A legal case brought by Chinese authorities in a northeastern city ended abruptly on Aug. 2 after the judge refused to allow one of the defense lawyers to present evidence in court. The lawyer was then beaten by bailiffs and detained in a room in the court building.
The farcical end to the trial—as defense lawyer Cheng Hai sought permission to show the judge a video on a computer, and the judge shouted him down, before the lawyer was removed from the room and bailed up—marked yet another awkward moment for judicial authorities in trying to bring a case against 13 practitioners of Falun Gong that their defense lawyers say is absurd and without the slightest legal merit. Falun Gong is a traditional spiritual practice that has been persecuted by the Chinese authorities for 14 years.
The lawyers have been aggressively defending the practitioners for months now, and the case appears to have become bothersome for local Communist Party security officials and the procuratorate. Nearly 300 police had been deployed around the court by the time the hearing began at 9 a.m.
“They don’t allow us lawyers to speak,” said Chen Jiangang, one of the 11 defense attorneys involved in the trial. “They also threatened our safety with violence. We had no choice, we could only run out of the court. This is already the second time they’ve done this.”
In this particular instance, Cheng Hai was attempting to use a video on his computer to make a legal point that beared closely on the argument being used by prosecutors.
The authorities have charged that the 13 defendants “used a heretical religious organization to undermine the implementation of the law,” a highly disputed charge in the criminal code that is regularly used to punish Falun Gong practitioners using the legal system.
Specifically, the practitioners had installed satellite dishes for customers to watch New Tang Dynasty Television, a primarily Chinese-language broadcast network describes itself on its website as “the first Chinese TV station to report in depth on the Chinese regime’s persecution of the Falun Gong spiritual group.”
Cheng Hai was attempting to show that NTD could also be watched on a computer, and that installing satellite receivers to pick up the signal was not a crime.
“I debated with the judge, and asked him to reply to my request of appraisal. But he ignored it and warned me. I told him that judging without appraisal is contempt of court, and that I’m going to file a complaint. After I stepped out of the court, three bailiffs started to beat me, clenching my neck and my arms, and then detained me in a room,” Cheng said in an interview with Sound of Hope radio, a Chinese radio broadcaster that has been following the case closely.
Liang Xiaojun, another of the lawyers, said in an interview with Epoch Times: “First of all, watching NTD Television is a citizen’s right, it is the right to free information. When you look at this matter [of installing satellite dishes] and this criminal charge of ‘using a heretical religious organization to undermine the implementation of law,’ they are completely unrelated things.”
Liang added that installing a satellite dish wasn’t a crime anyway. “The reason they were charged is because they practice Falun Gong, so they suppress them. The case itself doesn’t constitute a crime at all.”
The reports of violence in the courthouse angered many Chinese. Remarks of “shocking!” “lawless,” and “the shame of Chinese judicial system” appeared on Weibo. The well-known poet and scholar Ye Kuangzheng wrote on his Weibo the words: “Reign of terror.” Lawyer Mao Hongwei from Guangzhou remarked that if violence expands to lawyers in court, there’s no safe place in the country.
The case against the 13 Falun Gong practitioners in Dalian began on July 6, 2012, when city security personnel arrested 79 adherents that had installed NTD receivers in the city. Around a dozen practitioners were sent to forced labor camps, 28 were detained, and 13 were accused of being “technicians” and given the current charges. Two people, a Falun Gong practitioner and a family member, have died.
The first hearing was scheduled for April 12, 2013, but the court postponed it without notifying the defense lawyers until 12 hours beforehand.
The next hearing took place on June 21, 2013. It lasted for 12 hours, until lawyers protested that the health of three of the clients was too poor to continue. The court adjourned with no result.
On July 3 this year, defense lawyers received notification that another hearing was to take place — but the court had not given adequate lead time, and the lawyers told the court on the same day that they would refuse to attend the hearing because of its violation of protocol. The hearing was again postponed.
Jiang Tianyong, another civil rights lawyer who has defended Falun Gong practitioners, said that people all over China regularly install satellite dishes. “Why are they so strict in this case?” he asked. “It’s in fact a persecution of a faith group. It’s totally illegal.”
With reporting by Rona Rui.