(Minghui.org) A third hearing in the re-trial of two women was held on December 21, 2015, at the Ranghulu Court in Heilongjiang Province. Ms. Cheng Jinzhi and Ms. Li Junying were sentenced about 8 months ago for practicing Falun Gong.

Third Hearing Becomes Reality after Protest from Supporters

Ms. Cheng and Ms. Li were first arrested on October 30, 2014, and sentenced to seven and a half years and seven years respectively in April 28, 2015.

They appealed to the intermediate court, and their sentences were overturned due to “unclear facts and insufficient evidence.” The court ordered a re-trial on November 21, 2015.

At the first re-trial hearing, the judge quickly adjourned the proceedings when over 100 of Ms. Cheng's relatives and friends applauded her entrance into the courtroom.

At the next hearing on November 30, 2015, only seven family members were allowed into the courtroom. Ms. Cheng hired two lawyers, but neither one appeared. She suspected that they had not been notified of the hearing.

The lawyers met with the court president after the second hearing. On behalf of the practitioners and their families, the lawyers made a strong case for a new hearing at which they could be present. In the meantime, many local practitioners called the court to request a fair re-trial for Ms. Cheng and Ms. Li.

The court president relented, and a third re-trial hearing was scheduled for December 21, 2015.

The Lawyers' Defense

Three lawyers were present at the third hearing, and more than 300 practitioners gathered at the courthouse to show their support, occupying nearly the entire building. Despite the huge number of supporters, the hearing was held in a small courtroom, where only 11 relatives were allowed in.

The lawyers asked the presiding judge to allow a portion of the evidence to be produced for verification. When the evidence was produced, the practitioners said that many of the items did not belong to them.

Furthermore, the practitioners disputed the validity of two “confessions” produced by the court, as they had not provided them or signed anything to that effect. The practitioners also offered in their defense that it is not wrong to practice Falun Gong.

The lawyers added that, according to the United Nations' “Universal Declaration of Human Rights," freedom of belief is a basic human right, and there is no law in China that criminalizes Falun Gong.

Judge's Attitude Changes

The hearing was conducted through video-conferencing with three parties in different locations: the judge and the lawyers in the courtroom; the two practitioners in the detention center; and the prosecutor at the procuratorate.

The lawyers raised an objection to this arrangement, saying that it violated their clients' rights to an in-person court appearance. The presiding judge brushed it off, saying the use of video-conferencing was at the discretion of the court.

Nevertheless, 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 proceedings lasted nearly 8 hours. It remains to be seen if the judge will acquit the practitioners.