosen defence lawyers to withdraw from the case because the lawyers had decided after studying the case to plead ‘not guilty’. The court appointed another lawyer instead, reportedly denying him too the right to plead not guilty by telling him that he could only plead for ‘‘leniency’’. Li Jianhui’s trial was reportedly postponed after two hours without a verdict being reached. There has been no news of his case since then.

• GU ZHIYI

Gu Zhiyi, aged 63, female, a retired senior lecturer of the Chongqing Taxation School, Sichuan province, and a Falun Gong contact person in Chongqing, was detained on 20 July 1999 – two days before the government banned the Falun Gong. She was charged with “using a heretical organization to undermine the implementation of the law” and indicted on 3 November 1999, according to the Chongqing Daily of 4 November. She was tried by the Yuzhong district Intermediate People’s Court in Chongqing on 21 November 1999. The trial is said to have lasted over 10 hours but it ended without the court announcing a verdict. There has been no news about her case since then. According to Falun Gong sources, Gu Zhiyi was tortured during interrogation while in police custody, including by being given electric shocks.

Gu Zhiyi, a member of Falun Gong since 1992, was accused of leading the organization in Chongqing, of inviting Falun Gong leader Li Hongzhi to give lectures there, and of having received materials from Wang Zhiwen, who was later tried in Beijing as a ‘‘key’’ Falun Gong member (see below). She was also accused of having organized several thousand followers to “besiege” the offices of two newspapers to get them to apologise for the publication of two articles about the Falun Gong entitled “Free: Beautiful Temptation and Trap” and “Inebriated, confused and stupefied woman hospitalized after becoming possessed from practising Falun Gong.”(35) These protests against the newspapers had taken place in October and November 1998. There is no indication that these protests were violent and no action was taken by the authorities at the time against the alleged organisers.

According to unofficial sources, during her trial, Gu Zhiyi’s defence lawyer did not attempt to plead ‘‘not guilty’’, but he pointed out several times at inaccuracies and inconsistencies in the prosecution’s evidence against her, and questioned why a key prosecution witness had not been brought to testify in court. The judge, however, ruled against all the attempts made by the defence lawyer to challenge the prosecution’s evidence. The trial was reportedly open to members of the public who had been given admittance tickets in advance. In view of this, it is believed that the trial ended without a verdict due to the obvious inadequacy of the prosecution’ evidence. There has been no further information about the verdict.

None of the accusations against Gu Zhiyi would constitute ‘‘crimes’’ under international standards. Furthermore, they relate to activities which were not considered illegal in China at the time they were carried out. It is clear that the charges against her were politically motivated and that her detention and trial violate international human rights standards.

• LI CHANG, WANG ZHIWEN, JI LIEWU AND YAO JIE

The most high-profile trial to have taken place to date is that of Li Chang, Wang Zhiwen, Ji Liewu and Yao Jie (female). They were described by Qian Xiaoqian, Director General of the State Council Information Office, as “four former senior government officials”. All four were members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Li Chang, aged 59, is a former departmental deputy director at the Ministry for Public Security; Wang Zhiwen, aged 50, is a former official with a company under the Ministry of Railways; Ji Liewu, aged 36, was the manager of a Hong Kong subsidiary of a government metals company; and Yao Jie, 40, was the Communist Party secretary of a large real estate company in Beijing.

All were accused of holding leadership positions within the Falun Gong movement. They were charged on 19 October 1999 with “organizing and using a heretical organization to undermine the implementation of the law”, ‘‘causing deaths by organizing and using a heretical organization’’ and “illegally obtaining and leaking state secrets”. These charges referred to their activities before Falun Gong was banned. Li Chang was detained on 20 July – two days before the ban – and it is believed that the others were detained around the same date.

On 26 December 1999, after a hearing at the Beijing No.1 Intermediate People’s Court, the defendants were found guilty as charged and sentenced. Li Chang was sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment, Wang Zhiwen to 16 years’ imprisonment, Ji Liewu to 12 years’ imprisonment and Yao Jie to seven years’ imprisonment.

