(Minghui.org) Two Falun Gong practitioners in Jiujiang City, Jiangxi Province were sentenced to prison for spreading information about the persecution of their faith. The presiding judge blocked a renowned human rights lawyer from representing one of the practitioners and attempted, albeit unsuccessfully, to force them to accept the lawyers she appointed.

Falun Gong, also known Falun Dafa, is an ancient spiritual and meditation discipline that has been persecuted by the Chinese communist regime since 1999.

Ms. Li Xiaochun, 59, and Ms. Zeng Yinlang, 57, were arrested on September 11, 2019 while distributing informational materials about Falun Gong in Susong County, Anhui Province (about 45 miles from Jiujiang). 

The police submitted their cases to Susong County Procuratorate, which then forwarded their cases to Susong County Court.

Ms. Zeng hired lawyer Xie Yanyi to represent her. Mr. Xie is a renowned human rights lawyer who has been repeatedly targeted by the communist regime himself in the past few years for representing Falun Gong practitioners and other vulnerable groups. 

Mr. Xie submitted Ms. Zeng's power of attorney and other required paperwork to presiding judge Zhang Xiaomin on November 21, 2019. Zhang refused to accept the lawyer's application to represent Ms. Zeng. 

Zhang also repeatedly pressured Ms. Zeng’s family and attempted to force them to accept the lawyers appointed by her. She even ordered the court-appointed lawyers to visit Ms. Zeng at the local detention center, without her family's permission. Zhang also visited Ms. Zeng herself and attempted to persuade her to use only court-appointed lawyers.

Without informing lawyer Xie, Zhang scheduled a court hearing for December 3, 2019. After Ms. Zeng’s family found out about it, they hired another lawyer, Li Jinglin, at the last minute to represent her.

Lawyer Li requested that Judge Zhang postpone the hearing, but Zhang refused.

Ms. Zeng and Ms. Li appeared in Susong County Court on December 3. Lawyer Li entered a not guilty plea for Ms. Zeng. Li argued that the two practitioners didn’t violate any laws in practicing their faith or speaking out about it. She also added that the police violated legal procedure in arresting the two practitioners and ransacking their homes.

Ms. Li’s son defended her innocence. He described how his mother became a better person after taking up Falun Gong.

Judge Zhang sentenced Ms. Zeng to four years and Ms. Li to three years and ten months on December 11, 2019, and fined each of them 10,000 yuan. Both practitioners vowed to appeal the verdicts. 

When Ms. Zeng’s family called the court on December 18, Zhang’s assistant told them that the two practitioners' appeals had been submitted to the intermediate court and were awaiting an appeal hearing.

But when Zhang called Ms. Li’s family the next day, she said both practitioners had decided to give up their rights to appeal the sentences. Ms. Li’s family suspected that Zhang was attempting to block their appeals.