(Minghui.org) A 65-year-old woman in Benxi City was sentenced to prison on charges of “using a cult to undermine law enforcement,” a standard pretext used by the Chinese communist regime to imprison practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual discipline based on the principle of Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance.

Ms. Zhou Shuhua’s lawyer argued that no law in China criminalizes Falun Gong and that his client should not have been prosecuted for exercising her constitutional right to freedom of belief. He filed an appeal on behalf of Ms. Zhou and requested a public hearing. Benxi City Intermediate Court, however, secretly ruled to uphold the original verdict without seeking the lawyer’s opinion as required by law. He didn’t find about the higher court’s decision until almost two weeks later.

The lawyer has filed multiple complaints with Benxi City Procuratorate against the panel of judges overseeing the appeals case. He accused the judges of violating legal procedures and depriving his and his client’s right to appeal unjust sentences.

Lower Court Sentences Woman for Not Renouncing Life-Saving Practice

Ms. Zhou used to suffer from a myriad of illnesses and couldn’t walk. She had to crawl around and relied on her children to care for her. Her symptoms, however, disappeared in just ten days after she started practicing Falun Gong.

Ms. Zhou’s joy didn’t last long. She gave up the practice out of fear after the persecution of Falun Gong began in 1999. In a few years, her previous illnesses crept back, and she was miserable beyond description.

When no medical treatments worked, Ms. Zhou turned back to Falun Gong. Once again, she was awed by the practice’s effect on her health. Having regained an illness-free life, she knew she’d never stop practicing Falun Gong again.

However, Ms. Zhou’s decision got her on police radar. She was followed while grocery shopping on May 19, 2016. Police arrested her soon afterwards and put her in Benxi City Detention Center.

As she was not allowed to read Falun Gong books or do the Falun Gong exercises while in detention, Ms. Zhou had a relapse of her old symptoms. Her lawyer found her almost unrecognizable when he visited her in August 2016. She had trouble breathing and walking. Her legs were swollen, and she complained of dizziness and high blood pressure.

It took the lawyer three trips to Pingshan District Procuratorate before he was allowed to review Ms. Zhou’s case file. He discovered that the procuratorate had returned the case to police for lack of evidence. The police, however, declined to release Ms. Zhou as requested by her lawyer.

The procuratorate soon forwarded the case to Pingshan District Court. Judge Guo Weiwei never allowed the lawyer to review Ms. Zhou’s case file.

Ms. Zhou was tried on March 8, 2017. Her lawyer argued that there was no evidence to show that his client had done anything that undermined law enforcement. Ms. Zhou also testified in her own defense and stressed that all she wanted from practicing Falun Gong was a healthy body.

Guo sentenced Ms. Zhou to prison not long after the court hearing. It is unclear when the verdict was announced or how long the sentence was.

Higher Court Secretly Rules to Uphold Guilty Verdict

The lawyer detailed what happened to his appeal efforts in his complaints.

He submitted the appeal to Pingshan District Court on June 1 and requested a public hearing. By law, the trial court should forward the appeal to Benxi City Intermediate Court on receipt of the paperwork, but he didn’t find out who would oversee the appeals case until June 27. He requested to review his client’s case file, but Judge Zhang Ping, one of the three judges assigned to the case, didn’t respond to him until July 6. Zhang denied the request.

The lawyer made another request and heard from Zhang on July 11. Zhang demanded that the lawyer go through a security check before entering the procuratorate building and that he not make carbon copies of the case file. Zhang also said the lawyer could not review the additional information submitted by police as they needed to protect prosecution witnesses. In addition, Zhang demanded that the lawyer submit his legal opinion in one week.

By law, defense lawyers are exempt from security checks and should be granted full access to their clients’ case files without any constraints. Ms. Zhou’s lawyer thus refused to comply with Zhang’s demands and wasn’t able to review the case file.

The lawyer visited Ms. Zhou on August 8 and was shocked to learn from her that the higher court had delivered its ruling to her on July 26, upholding her guilty verdict.

The lawyer soon filed complaints against Zhang and two other judges (Li Wenjun and Xiong Tiening), accusing them of depriving his right to defend his client and denying his client’s right to seek justice for herself.