Part of the trial was ‘open’ to a selected audience of government cadres and reporters from the official media. The hearing of the ‘‘state secrets’’ charges was held behind closed doors. Only one family member per defendant was permitted to attend the ‘open’ part of the trial and, according to Falun Gong sources, relatives of the four defendants were detained ahead of the court hearing ‘‘as a warning’’. Foreign reporters were excluded. They were told that “their presence was a violation of regulations controlling news gathering’’ and were ordered to leave.(36)

The official news agency Xinhua reported on 26 December that ‘‘during the trial, some of the defendants argued that they had no idea which laws they had broken’’.(37) According to official reports, the main accusations against the defendants related to their alleged role in setting up the structure of Falun Gong and in organising a number of protests, including the peaceful demonstration by 10,000 people in front of the Zhongnanhai CCP leadership compound in Beijing on 25 April 1999. The defendants were accused of having set up ‘‘39 command posts, more than 1,900 training centres and more than 280,000 contact posts’’ of Falun Gong across the country, and of having ‘‘plotted and directed’’ 78 protests, including the 25 April demonstration. They were also accused of ‘‘stealing 37 state secrets’’ and of disseminating them or including them in protests letters. No detail was published about the nature of the alleged ‘‘state secrets’’. According to Falun Gong sources, this referred to the contents of official documents about the crackdown on Falun Gong. Official reports also indicate that the charge of ‘‘causing deaths’’ was not substantiated beyond the general accusation that Falun Gong activities ‘‘caused deaths’’, as previously alleged by official sources (see above, pages 6-7), and that no evidence was presented of a direct link between the alleged deaths and specific actions of the defendants. The Xinhua report of 26 December said that some of the defendants had ‘‘claimed’’ that they were in no way responsible for these deaths. Xinhua cited a Chinese legal expert’s comment that the deaths ‘‘were the result of cult activities which the defendants helped to organise’’ and that ‘‘if the defendants had directly caused or forced the deaths or suicides, they would have been charged with homicide and received more severe punishment.’’

According to official sources, Li Chang, who received an 18 years’ prison sentence, and Yao Jie, who received seven years, had been treated ‘‘leniently’’ because they had made ‘‘confessions’’. There are grounds to be concerned about the way in which these ‘‘confessions’’ were obtained – according to unofficial sources, the defendants were held incommunicado for several months after their arrest.

The trial and verdict against the defendants received wide coverage by the state media. Part of the trial was subsequently shown on Chinese central television news. The four defendants were shown admitting to having organized group activities, including the 25 April 1999 demonstration in front of Zhongnanhai. Yao Jie was said to be in tears and to have expressed regrets for having “caused trouble for the Party.” Commenting on the trial on 28 December, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman described the four defendants as “backbone elements’’ of the group, and said that their sentencing was “an embodiment of China’s principle of ruling the country by law.”

This trial – described above as an embodiment of China’s ‘‘rule by law’’ – was grossly unfair. It was clearly staged by the authorities as a show trial for which the verdict was determined in advance.

• SONG YUESHENG, CHEN YUAN, JIANG SHILONG AND LIANG YULIN

The first trial of Falun Gong practitioners took place on 12 November 1999 at the Intermediate People’s Court in Haikou, the capital of Hainan province in south China. According to a court official, the trial lasted seven hours. The defendants, Song Yuesheng, Chen Yuan, Jiang Shilong and Liang Yulin (female), were accused of having organized a number of peaceful protests against the ban on Falun Gong. They were found guilty of the charges of “using a heretical organisation to undermine the implementation of the law” and “seriously disturbing social order”.

Song Yuesheng was sentenced to 12 years in prison; Chen Yuan to seven years’; Jiang Shilong received a lesser sentence of three years’, reportedly for showing “sincere remorse”, and Liang Yulin reportedly admitted her “guilt with a good attitude” as a result of which she was given a ‘‘lenient’’ prison sentence of two years.

