Qinhuangdao, Hebei Province: Four Falun Gong Practitioners Appealing Wrongful Convictions for Their Faith
(Minghui.org) Four Falun Gong practitioners in Qinhuangdao City, Hebei Province, were given heavy sentences in January 2019, a year and a half after their arrests for refusing to renounce their faith.
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a mind-body discipline that has been persecuted by the communist regime since 1999.
Mr. Zuo Hongtao was sentenced to 13 years, Mr. Wu Wenzhang to 11 years, Ms. Li Guoai to 10 years, and Mr. Liu Changfu to 8 years in prison. They have appealed the verdicts to the Qinhuangdao Intermediate Court. A judge named Guan Yuanyuan was assigned to their cases.
Mr. Zuo's wife, Ms. Cui Qiurong, who does not practice but is supportive of Falun Gong, received a sentence of 19 months. She was released on January 9, 2019, after serving her term that began in June 2017.
The police have not returned the 100,000 yuan in cash that was confiscated from the practitioners after their cases were closed.
Arrests and Police Raid
Mr. Zuo, his wife, Mr. Wu, and Ms. Li were arrested along with another two Falun Gong practitioners, Mr. Yang Xiaoyong and Ms. Yuan Sujing, at Mr. Zuo's real estate company office on June 9, 2017. Mr. Liu was arrested one hour later on the same day at his home.
The police ransacked the practitioners’ homes and Mr. Zuo’s company. His 50,000 yuan in cash for business operations and Mr. Wu's 50,000 yuan in cash that was kept at Mr. Zuo’s office were confiscated.
The police also seized Mr. Zuo's electric motorcycle and office supplies, Ms. Yuan's new electric motorcycle, as well as a car that Ms. Li had borrowed from a friend with garments she was selling.
The police didn't present a search warrant during the home-ransackings, nor provide a list of confiscated items afterward.
A few days after the arrests, the local TV station broadcast a news report, in which the police claimed that the practitioners had printed information about Falun Gong on the 100,000 cash confiscated from them.
The practitioners' lawyers stated that their clients had not printed anything on the banknotes, that there is no law in China that criminalizes Falun Gong, and that the ban on Falun Gong publications was revoked by the China administration of publication in 2011.
All seven residents were sent to Qinhuangdao City Detention Center that evening, and Mr. Yang was released shortly afterward.
The Shanhaiguan District Procuratorate approved the arrests on July 15, 2017.
Detention and Court Trials
Both Ms. Li and Mr. Zuo held hunger strikes to protest the arbitrary arrests and detention. They were subsequently force-fed, and their health declined. Mr. Zuo was sent to the Qinhuangdao Police Hospital for emergency treatment.
Mr. Zuo's son visited him at the hospital on July 31, one month after he was hospitalized. He suffered from venous insufficiency, muscle atrophy, and heart palpitations. His son applied for medical parole for him, but the parole was rejected by authorities.
Ms. Yuan was released on June 9, 2018, after one year of detention. It wasn't clear whether she was indicted.
The other five residents, Mr. Zuo and his wife, Mr. Liu, Mr. Wu, and Ms. Li, remained in custody. They appeared in Changli County Court on November 16 and 17, 2017, October 16, 2018, and November 11 and 12, 2018.
The prosecutor accused them of “undermining law enforcement,” a standard pretext used by the Chinese courts to criminalize and imprison Falun Gong practitioners.
The practitioners' lawyers entered not-guilty pleas on their behalf. They argued that the persecution of Falun Gong had no legal basis and that the prosecutor failed to present evidence showing how their clients' practice of Falun Gong obstructed law enforcement.
At the lawyer's request, the judge played the video of police ransacking Mr. Zuo's real estate company. All of the officers were in plainclothes and none of them presented their IDs.
As the police were raiding the office, passengers began to gather in front of the entrance, and many asked what happened. One officer claimed that they were arresting people abusing drugs. When Mr. Wu shouted to the public, “Falun Dafa is good” as he was taken out, the officer pushed him to the ground, pulled his hands behind his back, and handcuffed him to prevent him from shouting. The handcuffs were so tight that his hands were injured. He still experienced weakness in his hands one year later.
No prosecution witnesses appeared in court to be cross-examined.
The practitioners also defended their innocence. The bailiffs took photos of their family members and friends who attended the hearings.