Minghui Human Rights Report 2015: 501 New Trials of Falun Gong Practitioners
(Minghui.org) The year 2015 ended with 501 new cases reported regarding Falun Gong practitioners being tried for refusing to renounce their faith.
As in years prior, the trial of practitioners reported in 2015 has again demonstrated that the Chinese regime uses the judicial system as merely a rubber stamp in its persecution of Falun Gong.
In 1999, Jiang Zemin, former head of the Chinese Communist Party, set up the “610 Office” (in violation of the Constitution) to carry out his campaign to eradicate Falun Gong, and gave the organization power over the entire law enforcement and judicial systems.
Under pressure and directives from the 610 Office, various agencies within the judicial system work hand-in-glove to put practitioners behind bars: police arrest practitioners without valid reason, procuratorates indict them with fabricated charges, and courts hand down predetermined heavy sentences in show trials.
There are also encouraging signs amid the endless legal violations committed by the judicial system in its prosecution of practitioners. With the new wave of criminal complaints being filed against Jiang Zemin, many police officers, prosecutors, and judges began to pause and ponder their involvement in the persecution.
In some reported cases, judges were shown to be more receptive to defense arguments that practitioners broke no law by exercising their constitutional right to freedom of belief. One judge even acquitted a practitioner during a trial.
In this annual report, we provide an overview of the trials of practitioners reported in 2015. For ease of reading, below is a table of contents:
- Overview of Trials Reported in 2015
- Provincial Distribution
- Involvement of Defense Lawyers
- Secret Trials
- Higher Courts Uphold Illegal Sentences Without Holding Hearings
- Few Family Members Allowed to Attend Practitioners' Trials
- “Open Trials” with Heavily Guarded Courthouses
- Defense Lawyers Brutalized in Courtroom
- “The More You Defend Her, the More Severe Her Sentence Will Be”
- Chinese Judicial System Nothing But a Rubber Stamp
- Encouraging Signs from Judges
- Concluding Remarks
Overview of Trials Reported in 2015
During 2015, Minghui.org reported 501 new cases of Falun Gong practitioners being tried. Among them, 403 cases involve practitioners tried in 2015, while the remainder concern court hearings held prior to 2015.
The court cases reported in 2015 consist of practitioners from 22 provinces, 4 municipalities (Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Chongqing), and 3 autonomous regions (Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Xinjiang).
Liaoning Province leads the pack with 83 Falun Gong court cases reported in 2015, followed by Heilongjiang and Hebei (each with 54 cases).
Involvement of Defense Lawyers
Among the 501 cases reported, 95 (19%) lack information regarding lawyer involvement. The remaining 406 cases include information on whether Falun Gong practitioner-defendants used lawyers to defend their constitutional right to freedom of belief.
In 103 of the 406 cases, no defense lawyers were involved, because the practitioners either chose not to use legal representation or were unable to secure a lawyer in time for their trial.
Among the 303 cases with lawyer involvement, 51 cases concern practitioners being tried without legal representation in the actual court sessions. These practitioners had hired lawyers, but their lawyers were either barred from entering the courtroom or dropped as a result of threats or deception from the authorities.
Lawyers in the remaining 252 cases were allowed to defend their clients in the courtroom, but they were shown to have used different strategies. An overwhelming 242 cases, representing 48% of the total cases, involve lawyers who entered not-guilty pleas for their clients. The ten remaining cases (2%) are associated with lawyers who entered guilty pleas for various reasons.
Below is a snapshot of the 303 cases with lawyer involvement:
1. Practitioners Had Lawyers, but Were Tried Without Legal Representation (51 Cases)
A total of 51 cases involve practitioners who had lawyers, but were still tried without legal representation. In some cases, this happened because court officials used various means to prevent the lawyers from entering the courtroom.
The trial of four Falun Gong practitioners in Heilongjiang Province is a typical case. Qianjin Court sentenced the practitioners on May 21, 2015 after three hearings. Mr. Shi Mengwen was sentenced to three years, and Ms. Wang Yanxin, Ms. Li Guifang, and Ms. Meng Fanli were each sentenced to two years.
According to a report published on Minghui.org,
“During two previous hearings held in December and January, police attempted to obstruct the lawyers by setting up several checkpoints on their way to the court and through physical intimidation.
