Sixteen Jilin Residents Tried for Their Faith, Lawyers Barred From Representing Them in Court
(Minghui.org) Sixteen residents of Changchun City, Jilin Province were tried by the Lishu County Court on September 28, 2020 for their faith in Falun Gong. The judge barred their lawyers and family members from defending them in court, and frequently interrupted the practitioners as they testified in their own defense. Two of the practitioners’ family members were removed from the courtroom midway through the trial.
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is an ancient spiritual and meditation discipline that has been persecuted by the Chinese communist regime since 1999.
The sixteen practitioners were arrested by over 100 officers in a police sweep on August 15, 2019. Another eighteen practitioners were arrested on the same day but released shortly after.
Among the group of sixteen practitioners, Mr. Li Changkun, 76, and Ms. Zhou Liping, 62, were later released on bail. The other fourteen practitioners remained detained at Siping City Detention Center.
The fourteen practitioners included Mr. Hou Hongqing, 49; Mr. Han Jianping, 58; Mr. Jiang Tao, 46; Mr. Tan Qiucheng, 44; Ms. Zhang Shaoping, 51; Ms. Cui Guixian, 56; Ms. Liu Dongying (who is the mother of Ms. Cui’s son-in-law), 55; and seven members from one extended family (Mr. Meng Xiangqi, 37, his father Mr. Meng Fanjun, 59, his mother-in-law Ms. Fu Guihua, 55, his sister-in-law Ms. Yu Jianli, 30, her husband Mr. Wang Dongli, 40, and Mr. Wang's parents Mr. Wang Kemin, 69, and Ms. Wang Fengzhi, 69).
The practitioners were later indicted on the charges of “undermining law enforcement with a cult organization,” a standard pretext used by the Chinese courts to frame and imprison the practitioners.
Mr. Han Jianping’s family and his lawyer went to the detention center to visit him in early December 2019, only to be blocked outside. The security guard said that the Domestic Security Office had issued a special order requiring that lawyers register and obtain approval to represent Falun Gong practitioners from their local and Siping city (a subordinate of Changchun) justice bureaus and bar associations. The lawyers would also need to obtain permission from Wang Mingshan, head of the Lishu Domestic Security Office, before being allowed to visit their Falun Gong practitioner-clients. Officers from the Domestic Security Office must also be present at the lawyer-client meeting.
Unable to meet all the requirements that day, Mr. Han’s lawyer and family left.
Lawyers’ Power of Attorney Rejected
While Mr. Han’s lawyer later successfully registered with and obtained approval from his local and the Siping city justice bureaus and bar associations, other practitioners’ lawyers were not so fortunate. Their local justice bureaus refused to issue such illegal approval requests because no law mandates their involvement in lawyers’ legal representation of their clients.
While the lawyers raised concerns to judge Cui Ren about the unreasonable requests regarding their legal representation, the judge said, “It’s the Political and Legal Affairs Committee [an extra-judiciary agency tasked with overseeing the persecution] that makes the call.” He also said, “If you think I have violated the law, feel free to file a complaint against me anywhere you want.” Cui accused one of the lawyers of harassing him, when the lawyer called him.
Several lawyers filed complaints against judge Cui with the Lishu County Procuratorate, but to no avail.
When the practitioners’ family members also applied to represent them, Cui initially rejected them, but later asked them to register at the local justice bureau and obtain permission from the Political and Legal Affairs Committee. But when the practitioners’ families went to the justice bureau, they were told that since they weren’t professional lawyers, they didn’t need to file anything with them in order to represent their loved ones in court.
Although the practitioners’ families shared the justice bureau’s response with judge Cui, he insisted on having them register with the justice bureau.
The practitioners’ families also filed a complaint against judge Cui with the Lishu County Procuratorate. Prosecutor Zhu, who answered the phone call, said he had communicated with the judge and agreed with the judge to require them to register at the justice bureau. When the practitioners’ families said the justice bureau had told them that they didn’t need to do so, prosecutor Zhu hung up and said he had already responded to their complaint when they called him again later on.
The practitioners’ families then filed complaints against the judge with a higher-level Procuratorate, only to be told that they weren’t qualified to do so. If the judge had indeed neglected his duty, it should be his supervisor who reported the incident to the higher-ups instead.
On September 24, four days before the practitioners’ hearing, Mr. Han’s lawyer, the only one who had successfully finished all the required registrations, received a call from the Lishu County Court asking him to come review his client's case document.
On September 27, one day before the hearing, Mr. Han’s lawyer submitted his defense opinion as requested by the court.
