(Minghui.org) A 48-year-old woman in Guiyang City was sentenced to 4.5 years in prison for refusing to renounce Falun Gong, a spiritual discipline being persecuted by the Chinese communist regime.

Ms. Zhang Juhong credits Falun Gong for giving her hope in life. Her first husband died of a medication error just a few years into their marriage. Their son drowned at the age of 12. She remarried, but her second husband just smoked, drank, and beat her. Her misery took a toll on her health.

She came across Falun Gong, and this rekindled her interest in life. Not only did she become healthy, but she also mended the strained relationship with her husband. As such, she never wavered in her faith when the persecution of Falun Gong began in July 1999.

Ms. Zhang's pursuit of health and happiness landed her in police custody on multiple occasions. Her latest arrest took place on July 24, 2016, and she appeared in court on February 13, 2018. Her lawyer, Mr. Li Guisheng, was informed on March 2 that she has been convicted. He agreed to continue representing her as she fought for her constitutional right to freedom. He has helped her submit an appeal to Guiyang City Intermediate Court.

The local Huaxi District police, procuratorate, and court had all violated legal procedures as they worked to prosecute Ms. Zhang for her faith. Her family is in the process of filing complaints with the Guiyang City Discipline and Monitoring Committee against the responsible parties.

Police Fails to Present Alleged Prosecution Evidence

Prosecutor Zhao Tingsong cited two pieces of evidence against Ms. Zhang. The first one was that she was caught distributing Falun Gong informational materials.

Officers Luo Jisong and Chen Donghao were called in to accept cross-examination. They alleged that they found 75 copies of a variety of Falun Gong materials from Ms. Zhang when they arrested her on April 17, 2014.

Ms. Zhang's lawyer asked to see the materials in court, and the officers claimed that they had put them away somewhere. They also failed to explain why they used materials confiscated from Ms. Zhang during her earlier arrest in 2014 but not her latest arrest in 2016.

Lawful Complaint Against Jiang Zemin Becomes Prosecution Evidence

The second piece of prosecution evidence was Ms. Zhang's criminal complaint filed against former Chinese dictator Jiang Zemin on July 22, 2015.

Ms. Zhang's lawyer argued that it was his client's constitutional right to hold Jiang responsible for initiating the persecution of Falun Gong without legal basis.

He further questioned how police could have had access to the complaints, which were mailed to Supreme People's Procuratorate and Supreme People's Court. He suspected that police either had intercepted the mail or received the complaints from the two agencies.

Prosecutor Zhao alleged that the provincial anti-cult office has examined Ms. Zhang's criminal complaints and verified that they were Falun Gong materials.

The lawyer emphasized that no law in China criminalizes or labels Falun Gong a cult. He argued that the anti-cult office did not have any legal authority to verify prosecution evidence.

Missing “81 Days of Detention”

Soon after her arrest, Ms. Zhang was sent to Lannigou Brainwashing Center, where she was held for 81 days before being transferred to Guiyang City First Detention Center.

The police and the procuratorate, however, never mentioned the 81 days on the indictment.

During the court hearing, Ms. Zhang's lawyer asked whether the police should conduct an investigation before filing cases against someone or if it should be the other way around. Officers Luo and Chen replied that investigation should come first.

The lawyer asked why his client was held for 81 days before any investigation was carried out and why the detention wasn't shown on the indictment. The police had no answer. The lawyer said the 81 days of detention was totally illegal. Judge Zhang Decai warned him to not use such a word as “illegal.”

Since the 81 days of detention was missing from the indictment, Ms. Zhang's 4.5 years of prison sentence won't take into account the 81 days that she has already served.

Court Officials Tried to Pressure Ms. Zhang Into Dropping Her Lawyer

Clerk Zhang Li (no relation to Ms. Zhang) and deputy president Wu of the Huaxi District Court visited the detention center three times in three days, but they failed to pressure Ms. Zhang into dropping her lawyer.