Before the most recent session when the verdict was announced, the court did not inform the practitioners' lawyers and families until the last minute, so only two of the four defense lawyers were able to travel to Jiansanjiang.
In addition, police set up five checkpoints, each guarded by heavily-armed officers carrying sub-machine guns. They searched the lawyers' and family members' cars, videotaped them, and repeatedly demanded and recorded their identification documents.
When the two lawyers finally arrived at the courthouse, bailiffs did not allow them to enter, claiming that they didn't have a trial notice from the court.”
In some other cases, practitioners and their families were deceived into dropping their lawyers. Instead of receiving a lighter sentence as promised, however, these practitioners ended up with heavy sentences. The following published case is one such example:
Mr. Xu Yongfan's family pressured him to drop his lawyers after the local authorities promised to release him within three days of the trial's conclusion. Instead, he was sentenced to seven years in August 2015 for possessing materials exposing the persecution of Falun Gong.
2. Lawyers Defend Practitioners and Plead Not Guilty (242 Cases)
A total of 242 cases involve practitioners who had lawyers defend their innocence in the courtroom. Many lawyers were shocked to uncover various legal procedure violations committed by the Procuratorate, court, and law enforcement.
Mr. Li Chunfu and Mr. Chen Jiangang entered a not guilty plea for their four clients. During the trial of their clients on March 17, 2015, the two lawyers discovered that prosecutor Wang Wanfang had signed her own name on the witness statement. She quickly left the courtroom when the lawyers questioned the validity of the prosecution witnesses. The judge then adjourned the session without indicating future legal recourse for the practitioners.
3. Lawyers Enter Guilty Pleas (10 Cases)
Ten of the 501 cases involve practitioners whose local lawyers entered guilty pleas for them. Some lawyers felt that a guilty plea may increase the chance of a much lighter sentence, while others had long maintained close relationships with local courts.
Ms. Zong Yanchun from Shenyang, Liaoning Province hired two local lawyers to defend her. During the trial on March 19, 2015, her lawyers entered a guilty plea for her, which resulted in her being sentenced to two and half years in prison.
When Ms. Li Guirong from Shenyang, Liaoning Province hired two local lawyers to defend her, she didn't expect them to collude with court officials to send her to prison. The lawyers even told her family before the trial that Ms. Li would face a five-year sentence. During the trial on June 23, 2015, the lawyers pleaded guilty on her behalf, and she was indeed sentenced to five years.
Among the 501 cases, 275 do not have information on whether families were notified of the upcoming trial in advance. Of the remaining cases, 92 involve trials that took place without the knowledge of the defendants' lawyers or family.
The following is a typical case of how practitioners were sentenced without their loved ones' knowledge:
“The Rongcheng City Court tried Mr. Zhang Baojin on May 11, 2015, without informing his family.
Mr. Zhang's family did not know about the trial until they saw the online news report. They asked Judge Wang Li why the family was not informed about the trial, but were told, “It is not necessary to inform family members.” He also told the family that Mr. Zhang was sentenced to four years in prison, which prosecutors had decided before the trial.”
Higher Courts Uphold Illegal Sentences Without Holding Hearings
There are 10 other cases similar to the above-mentioned 92 cases. They involve a higher court issuing a decision to uphold a lower court's initial sentence without conducting an open hearing. Below are three such cases.
Mr. Song Zhenhai from Linzhang County, Hebei Province was tried a second time after Handan Intermediate Court overturned his initial three-year sentence. Linzhang County Court, however, gave him the same sentence after a retrial. He appealed, but this time, the higher court upheld the sentence without opening a hearing, under pressure from the 610 Office.
“Hanzhong City Intermediate People's Court tried four practitioners on March 17, 2015, and upheld the original sentences handed down on December 26, 2014. Ms. Du Shuhui was then sentenced to 8 years, Ms. Du Shuming to 7 1/2 years, Ms. Wang Xinlian to 3 1/2 years, and Ms. Zhang Xinyue to 3 years.”
Ms. Yan Hongmei, an art teacher at Tianhui No. 2 Experimental Elementary School was detained and sentenced to a four-year prison term. After she appealed, the Chengdu Intermediate Court upheld the four-year sentence in a secret hearing. Her lawyer was denied access to any information about the appeals hearing, and denied the right to review her case.
