(Minghui.org) Ms. Zhang Jianhua, an 81-year-old resident of Lanzhou City, Gansu Province, was sentenced to three years in July 2018 for practicing Falun Gong, a spiritual discipline that has been persecuted by the Chinese communist regime since 1999.

At the Gansu Province Women’s Prison, Ms. Zhang was deprived of sleep and starved. The inmates even forced her to drink urine and used the toilet brush to brush her mouth several times.

After Ms. Zhang was released on June 17, 2021, the police kept harassing her and taking her photos against her will. Meanwhile, the local social security bureau ordered her to return the over 40,000 yuan pension she received while serving time, even though there was no legal basis for the demand.

Harassment After Release

While Ms. Zhang has yet to overcome the trauma of the horrific torture in prison, Lian Gang, an officer from the Xiaoxihu Police Station, kept coming to harass her and take her photos.

After Lian harassed Ms. Zhang on December 8, 2021, he ransacked the home of practitioner Ms. Yang Zhonglan, who lived in the same subdivision. Lian also arrested another practitioner Ms. Xie Guifang and detained her for 15 days. On March 22, 2022, Lian broke into Ms. Zhang’s home again and took her photos.

Every time when the police came, Ms. Zhang urged them not to harass her again, but to no avail.

Ordered to Pay Back Pension

In addition to the harassment, the Lanzhou City Social Insurance Service Center (“the Center”) also ordered Ms. Zhang to return the 40,000 yuan pension she had received while she was serving time.

Ms. Zhang went with a friend to the Center on March 18, 2022, to inquire about the case. Without providing any explanation, the receptionist asked her whether she brought the money.

Ms. Zhang’s friend questioned the receptionist what’s the legal basis for asking for the money back. The receptionist took out four pieces of paper. The first one was the “Notice on Returning Pension Benefits Received During Prison Sentence.” The second was Ms. Zhang’s prison release notice. And the remaining two pieces of paper were the records of Ms. Zhang’s pension payments, including how much she was receiving every month and the raise she was getting every year.

On the notice for her to return the pension, the document itself was dated March 25, 2021, and signed by a person named “Zhao Liang” a day later. “Zhao Liang” wrote that he had received the notice. Ms. Zhang argued that the document was issued while she was still serving time and she didn’t know anyone named Zhao Liang. She questioned who he was and why he received the document on her behalf.

Ms. Zhang asked for a copy of the notice, yet the receptionist refused to give it to her. Her friend questioned the receptionist, “If you don’t give us any documents, how can you ask her to return the money to you?” The receptionist relented and agreed to give Ms. Zhang something, on the condition that she signed her name acknowledging she received illegal pension payments.

The receptionist then downloaded the document “Reply Letter from the General Office of the Ministry of Labor and Social Security on Issues Concerning Pension Insurance Benefits for Retired Persons Who Were Sentenced” (Document number 2001 – 44) issued back in 2001 and gave it to Ms. Zhang as the legal basis for her to return the pension.

Ms. Zhang refused to take it, as it had nothing to do with the Lanzhou City Social Insurance Service Center and didn’t have any seal or signature from anyone working in the office.

The receptionist indicated that there was nothing more to give to Ms. Zhang. She should just go home and wait for the update. But a month has passed, and she hasn’t received anything from them.

While most Falun Gong practitioners who were ordered to return the pension received during their wrongful terms have had their pension completely suspended, Ms. Zhang received her payment in March 2022. It remains to be seen whether she can continue receiving her pension in the upcoming months and whether the authorities would retract the decision for her to return the fund.

Legal Argument

To seek justice, Ms. Zhang wrote to the Center, arguing that the pension was her personal property earned through her own hard work. It didn’t belong to the government or the social security office. The social security office was only managing the fund for the retirees and they are in no position to accuse it of being her “illegal income,” let alone withholding it or demanding her to return it.

In Document number 2001 – 44 the receptionist showed her, it stated that “For retirees sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment or more criminal punishment, their pension will be suspended during the period of imprisonment or reeducation through labor. After the sentence or the reeducation through labor expires, the basic pension can continue to be issued according to the standard before serving the sentence or the reeducation through labor, and they will participate in the basic pension adjustment in the future.”

But Article 44 of the Chinese Constitution says, “The State applies the system of retirement for workers and staff members of enterprises and institutions and for functionaries of organs of State according to law. The livelihood of retired persons is ensured by the State and society.”

And Article 73 of the Labor Law also says, “Laborers shall, under the following circumstances, enjoy social insurance benefits in accordance with the law… The conditions and standards for laborers to enjoy social insurance benefits shall be stipulated by laws, rules, and regulations. The social insurance money that laborers are entitled to must be paid on schedule and in full.”

In addition, there is no such requirement for returning pension funds issued during imprisonment in the Social Insurance Law. Based on the principles that lower-level law shall not conflict with upper-level law, this policy [Document number 2001 – 44] should be deemed invalid. The document did not follow the recording procedure described in Chapter 5 of the Legislation Law. While detracting from citizens’ rights and increasing government agencies’ power, it has no legal basis or support from administrative regulations.

Furthermore, according to Article 80 of the Legislation Law revised in 2015, it states: “The matters provided for by departmental rules shall be within the scope of enforcing laws or State Council administrative regulations, decisions, or orders. Departmental rules not based on law, State Council administrative regulation, decision or order must not impair the rights of citizens, legal persons or other organizations, or increase the scope of their duties; and must not increase the power of that department or reduce that department's legally-prescribed duties.”

So document number 2001 – 44 in itself already violated various laws in China and should have been repealed.

For more detailed coverage of the legal arguments, refer to a similar case of another practitioner in Qinghai Province: “Qinghai Woman Defends Herself in Court, Social Security Bureau Drops Case Against Her.”

Related report:

80-year-old Woman Forced to Drink Urine While Imprisoned for Her Faith