(Minghui.org) Four Luzhou City, Sichuan Province residents’ appeals against wrongful sentences for their faith in Falun Gong were rejected on November 25, 2021. 

Ms. Deng Wanying was sentenced to nine years in prison with a 50,000-yuan fine. Ms. Lei Huanying was given five years with a 20,000-yuan fine. Ms. Luo Taihui was sentenced to three and a half years with a 10,000-yuan fine. Ms. Gou Zhengqiong received three years with a 5,000-yuan fine.

Ms. Gou was arrested on August 2, 2019, and the other three practitioners, all store owners, were arrested on August 21, 2019. The police withheld Ms. Luo’s ID and medical insurance card, as well as Ms. Lei’s ID, driver’s license, and a bank deposit card with tens of thousands of yuan on the account. The police never provided any explanation for withholding these important items nor did they give the practitioners any documents of the confiscation.

The four practitioners appeared in the Lu County Court on July 13 and September 15, 2020, and again on February 2, 2021. Their families weren’t allowed to attend the first two hearings and the judge didn’t give the practitioners three days advance notice of the third hearing, as required by law.

The practitioners’ lawyers pointed out in the first hearing several violations made by the police in handling the cases, including their ransacking of the practitioners’ homes without being in police uniform, failure to have at least two officers taking part in the home-raid as required by law, as well as their failure to show their IDs and search warrant, or provide lists of confiscated items afterward.

Among the over 40 witnesses listed by the police, none of them appeared in court to accept cross-examination or articulated in their written testimonies what the practitioners have done specifically. The photos and video clips used as prosecution evidence also failed to show what the practitioners were doing in the alleged “criminal activities.” The lawyers urged the prosecutor to exhibit the actual Falun Gong books or booklets distributed by the practitioners in court, to determine whether their content violated the law, instead of just showing a few photos of the book covers.

During the second hearing, the prosecutor updated the indictment and added a few more copies of the materials allegedly to have been distributed by the practitioners. He also played a new video clip of the practitioners recorded by the surveillance camera. But the lawyers still argued that the video failed to show what illegal activities their clients were doing. They also pointed out that the materials didn’t appear to bear any harmful information for the public either.

The lawyers repeated their defense argument that the persecution against Falun Gong has no legal basis and that none of the evidence presented in court could demonstrate what law their clients had violated or what damage they had caused to others or to society in general.

For the third hearing, the court for the first time allowed the practitioners’ family members, who hadn’t seen their loved ones for one and a half years, to attend. Ms. Luo’s husband and son, however, were barred from attending the session, after they were deceived by the police into answering questions about other practitioners and then listed as prosecution witnesses without their knowledge. 

The judge and prosecutor repeated the procedure of the previous two hearings and didn’t present any new “evidence.” The four practitioners maintained that they didn’t do anything wrong in practicing their faith. Two of their lawyers demanded their acquittal, but the judge responded that there was no way for him to do that.

Additionally, a juror was changed from Zeng Xinggui (who attended the previous two hearings) to Qiao Tiancai, who later participated in sentencing the practitioners as a member of the collegiate bench. The practitioners’ lawyers argued that the judge didn’t provide any reason for removing Zeng from the collegiate bench, which rendered the trial invalid.

After the judge sentenced the practitioners on July 21, 2021, their families hired new lawyers to appeal the verdicts with the Luzhou City Intermediate Court. 

The new lawyers argued that the first instance court failed to provide sufficient evidence to support the sentencing and cited the wrong law, namely, Article 300 of the criminal law, in their decision making. More specifically, Article 300 states that those who use a cult organization to undermine law enforcement should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. However, the prosecutor failed to specify which cult was utilized by the practitioners to undermine law enforcement. The lawyers also emphasized that no law has ever criminalized Falun Gong in China and that it’s their clients’ freedom of belief and expression to practice Falun Gong and spread information about it.

The lawyers added that the police never provided a full list of items confiscated from the practitioners, until one week before the judge sentenced them. Yet the confiscation documents were never presented in court for cross examination, which rendered them illegal evidence and inadmissible in determining the practitioners’ verdicts. The trial court judge, however, ignored the police’s violation of legal procedures.

The lawyers also noticed that the numbers and description of the banners allegedly to have been put up by the practitioners, as well as the color of the words on them were not the same as the photos presented by the police. They again questioned whether the police fabricated evidence against their clients.

Upon receiving the practitioners’ appeals, the intermediate court decided not to have a hearing of their case, citing the pandemic. The lawyers submitted their defense statements and still applied for the court to hear the case, but were rejected. The judge ruled to uphold the practitioners’ original verdicts on November 25, 2021. 

The judge of the higher court said in the ruling, “The original verdicts were made based on clear facts and sufficient evidence. The trial procedure fully follows the law, with correct application of the law and appropriate length of the prison sentences. The Luzhou City Procuratorate presented a correct legal opinion. As such, the appeals were rejected.”

Related reports:

Four Sichuan Residents Sentenced to Prison After Two Years of Detention

Four Sichuan Residents Tried for Their Faith

Three Store Owners in Sichuan Province Arrested for Their Faith