Few Family Members Allowed to Attend Practitioners' Trials
In many trials for which defendants' families did receive advance notice, few family members (if any) were actually allowed to attend the hearing.
In an extreme case, a judge in Sichuan Province gave the defendant's family wrong information about the trial location to prevent their attendance.
“When Ms. Luo Lingrong's family arrived at the Jiangyang District Court on January 6, 2015 to attend the trial, they realized there was no trial there and they had been deceived. Ms. Luo was actually being tried miles away at a makeshift courtroom in Anfu Detention Center in Naxi, where she had been kept prisoner since her arrest in May 2014.”
“Since Ms. Luo's family were deceived, they arrived late for the proceedings. The guards would not let them into the courtroom. When two other people from the local area requested to attend the trial to support Ms. Luo, several men shoved them into separate cars and drove them away.”
In a separate case, Mr. Zhao Chengxiao and his wife Ms. Gao Xiulan from Daqing City, Heilongjiang Province were tried on January 15, 2015. That day, only four family members were allowed inside, and the remaining seats were occupied by people who claimed to be relatives of the couple. The couple's family members, however, did not recognize any of those people.
A few days later, on January 29, 2015, Ms. Liu Chang'e from Yingtan City, Jiangxi Province was also tried, with no lawyers, family members, or supporters allowed at the hearing.
“Open Trials” with Heavily Guarded Courthouses
The authorities claim to hold open trials of Falun Gong practitioners, when in fact the courthouses were often heavily guarded and supporters blocked from attending the trials. Below are three such examples:
“There were bailiffs stationed in the courtyard of the courthouse. Outside the building were three vans filled with armed police. There were also plainclothes police patrolling the vicinity of the courthouse.
Two people who were taking a walk nearby had their bags searched. A third person was asked to produce his ID as he passed by the courthouse.”
“Mr. Du Zezhou, Ms. Cheng Shuxiang, Mr. Li Weiguo, Ms. Wang Hongfeng, Ms. Sun Yuzhi, Ms. Yao Chuanrong, Ms. Yao Chuanfen, and Ms. Sun Moqing were illegally tried on January 13, 2015, in the Changqing District Court.
More than 100 police officers were stationed in front of the courthouse early in the morning. They cordoned off the area and set up a camcorder to record anyone walking by. Two groups of officers took turns patrolling the area for more than 20 minutes.
Over ten police cars and several buses were parked on both sides of the street in front of the courthouse. Additional police cars were parked at the nearby stadium.
Officers were stationed every 10-20 meters, including at the nearby stores, a hospital, a post office, and the stadium. Before the trial, several officers went to the store to buy electric batons and shields.”
“Police cordoned off an area within 200 meters (~650 feet) in front of the courthouse entrance. Hundreds of plainclothes and armed officers from Sanhe and nearby cities formed a tight perimeter, with dozens of police cars parked outside the courthouse.
Despite the trial officially being open to the public, local residents who came to attend the hearings were driven away by police.
A middle-aged man who came to the June 19 hearing was arrested and detained for seven hours after questioning the bailiffs for not distributing trial observation permits as promised.”
Defense Lawyers Brutalized in Courtroom
While some lawyers were allowed inside the courtroom to defend their clients, they were brutalized by bailiffs when they protested against the court's legal procedure violations.
In the following case, two lawyers were assaulted when they challenged the court's mistreatment of defendants and lawyers.
“After a defense attorney demanded that court officials stop physically mistreating his client, four bailiffs dragged him out of the room, pressed him down on the floor, and put him in a chokehold until he lost consciousness.
When he came to, one bailiff shouted, “What we did to you is called law enforcement!”
The attorney, Mr. Dong, was not the only one removed during the fourth hearing of the joint trial of three Falun Gong practitioners for their belief. Ms. Wang, another defense lawyer, was also kicked out after protesting the assault on Mr. Dong.”
“The More You Defend Her, the More Severe Her Sentence Will Be”
Many judges threatened practitioners to drop their lawyers or face grave consequences. For practitioners who insisted on legal representation, their lawyers encountered various obstacles. Some lawyers were denied access to case files and/or threatened by court officials, both before and during their trials.