Details of the trial proceedings have not been disclosed. An official report by Xinhua on 12 November 1999 merely cited the accusations against the defendants. It described Song Yuesheng as an “organiser, schemer and commander” of Falun Gong in Hainan. He was accused of having organised 13 illegal protests in Hainan between 22 July 1999, when Falun Gong was banned, and 9 September 1999. One of these protests, on 8 August 1999, was an exercise session in a Haikou park attended by 183 people, which caused “grave consequences”, Xinhua said. Song Yuesheng reportedly escaped from police custody in August. He was also accused of having travelled to 10 other cities ‘‘inciting’’ fellow practitioners to join in a civil disobedience campaign. The four defendants were given ten days to appeal against their sentences. On 30 November 1999 the Haikou High People’s Court rejected their appeals, upholding the original sentences as “appropriate” and the verdict as “correct”.

None of the accusations against the defendants relate to activities which would legitimately be regarded as crimes under international standards. Amnesty International believes that they are arbitrarily imprisoned for the peaceful exercise of fundamental human rights.

• YU CHANGXIN

Yu Changxin, 74 year old retired air force lieutenant general, is reported to have been sentenced to 17 years’ imprisonment in a secret court-martial on 6 January 2000, for his alleged links to Falun Gong. He was reportedly detained in July 1999, suspected of having masterminded the 25 April 1999 demonstration outside the Zhongnanhai leadership compound in Beijing, though according to some sources he had nothing to do with it.(38) Yu Changxin was reportedly accused of helping Falun Gong to expand its membership and publish books, and held responsible for the deaths of practitioners who refused medical treatment when ill, like other alleged leaders of Falun Gong.

• LI FUJUN

Li Fujun, a 37-year old assistant professor at Xinxiang Medical College in Henan province, was sentenced on 30 December 1999 to four years’ imprisonment on the charge of ‘‘using a heretical organization to undermine the implementation of the law’’. A court official subsequently confirmed the verdict to a foreign news agency, but gave no further detail of the case.(39) Unofficial reports suggest that Li Fujun was charged with this offence for having written an article arguing that Falun Gong could help cure illness, which was posted on the Internet.(40) Li Fujun had been detained on 29 October 1999, after taking part in a silent protest with other practitioners in Beijing’s Tiananmen square, and indicted on 19 November.

• XU XIANGLAN AND WANG HANSHENG

A husband and wife, accused of being leaders of the Falun Gong in Wuhan, Hubei province, were sentenced on 6 January 2000 after being found guilty of ‘‘organizing and using a heretical organization to undermine the implementation of the law’’. The Wuhan Intermediate People’s Court sentenced Xu Xianglan (female) to eight years’ imprisonment and her husband, Wang Hansheng, to six years’ imprisonment. According to a Xinhua report of 6 January, prosecution proceedings began against the couple on 12 December 1999 and a public hearing began on 23 December, with a public trial and sentencing being held on 6 January 2000. Xu Xianglan was described as the ‘‘principal criminal’’ and her husband as an ‘‘accessory’’.

Xu Xianglan was accused of having set up the Wuhan branch of Falun Gong, and taken a leading role in setting up other branches in several provinces and coordinating their relations. She was also accused of having mobilized Falun Gong practitioners on nine occasions in June 1998 to “illegally gather” outside the offices of the Changjiang Daily newspaper – each of these gatherings involved several dozen people, the Xinhua report said. Both she and her husband were additionally accused of having published, copied and sold a large amount of Falun Gong books and other materials between May 1996 and May 1999. Their activities were said to have “seriously undermined social order”.

All the accusations against them referred to their Falun Gong activities before the group was banned. The Xinhua report cited the court as saying that Xu Xianglan was given a ‘‘light’’ sentence and Wang Hansheng had his sentence ‘‘reduced’’ because ‘‘they had confessed their crimes after they were arrested and showed a good attitude’’, ‘‘resolutely pledged to cut off their ties with Falun Gong and displayed repentance”.

• XU XINMU

Xu Xinmu, deputy director of Shijiazhuang City’s personnel division, Hebei province, and a Falun Gong contact person in Shijiazhuang, was reportedly tried in secret and sentenced to four years’ imprisonment in late December 1999 or early January 2000 for ‘‘leaking state secrets’’. He had been detained on 20 July 1999, two days before the government officially announced the banning of Falun Gong. According to Falun Gong sources, he was accused of having forewarned Falun Gong practitioners via the Internet that President Jiang Zemin had issued a directive to government authorities to crack down on Falun Gong.

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