Zhang and Wu first showed up on December 23, 2017, and talked to Ms. Zhang for three hours. They warned her that using a lawyer would do her no good and that it'd be much better if she testified in her own defense.

Ms. Zhang didn't say yes or no to their request. The two men came again at 10 a.m. on December 25, and this time they promised to give her probation and release her in January 2018 if she agreed to drop her lawyer. Ms. Zhang said that she didn't mind dropping her lawyer, but she requested an acquittal. They replied that it was impossible to clear all charges against her.

They returned at 7 that evening and asked if she had made up her mind to drop her lawyer. She told them that she had decided to retain legal representation. They threatened to give her a heavy sentence and left.

None of the conversations between the two officials and Ms. Zhang was recorded, as required by law.

Court Clerk Lies About Ms. Zhang's Legal Representation Request

Ms. Zhang's lawyer, Mr. Li Guisheng, received a copy of the indictment, which was dated November 28, 2017, on December 19, 2017. The court notified him on December 24 that his client would be tried the next day. By law, the court should have given defendants and their lawyers at least ten days of advance notice.

Mr. Li arrived at the courthouse at 1 p.m. on December 25. No one was there. It wasn't until 4 p.m. that clerk Zhang Li came back from outside.

Zhang waved a piece of paper, saying that it was a written record of what Ms. Zhang told him. He said that the detention center called him on December 22 to report that Ms. Zhang was very emotional and asked to see a court official. He said he went and Ms. Zhang told him that her lawyer wasn't doing a good job and she wanted to drop him. He said he promised to give her a lighter sentence if she agreed to admit guilt in court.

Mr. Li didn't believe Zhang, as he knew how much Ms. Zhang wanted to seek justice for herself, as no law in China criminalizes Falun Gong. He wanted to verify her stance with her, but the detention center refused to allow him to visit her twice, on December 28, 2017, and again on January 3, 2018. The guards showed him a document issued by the court that stated the detention center would not grant any meetings with Ms. Zhang.

Mr. Li told the court he planned to file a complaint against them for violating legal procedures. Zhang Li called him on January 4 to say that Ms. Zhang had agreed to use him as a lawyer again.

Mr. Li was then allowed to see Ms. Zhang and learned how Zhang Li and Wu tried to pressure her into dropping him. Ms. Zhang also said Zhang Li never went to the detention center on December 22 as he claimed.

Family Forced to Drop Non-Lawyer Defender

Ms. Zhang also had a non-lawyer defender, Mr. Zhou Jianzhong, a distant uncle. Mr. Zhou practices Falun Gong, too, and understands how the persecution of Falun Gong lacks legal basis.

Mr. Zhou encountered obstacles while trying to defend his niece. He submitted a power of attorney signed by Ms. Zhang to the court in March 2017. Zhang Li demanded that he show proof that he had no criminal record. Mr. Zhou complied, but he wasn't given a chance to sign his name on the required paperwork until December 18.

As a defender, Mr. Zhou got to review Ms. Zhang's case. He noted that her criminal complaint against Jiang Zemin was labeled Falun Gong promotional materials. He called Zhang Li on December 21 to say that he planned to submit a request to dismiss the alleged evidence regarding Ms. Zhang's criminal complaint.

He went to the court the following day but couldn't find Zhang Li. It wasn't until January 22, 2018, that he saw Zhang Li and his assistant again at a pre-trial meeting. They told him that he was no longer allowed to defend his niece. When he asked to see vice president Wu, and Zhang Li said there was no need.

While the two court officials were intimidating Ms. Zhang at the detention center on December 25, her nephew was warned that day by a local street committee member to not engage Mr. Zhou to defend his aunt. The committee member said that Mr. Zhou was a distant relative and that they had better not use him.

Intimidated, Ms. Zhang's nephew and other family members wrote to the court on December 27 to drop Mr. Zhou as a defender.

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