On September 28, the day of the hearing, Mr. Han's lawyer received a call from the court, while he was still on the train to Siping, and was told that the authorities had decided the day before to suspend his qualification to represent Mr. Han after they found the lawyer had written “inappropriate comments [about the Chinese communist regime] in 2014.”
After the train arrived in Siping, seven officials from the Siping City justice bureau restrained the lawyer. They showed him the formal letter to rescind his representation, but without providing a hardcopy or allowing him to take a photo. The officials bought a return ticket for the lawyer and escorted him back to Shenyang, where he works. They made sure he got off the train in Shenyang, before heading back to Siping.
Also on September 28, another three practitioners’ lawyers, who didn’t finish the required registrations, nonetheless came to Siping on the court day. They were followed and monitored by officers who stayed in cars without license plates outside of their hotels.
Meanwhile, these lawyers also received calls from officials in Siping and asked to withdraw their representations. The authorities in Siping also pressured the lawyers’ own local justice bureaus to stop and silence them. The lawyers were forced to withdraw from the cases on their way to the court.
Families Blocked from Attending the Hearing
Police cars parked outside of the courthouse and blocked the traffic at around 8:00 a.m. on September 28, and several officers were patrolling the area on motorcycles. The police checked the IDs of every passerby. For each of the practitioners’ family members, the police brought them to a corner near the courthouse, photographed them, and confirmed their identities and family relationships through the police database.
When one family member took a photo of the hearing notice outside the courthouse, an officer came over, deleted the photo from the phone, and tore off the notice.
Judge Cui originally said that up to two persons from each practitioner’s family could attend the hearing, but later restricted the attendance to one person per family. The court further blocked several practitioners’ families from attending the hearing, with the excuse that they didn’t register beforehand. But the family members said that they had contacted the court prior to the hearing, and were told that they could attend as long as they had their IDs and a document showing their family relationship with the practitioners.
Those who were allowed to attend the hearing underwent very strict security checks. One bailiff said that the authorities took the case very seriously, and they didn’t dare to make any mistakes.
Upon entering the courtroom, each of the practitioners’ family members was brought to a previously assigned seat, surrounded by police. When Wang Mingshan, head of the Lishu Domestic Security Office, was recognized by one practitioner’s family member, he quickly left the courtroom.
Practitioners’ Own Defense Interrupted
While it was judge Cui who handled the practitioners’ cases before the hearing, Li Nan was assigned to preside over the hearing without the knowledge of the practitioners, their lawyers, or families. The practitioners’ families had contacted judge Li before, but she insisted that she wasn’t in charge and directed them to judge Cui.
All sixteen practitioners were wearing protective gear and were handcuffed and shackled. They demanded to have their own lawyers represent them in court and enter not-guilty pleas for them. Judge Li recessed the hearing for ten minutes and then resumed.
Prosecutor Wang Zhe read each of the practitioner’s indictments, all of which were identical, except for the numbers of pieces of evidence against them, including Falun Gong materials or files they had, and the articles they submitted to the Minghui.org website about their past persecution. Several practitioners asked the prosecutor to play in court the video files or read the materials confiscated from them but were denied.
A few practitioners said they had never published any articles on Minghui.org. Prosecutor Wang said that he had documents from the Internet police in Siping, but did not show them.
Judge Li frequently interrupted each practitioner’s self-defense statement. She didn’t allow the practitioners to argue about the lack of legal basis of the charges against them or ask her or the prosecutor questions about the evidence or charges. She attempted to have the practitioners turn in their defense scripts, instead of reading them in court.
Ms. Fu Guihua said that many of her ailments disappeared after practicing Falun Gong, and she let go of resentment and became more considerate. Mr. Han said that practicing Falun Gong cured his leg injuries. Mr. Jiang Tao said he had benefitted both physically and spiritually from practicing Falun Gong. Mr. Hou Hongqing said that Falun Dafa is good. And Ms. Zhang Shaoping said that the practitioners’ perseverance in raising awareness about the persecution during the past 21 years wasn’t just for themselves, but to prevent the perpetrators from continuing to commit crimes against law-abiding practitioners.
Ms. Cui Guixian’s daughter, Ms. Qi Hongli, protested in court and demanded to have the practitioners’ lawyers defend them. Mr. Han Jianping’s daughter, Ms. Han Xue, said that the police listed her as a witness against her father, but they never asked her any questions and that the charges were all false. Both of them were removed from the courtroom.
The hearing lasted from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. The judge adjourned it without announcing the verdicts.