BEIJING —The widow of a well-known musician and Falun Gong adherent who died from abuse in police custody in China last February has been sentenced to three years in prison.
Xu Na's sentence was passed down on November 25 in Beijing, coincidentally on the International Day of the Elimination of Violence Against Women. During an earlier five-year detention for her faith, she was repeatedly beaten, tortured and force-fed.
Ms. Xu, an award-winning artist, was charged with “using a heretical organization to undermine implementation of the law,” a vague provision of the penal code commonly used to sentence Falun Gong adherents to prison terms of up to 12 years.
Ms. Xu and her husband Yu Zhou, a popular folk-band member, were arrested in January as part of a “pre-Olympics sweep” by Chinese authorities in which thousands of Falun Gong practitioners and others were arrested in the months leading up to the 2008 Games in August. Yu Zhou was dead 11 days after his arrest.
Cheng Hai, Xu Na's lawyer, did not appear at the sentencing, which reportedly lasted only 15 minutes. Chinese lawyers that take on Falun Gong cases face enormous pressure from the regime. Many have been fired from their law firms, and in some cases, notably that of Nobel Prize nominee Gao Zhisheng, their law practices have been closed and they have been put into detention and tortured.
In a short interview, Mr. Cheng said that according to Chinese law, the practice of Falun Gong “should have legal standing” but under the regime, Chinese courts treat practitioners as criminals. Ms. Xu intends to appeal the ruling, he said.
The sentence comes on the heels of a UN committee's recent criticism of China's failure to address allegations of torture in police custody, detention centres, labour camps and other institutions.
The Committee Against Torture had queried the Chinese delegation specifically on issues surrounding the persecution f Falun Gong and allegations of the harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners' organs for profit. However, Chinese officials failed to respond to the 11 pages of questions raised by the committee.
In 2001, Xu Na was sentenced to five years in prison, during which time she was frequently beaten, deprived of sleep, and exposed to freezing temperatures. In the so-called "small cell” torture method, she was forced to sit in the cross-legged position for long periods with her body tied tightly. She was also force-fed by guards and held in solitary confinement. Then, she was sentenced because she had made her home a safe haven for Falun Gong practitioners.
Fearing its rapid growth throughout the 1990s, the Chinese regime outlawed Falun Gong, a traditional meditation practice and spritual discipline, in 1999. Since then, tens of thousands of its adherents have been imprisoned and over 3,000 tortured to death.