(Minghui.org) A married couple in Changsha City, Hunan Province were sentenced to prison on December 24, 2021, for practicing Falun Gong.
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a spiritual discipline that has been persecuted by the Chinese communist regime since 1999.
The trial at Liuyang City Court started at 9 a.m. and lasted 14 hours until 11 p.m. Three of the couple’s family members attended the hearing. In the large courtroom with nearly 100 seats, the practitioners’ families were only allowed to sit after the tenth row, while being surrounded by plainclothes officers.
Three lawyers entered a not guilty plea for Mr. Cao Zhifang and Ms. Yang Fang. The lawyers argued that no law ever criminalizes Falun Gong in China. They also pointed out the various violations of legal procedures by the police in handling the couple’s case.
The couple testified in their own defense. They maintained that they didn’t do anything wrong or cause harm to anyone by practicing Falun Gong.
The lawyers questioned the prosecutor why he suddenly changed the case description in the couple’s indictment a few days before the trial, from a light charge to a heavy charge. The prosecutor was unable to answer and said it was the court that ordered them to do so. The lawyers then asked the judge for the reason. The judge remained silent.
The lawyers also revealed that during a pre-trial meeting the day before, the judge had asked them to persuade the couple to plead guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence of fewer than three years, or they would face a heavier term. The lawyers refused to comply.
The judge sentenced both of the couple to three years and four months at the end of the trial.
The couple was arrested on October 27, 2020, while studying Falun Gong books at another practitioner Mr. Li Zhigang’s home. A total of 23 local Falun Gong practitioners were arrested the same day. The police confiscated the practitioners’ Falun Gong books, computers, and printers. They revealed that they had been monitoring the practitioners’ phone calls and online activities for a long time and they were following orders from above to arrest them.
Different from past group arrests, the prosecutor submitted the practitioners’ cases to the court separately, instead of a joint case. A person familiar with the cases revealed to some practitioners’ families that the court hearings were only a formality and some of their prison terms have already been determined by the local Political and Legal Affairs Committee, an extrajudicial agency tasked with overseeing the persecution.
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