Despite receiving another eight-year prison sentence in China for his spiritual belief, the father of a Toronto man calmly reaffirmed his faith after what his Canadian son called a show trial.
Li Xiaobo was a county mayor and later a successful businessman before the Chinese Communist Party launched its persecution against Falun Gong in 1999 and wreaked havoc on the lives of tens of millions of adherents and their families.
Li, who began practicing Falun Gong in the 1990s, was first sentenced to an eight-year prison term in 2005 for writing articles to speak out against the persecution of the spiritual practice, also called Falun Dafa.
During that time, Li Xiaobo suffered severe physical and mental abuse at the hands of authorities, resulting in permanent injury and the eventual loss of sight in his left eye.
Li was again arrested last spring, and on April 21, 2015, was sentenced to another eight years in prison.
This was despite his son’s tireless rescue efforts in Canada and calls for his release sent by several Canadian MPs to the Chinese ambassador to Canada, Luo Zhaohui.
While Li Xiaobo calmly stated that “I am determined in my faith” at the close of the trial, his son Paul Li is worried how he will cope with such a harsh sentence and the brutal treatment he’s likely to receive in jail.
“My father is now 60 years old, and he has already been through eight years of torture, leaving him blind in one eye and physically weak.
“His moral courage is an inspiration to me, but I worry every day whether or not I will ever see him again,” said Li, a Canadian citizen living in Toronto.
Canadian Official Refused Entry to Public Trial
Li recalled that in 2005 his father was sentenced to eight years in prison at a trial that lasted less than 30 minutes, during which local authorities in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, disallowed any family members or defence lawyers to be present.
Li, who this time hired two lawyers in China to defend his father, said his father did not receive a fair trial.
It began with an official from the Canadian consulate in nearby Chongqing being disallowed from observing the proceedings at the Longquanyi court in Chengdu.
As it was a public trial, one of the two defence lawyers asked judge Jin Xueqiang why the Canadian official’s presence was rejected. The only explanation the judge gave was, “We have rules here,” the lawyer told the younger Li on the phone recounting the trial process.
When the lawyer asked what those rules were, the judge told him to stop asking about the issue.
‘Simply a Falun Gong show trial’
Li also learned that the lawyer and his father were constantly interrupted during their testimony by the judge, who called five recesses during the proceedings over the course of a day.
Paul Li and his father had both been arrested in April 2014 for distributing brochures about Falun Gong in Chengdu’s Longquanyi district. The younger Li was expelled to Canada after four days in detention, while his father was detained for over a year before the April 21 trial last month.
Li said the lawyer made the point at the trial that, according to the Chinese constitution, Chinese citizens have the freedom of religious belief and giving out information materials about one’s faith is not a crime.
The lawyer also noted that Falun Gong was a peaceful practice that improves people’s health and moral standards and caused no harm to society.
Despite the defence, the guilty verdict came less than an hour after the end of the trial.
“My father’s lawyer was certain that the verdict was already made before the trial, and this was simply a show trial,” Li said.
Affirming his Faith
Upon hearing the verdict, Li said his father stated calmly, as reported by the lawyer: “I had a very prosperous political career. I could have obtained a very high rank in the government.
“I know the [Chinese Communist Party] system well. If I had taken the path as you all, my life would have been completely different, but this is not important to me, as I have obtained what is best for my life.
“Even if you give me a death sentence, I am determined in my faith and to clarify the truth of Falun Gong.”
Continuing Rescue Efforts in Canada
The younger Li said his lawyers had their requests to access the case file denied several times by the Longquanyi court since last November. It was not until March that they were informed they could review the file.
In addition, one of the lawyers was held for questioning by police for an hour in November after visiting Li Xiaobo at the Longquanyi detention centre.
Paul Li recalled his own experience while detained at the same detention centre in April 2014, where he asked the guards several times that he wished to speak with the Canadian embassy.
“I was told by a woman from the Entry-Exit administration that ‘You have no rights to make contact with them because you are in China,'” he said.
Li is grateful that between January and March this year several members of Parliament sent letters to the Chinese embassy in Ottawa requesting the release of his father and other Falun Gong prisoners of conscience. However, they received no response.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Rob Nicholson responded to Li by email that the issues of human rights and religious freedom, including for Falun Gong practitioners, were discussed with high-level Chinese officials when Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited China in November 2014.
Paul Li said he will continue his efforts to help his father from Canada, and an appeal is being filed with the Chinese court.
Tip of the Iceberg
This was the second time last month that a family member of a Canadian citizen was given a prison term in China for peaceful efforts to resist the persecution of Falun Gong. Chen Yinghua, whose parents live in Calgary, was sentenced to four years in prison on April 10.
In the years since the Chinese regime launched its large-scale persecution in July 1999, hundreds of thousands have been imprisoned and tortured for their beliefs. Millions have lost jobs, homes, and loved ones. Over 3,800 have died as a result of torture and abuse in custody—and that’s thought to be just the tip of the iceberg.
The forced organ harvesting of Falun Gong prisoners of conscience has resulted in at least 65,000 deaths, according to “The Slaughter: Mass Killings, Organ Harvesting, and China’s Secret Solution to its Dissident Problem,” released last year by U.K.-based writer and investigative journalist Ethan Gutmann.