Reported in First Half of 2023: 702 Falun Gong Practitioners Sentenced
In the first half of 2023, 702 cases were reported of Chinese courts handing down unjust prison sentences to Falun Gong practitioners across the country for their faith or actions aimed at opposing the persecution, such as sharing information that counters the CCP’s propaganda against the practice.
Given the substantial challenges and dangers associated with reporting cases, both for the individuals making the reports and the families of victims, reporting is often delayed and incomplete. Meanwhile, many cases go unreported. Out of the 702 cases reported to the Minghui website from January to June, 350 occurred in 2023, 192 in 2022, 52 in 2021, and 104 cases took place between 2014 and 2020.
Severe Punishments and Unjust Legal Proceedings
Punishments for Falun Gong practitioners were severe, and unjust practices continued to be utilized, including the application of vague and arbitrary laws as well as denial of fair legal representation.
Practitioners were sentenced to terms as long as 14 years and fined up to 100,000 yuan (approximately USD 14,000).
In most cases, the sentenced practitioners engaged in some form of information sharing and were charged with Article 300 of the Chinese Criminal Code, which pertains to using a heretical organization to undermine implementation of the law. While China’s constitution ostensibly protects freedoms of religion and expression, these activities are routinely criminalized. Moreover, in applying Article 300, it is not indicated which law Falun Gong practitioners are undermining, let alone how Falun Gong practitioners’ activities constitute the undermining of such a law.
Adding to the injustices in the legal process is the regular denial of representation to Falun Gong practitioners or interfering with lawyers’ abilities to perform their jobs. In the case of Ms. Zhang Suqin, the judge in Huixian, Henan Province, prevented her lawyer, Mr. Xie Yanyi, from entering a not-guilty plea for her. The judge then ordered the lawyer to leave the courtroom.
According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the judge had local police summon the lawyer to the local police station on suspicion of ‘using a heretical organization to disrupt social order’ and held Mr. Xie for several hours.
Mr. Xie told CSW, “What is most appalling is that, in order to obtain a wrongful conviction, a law court would abuse its power and deprive [the accused] of a defense by making a false report to the police.” He added that such behaviors by judges will lead to “the fundamental destruction of the Chinese criminal justice system and the loss of the dignity of the law.”
The practitioners sentenced are from 21 provinces, four municipalities and two autonomous regions across China. Shandong Province reported the most cases with 111, followed by Liaoning (85), and Heilongjiang (77).
Among those sentenced, Mr. Li Desheng a 22-year-old from Guangzhou City, Guangdong Province. He was arrested on June 21, 2023, after a shop owner reported him for exchanging 1-yuan bills that had information about Falun Gong printed on them with the shop owner, a practice commonly used to work around strict information censorship.
The shop owner later received a 6,000-yuan reward from the local “Anti-cult Association,” an organization sponsored by the Political and Legal Affairs Committee which oversees the persecution of Falun Gong.
Desheng’s arrest was approved by the Haizhu District Procuratorate on July 26, 2021. Judge Wang Jie of Haizhu District Court sentenced him to four years and fined him 5,000 yuan on January 11, 2023 and is currently detained at Beijing Prison. His father, 55-year-old Mr. Li Aimin, is also detained and has yet to be sentenced.
Father of US Resident Sentenced
Mr. Zhou Deyong of Shandong Province, whose wife and son are United States residents, was sentenced to 8 years in prison on April 22, 2023, for possessing Falun Gong materials. According to Mr. Zhou’s son, he did not participate in sharing information about the persecution but merely held the materials and Falun Gong books for his wife.
Mr. Zhou was arrested along with nine other Falun Gong practitioners and their family members in a police sweep on April 23, 2021. Mr. Zhou was given the longest sentence as well as fined 100,000 yuan (approximately 14,000 USD). Mr. Zhou’s wife and son continue to call for his release and have been joined by several U.S. Congressman.
Couple Sentenced for Firewall Circumvention Software
He Binggang and his fiancée, Zhang Yibo, were sentenced to six and five years, respectively, on June 12, 2023 in Shanghai.
The couple’s conviction stems from their alleged involvement in developing and maintaining the firewall circumvention software oGate, according to the Minghui website and acquaintances of the couple in the United States. Their joint verdict on file with the Falun Dafa Information Center also indicates that their faith in Falun Gong was a major factor in their cases rulings.
According to Rights Protection Network, Mr. He appealed his sentence, but the court rejected it. He is currently serving his six-year sentence in Shanghai Tilanqiao Prison, and Zhang is serving her five-year sentence in Shanghai Women’s Prison.