(Minghui.org) A married couple in Qinglong County had a property line dispute with a neighbor in 2014. They were beaten up and had their cell phones smashed. The local government sided with the neighbor. The wife became so distressed by the unfairness that she was hospitalized for two weeks.

A relative came to visit and advised the couple to practice Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, a mind-body practice based on the principles of Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance. The couple was aware that the Chinese communist regime has been persecuting the spiritual discipline since July 1999, but they still decided to give it a try.

As they began following Falun Gong's principles, they gradually became broader-minded and no longer held grudges against their neighbor. They also credit Falun Gong for turning them into more considerate and honest business owners as they ran their family-owned pharmacy.

Having had firsthand experience with Falun Gong, Mr. Pan Yingshun and Ms. Zhai Suping used every opportunity to tell people that the persecution of the life-changing practice is wrong, as no law in China criminalizes Falun Gong.

Then they were arrested on January 19, 2018 after surveillance videos showed them putting up self-adhesive stickers containing messages about Falun Gong.

The police ransacked their home and pharmacy, and confiscated many of their personal belongings.

Mr. Pan and Ms. Zhai were sent to Qinglong County Detention Center on the evening of their arrest and then given criminal detention on January 20. Ms. Zhai was transferred to Qinghuangdao City No.1 Detention Center, while Mr. Pan remains at Qinglong County Detention Center.

The Qinglong County Procuratorate approved their arrests on March 5.

According to their lawyer who met with Mr. Pan on March 5, he developed high blood pressure at the detention center. It wasn't clear whether he was provided with proper medical care.

After two court hearings at Changli County Court on July 5, 2018 and January 3, 2019, they are now awaiting the verdict at the detention center.

The presiding judge Yang Hongmei, who has sentenced multiple Falun Gong practitioners to prison in the past 10 years, pressured the couple to dismiss their defense lawyer during their first hearing. The judge also attempted, unsuccessfully, to force their new lawyer at the second hearing to denounce Falun Gong before allowing him to defend them.

Judge Pressured Couple to Dismiss Defense Lawyer During First Hearing

During the couple's first hearing on July 5, 2018, judge Yang didn't show up until one hour past the scheduled time at 9 am. It turned out that she had been waiting for three officials from Shijingshan District Judicial Bureau in Beijing to come. The couple's lawyer's law firm was under supervision of the Bureau.

Pressured by judge Yang and the three officials, the couple was forced to dismiss their defense lawyer before the hearing was started.

Judge Yang had threatened the couple's children before the hearing that she would give their parents a heavier sentence if they hired a human rights lawyer from Beijing to represent them.

The couple's relatives weren't allowed to enter the courtroom until 11:40 am. The bailiffs took photos of each person and their IDs. They also videotaped them after they sat down in the gallery. Some relatives who didn't bring ID with them weren't allowed to enter the courtroom. They were also videotaped while they waited in the lobby.

One relative argued with the bailiffs that it was illegal to videotape them. One bailiff acknowledged the illegality of their actions, but he maintained he was just following orders.

Judge Yang asked the couple a few questions and adjourned the hearing shortly afterwards.

New Lawyer Asked to Denounce Falun Gong Before Allowed to Defend Clients

After the couple hired another lawyer to represent them at the second hearing on January 3, 2019, judge Yang attempted to obstruct the lawyer's defense by forcing him to go through security check and asking him to denounce Falun Gong at the beginning of the hearing.

When the lawyer argued that by law defense lawyers are exempt from security checks, one bailiff responded that this was the rule of their court.

Despite the pressure from Judge Yang, the lawyer refused to denounce Falun Gong. Instead, he delivered a not-guilty defense for the couple. He argued that the persecution of Falun Gong has lacked legal basis from the onset and that his clients should never have been prosecuted for exercising their constitutional right to freedom of belief.

The other lawyer, who was appointed by the court to enter a guilty plea for the couple, remained silent during the hearing.

Only four out of the couple's more than 20 family members were allowed to observe the hearing, and others were instructed to wait outside in the lobby.

The couple stood at the trial both handcuffed and shackled. They were immediately taken back to the detention centers after the hearing.

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