SINGAPORE — In an act of civil disobedience in a Singapore courtroom Monday morning, six adherents of the Falun Gong spiritual movement protested the secrecy in which their trial was being held. The judge found the practitioners guilty of contempt of court, and sentenced the practitioners to two days in prison without possibility of bail or visitation. In a surprising move, the practitioners were released after one night in prison.
The Falun Gong adherents—or practitioners, as they often call themselves—were on trial for events that occurred over two years ago. They had been arrested Nov. 23, 2005 along Orchard Road in Singapore for distributing fliers telling about the persecution of Falun Gong in China and were charged with "assembling without a permit."
At issue in their dispute with the judge on Monday morning was the size of the courtroom. Their trial had been scheduled to be held in courtroom No. 35, which is the smallest courtroom in the Subordinate Court, having only eight chairs inside it.
The presiding judge refused to bring additional chairs into the court, as had been done in a previous hearing, and refused to move the trial to another courtroom. As a result, no family members, media or supporters were allowed access to the courtroom, leading to the practitioners' protest.
Outside the Courtroom
At 9:30 a.m., after the six defendants had entered the courtroom, their family members and the media outside who requested to observe the proceedings were refused admittance. Police explained that the room had only eight chairs and all seats were occupied. According to seasoned court observers, for a Singapore court holding an open trial to deny observation by family members and media is very rare.
About 40 minutes later, the police instructed the supporters outside the courtroom to retreat, claiming that the judge had decided to detain all six defendants. When the police escorted the six defendants in handcuffs out of the courtroom, the scene was tense. Many of the supporters cried while some kept shouting, "Falun Dafa is good!"
When asked why the practitioners were taken away, the police replied, "They did not cooperate."
A family member of defendant Dr. Wang Yuyi asked to meet her before she was taken away, but his request was rejected, as had been his repeated requests to observe the trial. When he asked for an explanation, the police told him, "It is the judge's instruction."
At 2:30 p.m., the court resumed the trial, but until the end of the trial session at around 4:30 p.m, none of the accused Falun Gong practitioners could be seen. It was later learned that they had been led into the courtroom by another passage.
Inside the Courtroom
Dr. Wang, in a telephone interview, explained what happened inside the courtroom.
Dr. Wang said the defendants were forced to represent themselves because they had not been able to find a lawyer in Singapore who would do so. According to Dr. Wang, before the trial commenced, the defendants, representing themselves, had written to the pre-trial conference judge on Jan. 5 requesting a bigger courtroom so that observers could witness the proceedings.
The judge turned down their request.
Before the trial started this morning, Dr. Wang says the defendants again raised their request for a larger courtroom, and the judge again refused.
Dr. Wang then asked if the trial could be postponed, and the judge replied that the trial had to take place that day.
Dr. Wang then asked if the judge could order that six extra chairs be brought into the sides of the courtroom. She pointed out that she had seen the same arrangement had been made in this courtroom for other trials, and said that if the judge granted this request the trial could take place that day.
The judge also refused this request, and asked the defendants if they wanted to meet privately for ten minutes to discuss the situation.
The six immediately answered that they did not need ten minutes, and one of the practitioners said to the judge, "We don't need ten minutes. But you need the time to ask for instructions."
The judge then ordered the prosecutor to call his first witness, who was the police officer who had videotaped the events on Oct. 23, 2005.
In response, the practitioners turned their backs on the judge, boycotting the trial.
According to Dr. Wang, a few moments into the police officer's testimony, the practitioners began loudly reciting "Lunyu"—the preface to Zhuan Falun, Falun Gong's main book of teachings.
The judge, the prosecutor, and the police all shouted "Stop!" but the practitioners continued their recitation.
The judge and the prosecutor then left the courtroom, and the police handcuffed the defendants and took them to the temporary holding cell in the courthouse.
In the afternoon the judge asked the defendants if they would apologize.
According to Dr. Wang, she then said, "You need to apologize to us for what you did. You know the law well while violating the law."
After a discussion in which all the defendants took part, the judge said that if they would not apologize, they would be found in contempt of court.
The defendants refused to apologize and then the judge asked if they wanted to claim any mitigation for their actions. According to Dr. Wang, the defendants replied that they had not done anything wrong, and that it was the judge who should apologize.
The judge then sentenced the six to two days in prison, with no bail or visitation allowed.
After one night in prison, the Singapore officials, in an apparent move to save face, claimed that the practitioners had already served two days (Monday night and Tuesday morning) and released them. Family members of the defendants believe that the Singapore government reversed itself due to intense international pressure.
Unfair Judicial System
Falun Gong practitioners in Singapore believe they have been unfairly targeted by the Singapore police, and received unfair treatment in the judicial system.
One aspect of that mistreatment has been Singapore's denial of counsel to Falun Gong practitioners.
In a trial in 2004 on charges of having distributed VCDs without a permit, Falun Gong practitioners were defended by Mr. Dodwell. After that trial, the court demanded Mr. Dodwell apologize for his behavior in that case. The lawyer concluded that if he continued defending the practitioners, he would lose his license, and regretfully declined to offer his services further.
In late November, two Falun Gong practitioners were sentenced, one for ten days and the other for 15 days, for having meditated opposite the Chinese Embassy in Singapore beneath a banner that called for an end to the persecution of Falun Gong.
During that trial the practitioners' defense lawyer, Mr. Ravi, was admitted to a hospital. The court claimed there was not sufficient evidence that he was too sick to defend the practitioners, rejecting a statement from the hospital to that effect. The practitioners were given one day to find a new lawyer.
Later Mr. Ravi's license was suspended. In fact, Mr. Ravi was the only lawyer in Singapore who was willing to defend the Falun Gong practitioners.
Ms. Theresa Chu, the Director of the legal watchdog organization Human Rights Law Foundation, traveled to Singapore at the time of the hearing on Mr. Ravi's medical condition to try to help ensure that a fair trial was given.
As The Epoch Times reported in September 2006, Ms. Chu raised serious concerns about Singapore's judicial system following the hearing.
"[The court] wants to force the accused practitioners, who have no legal expertise, to defend themselves. They are given only one day to find a new lawyer, which is definitely unfair and unreasonable," she said. "I have many doubts about the fairness [of the trial]" she concluded, saying that even in Hong Kong Falun Gong has more freedom than in Singapore.
Monday's trial for "assembly without permit" will resume on Wednesday morning. The defendants have all told their family members that if their requests that media and family members be allowed to attend should not be granted, they will continue boycotting the trial.
Additional reporting by Stephen Gregory