The following two cases that took place in Dandong City, Liaoning Province show a judge blatantly abusing his power.
In the case of practitioner Ms. Wang Xiangju, Judge Ma Shuhe told her lawyer, “The more you defend her, the more severe her sentence will be. You have no choice but to have her plead guilty.”
The same judge also threatened the lawyer of another practitioner, Ms. Wang Xuemei, “You can't mention that Falun Gong is not a cult during the proceedings. I will warn you once, and then I will kick you out of the court.”
Judge Ma is not the only lawless judge who sent practitioners to prison. The following three-part series highlight more examples of how judges put practitioners behind bars, despite lacking legal basis.
“Don't Talk to Me About the Law”–Judges as Puppets under China's Communist Regime (Part 1 of 3)“Don't Talk to Me About the Law”–Judges as Puppets under China's Communist Regime (Part 2 of 3)“Don't Talk to Me About the Law”–Judges as Puppets under China's Communist Regime (Part 3 of 3)
Chinese Judicial System Nothing But a Rubber Stamp
The 501 cases tell of blatant procedural violations on the part of law enforcement, procuratorates, and courts at various levels. Who is behind the lawless judicial system?
One report titled, “ 610 Office Overrides Legal Procedure in Chongqing Trial” describes what happened to one couple:
“After the trial of Mr. Du Yangxi, Mr. Qin Aiming, and Ms. Qin Huaxia began, the defense lawyers discovered the trial's illegality and pushed for an immediate dismissal. This was expected to be an easy decision for the judge, who deferred making it that day.
On the second day of the trial, the public prosecutor produced a “supplementary letter” issued by the local 610 Office the night before, and the judge allowed the trial to continue based on this unofficial document.
The lawyers questioned the prosecutor, “What exactly is the 610 Office? Does it have any legal authority to accept a case and indict anyone, and trump the established legal process?”
The 610 Office, an extralegal organization established to carry out the eradication of Falun Gong under orders of the Chinese Communist Party's central leadership, holds power over the judicial system in carrying out its task. The following 8-part series explores the role of China's judicial system in the persecution of Falun Gong and offers a more comprehensive picture.
Encouraging Signs from Judges
While many judges proactively or blindly follow the communist regime's orders to sentence Falun Gong practitioners, we have also seen encouraging signs.
For example, Mr. Pang You, a Beijing practitioner arrested in Shaanxi Province while on a business trip, was surprised when he was acquitted in June 2015, as described in the following published report:
“Mr. Pang You was arrested for talking to people about Falun Gong while visiting his business partners in Yichuan last December....Prior to his latest arrest, Mr. Pang had been sentenced twice to a total of 12 years on the same charge, that his practice of Falun Gong undermined law enforcement.”
The Yichuan judge's not-guilty verdict issued on June 11 came as a surprise to Mr. Pang and his family. After all, they have known no other Falun Gong practitioner who was acquitted after being accused of committing the same so-called “crime.”
“Mr. Pang and his supporters suspect the new wave of lawsuits against former Chinese dictator Jiang Zemin probably had something to do with the judge's decision.”
In a separate case, the same judge who presided over the first two hearings in the retrial of two Heilongjiang practitioners changed his attitude in the third hearing.
“The judge was receptive to the defense arguments and the practitioners' personal testimonies. Unlike the first two hearings, he recorded the lawyers' defense accurately and did not interrupt them. Before adjourning, he read aloud his notes on the proceedings and allowed the lawyers and the two practitioners to verify them before they signed the document. He even asked the lawyers for their opinion on how well he had conducted the hearing.”
The illegal trials and sentencing of Falun Gong practitioners are littered with countless legal violations by the judicial system. From illegal arrest to interrogation with torture, from forcing practitioners to drop their lawyers to openly brutalizing lawyers in court, and from limiting access to court to arresting supporters of practitioners, we have seen practitioners' right to due process and fair trial violated time and again.
We hope this report helps the public see more clearly the crimes committed by Jiang Zemin. As Jiang faces an unprecedented wave of criminal complaints filed against him, we urge his followers to stop participating in the persecution.
Related article in Chinese:明慧人权报告2015年中共违法庭审法轮功学员综述（下）