(Minghui.org) Eleven Beijing residents stood trial in the Dongcheng District Court on October 15, 2021. The trial came more than a year after they were arrested for practicing Falun Gong and sending photos of empty streets in Beijing to overseas media during the pandemic.
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a spiritual discipline that has been persecuted by the Chinese communist regime since 1999.
The eleven practitioners are Ms. Xu Na (an artist who lost her husband to the persecution of Falun Gong), Mr. Li Zongze, Mr. Li Lixin, Ms. Jiao Mengjiao, Mr. Liu Qiang, Ms. Meng Qingxia (48, a painter and teacher), Ms. Zheng Yanmei, Ms. Deng Jing, Ms. Zheng Yujie, Mr. Zhang Renfei, and Ms. Li Jiaxuan. They were arrested around July 20, 2020, the 21st anniversary of the beginning of the persecution of the Falun Gong.
Authorities in Beijing restricted traffic around the courthouse beginning early in the morning on October 15 before. Many plainclothes officers monitored the passersby and checked their IDs. Some buses were also rerouted to avoid the courthouse.
No practitioner’s family members were allowed to attend the hearing. The police also went to the practitioners’ homes to watch their family members. Mr. Li Zongze’s father, who lives in Dezhou City, Shandong Province, was monitored by the police beginning at 2 a.m. on November 15. Another practitioner’s relative stayed outside the courthouse to show his support, only to be found by a plainclothes officer, taken to the police station, and held for several hours.
Xie Yanyi, the lawyer representing Ms. Xu, said that he was summoned by the police the previous afternoon and warned not to defend her. The police later went to his home and monitored his entire family from midnight on.
All five lawyers entering not guilty pleas for their clients were subjected to very strict security checks, which lawyers are usually exempted from. One lawyer said it was even stricter than an airport security check, as he wasn’t allowed to bring his empty glass or computer into the courtroom. Another lawyer, in his 70s, said it was the first time he’d been told to remove his belt to go through security.
The courtroom was filled with officers from the Beijing Political and Legal Affairs Committee (an extra-judiciary agency tasked with persecuting Falun Gong) and the Beijing Justice Bureau.
While cross-examining the evidence in the afternoon, the lawyers pointed out that The Epoch Times, to where the practitioners sent the photos, is a legitimate media outlet registered in the US. It covers uncensored news inside and outside of China, including the persecution of Falun Gong and other minorities and religious groups.
In addition to the photos, the prosecutor also accused the practitioners of having illegal gatherings and distributing Falun Gong materials based on the Falun Gong materials found in the practitioners’ homes. The lawyers argued that the confiscated Falun Gong books and materials were for their personal use, not for distribution.
The lawyers said that it fell under the Constitution’s guarantee of “freedom of expression” for the practitioners to submit news tips to media outlets and under “freedom of belief” to discuss their experiences practicing Falun Gong. Some of the practitioners were artists and they had discussions on how to improve their artwork. Nothing mentioned justified the charges against them.
The prosecutor said to Ms. Meng, “You’ve been sentenced before, so we arrest you when you gather with other practitioners and participate in their activities.”
The judge constantly interrupted the lawyers’ arguments. When it was the practitioners’ turn to testify in their own defense, the judge ordered the bailiffs to move the microphones far away.
Ms. Zheng said that she was held in solitary confinement for 28 days and the guards grabbed her hair and hit her. Before she could finish, the presiding judge, Bai Chongwei, interrupted her and asked, “What do you want to say? Just tell me, are you (pleading) guilty or not?”
Mr. Li Zongze prepared a defense statement, but the judge never let him read it.
The lawyer representing Ms. Jiao was appointed by the judge. He entered a guilty plea for her and started to smear Falun Gong during the hearing, so she asked him to stop talking.
The judge said that Mr. Liu’s interrogation record indicated that he once said “Falun Gong is a cult.” Mr. Liu immediately spoke up and said he had never said such a thing. The judge had no reply.
Other lawyers pointed out that the prosecutor violated legal procedures in handling the case, including arbitrarily changing the charge against the practitioners from “picking a quarrel and provoking trouble” to “undermining law enforcement,” with no proper police investigation. When the lawyers went to review the practitioners’ case documents, the prosecutor made certain they couldn’t.
Another lawyer added that the judge failed to inform the practitioners of the hearing ahead of time, as required by law.
The prosecutor, Zhang Li, recommended heavy terms for the practitioners even though she was unable to say what law the practitioners had violated or how they’d “undermined law enforcement.” When she kept slandering Falun Gong, the practitioners called her out and clarified the facts. She responded by saying, “How dare you promote Falun Gong in court?”
The practitioners were brought into the courtroom one by one. They all wore protective gear with goggles and masks, so the lawyers could recognize them based on their voices. One practitioner said that, before she left the detention center, people in her cell told her that non-Falun Gong practitioner defendants were not required to wear all that protective gear. When she asked the judge why only practitioners had to wear it, she got no answer.
Because the protective gear was “single use,” the judge used it as an excuse to prevent the practitioners from using the restroom and told them to “hold it.” He also kept them from drinking water using the same excuse.
When the lawyers repeatedly protested, the presiding judge said he had to ask for instructions from his superiors. Moments later, he announced that the hearing would be adjourned for 30 minutes so the practitioners could use the restroom. After the practitioners changed their protective gear, the judge finally allowed them a sip of water, also after the lawyers’ strong protests.