Chinese Court Bars Defense Team From Falun Gong Trial


2013-10-18
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china-falungong-july2013.gif Falun Gong members prepare for a pro-democracy rally in Hong Kong, July 1, 2013.
AFP

Authorities in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan on Friday put on trial seven members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement with no legal representation, after their lawyers were prevented from entering the courtroom.

Wang Hongxia, Ye Jianguo, Du Zhongxuan, Wang Ying and three other unnamed practitioners of the Buddhist-inspired meditation practice designated an "evil cult" by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, all in their sixties and seventies, were detained in 2011 and 2012.

They have been held at an unofficial detention facility formerly titled the Erehu Legal Education Center, but known colloquially as the Erehu "brainwashing class," since, their lawyers said on Friday.

The defense legal team was denied access to the courtroom after they refused to be searched or to have their belongings examined.

Police threw a security cordon several layers deep around the Jianyang People's Court near Sichuan's Ziyang city, lawyers said.

"The first obstacle was checking our ID against their information from the court, and we passed through," Liang Xiaojun, lawyer for defendant Wang Hongxia, said on Friday.

"After that, they wanted us to submit to a security check; not a scanning machine that you just walk through, but they wanted us to open our bags and put every item through one by one, then they wanted to perform...a body search," he said.

"We refused. According to court rules, lawyers shouldn't be searched."

He said the trial had gone ahead without them. "After we had argued with them for a long time about this, they just ignored us, and the trial began," Liang said.

"There were eight lawyers, and not one went into court."

Protest

He said the defense team would lodge an official protest against the decision to proceed with the trial in their absence, depriving their clients of their right to legal representation.

"My client protested, but the court took no notice," Liang said.

He said the seven defendants were charged with "creating broadcasts," although there was no direct evidence linking Wang to such activities.

"[According to the charge sheet], she was the local representative for Sichuan, so this act was planned and directed by her."

"They have been held over the [legal] limit [before being charged]," Liang added.

Zheng Jianwei, a lawyer for another defendant, said the demands placed on the defense team were in violation of regulations set down by China's Supreme People's Court.

"[The] rules state that neither prosecutors nor lawyers may be security or body-searched on entering the courtroom," Zheng said. "But they insisted on it, and even got someone from the Jianyang justice department to come and talk to us."

"Then, some of the relatives who were in the spectators' gallery came out and said the trial had started, but they wouldn't let them back into the court after that," he said.

Liang said city authorities had mobilized a large number of citizen security volunteers, identified by their red armbands, as well as a strong police presence around the court building.

He said "a large number" of people were being held at the Erehu center when he had visited Wang there last May.

"Later it changed its name to the Ziyang Municipal Legal Education Center, and only later did it become an official detention center,"
Liang said.

Attacks

On May 13, Liang was among a group of rights lawyers detained and beaten by authorities when they tried to visit the center.

The attacks were carried out by security guards employed at the center, which was specially set up to hold Falun Gong members, reports said at the time.

Last June, authorities in the northeastern province of Liaoning barred a team of defense attorneys from attending the trial of 13 members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.

China banned the Falun Gong, which claims tens of millions of followers in China and abroad, in July 1999, after the group staged a massive silent protest outside the main leadership compound in Beijing.

The official Chinese media have consistently portrayed Falun Gong as a fringe, fanatical sect, often referring to it as an "evil cult."

Human rights groups estimate that hundreds of Falun Gong followers have been jailed and tens of thousands sent to labor camps without trial since then.

Risk

Out of more than 204,000 lawyers in China, only a few hundred risk taking on cases that deal with human rights, particularly when linked to the rights of Falun Gong followers, according to Amnesty International.

China has launched a clampdown in recent years on its embattled legal profession, with many civil rights law firms struggling to renew their licenses.

Rights groups say there is little purpose to the annual licensing scheme for lawyers and law firms, besides the exertion of state control over the legal profession.

New rules introduced in the past two years ban lawyers from defending certain clients, and leave them vulnerable to being charged themselves with subversion if they defend sensitive cases.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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