Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Chapter 3: Taken to Trial

CHAPTER 3: Taken to Trial

On November 2nd, the Linfen Court notified family members of Yang Rongli, Wang Xiaoguang, Yang Xuan, Cui Jiaxing and Zhang Huamei that their trial would be held on November 25th. The rapid turnaround left the families in desperate need of legal aid. With communication efforts by ChinaAid’s Legal Defense Team in Beijing, five Christian human rights lawyers, including two traveling abroad, heard their cry and immediately accepted the challenge of the case. Attorneys Wang Hongjie and Yang Peng took the lead for the case, attempting to visit their clients, Yang Rongli and Wang Xiaoguang in detention. Attorney Wang Hongjie was not allowed to visit Yang Rongli, though the nine other lawyers were eventually able to meet with their clients, after much hassle from the Chinese detention center officials and the Linfen court. Attorney Wang, in fact, would meet with his client Yang Rongli only once—12 hours before her trial began.

With the trial fast approaching, the family members made preparations to attend the hearing, but were informed they could not attend without visitation permits. Only the lawyers could obtain the permits for them; this was a ploy to arrange a forced meeting with the lawyers before the trial. After hours of negotiations, only four family members in total were administered permits to attend. The night of November 24th, Deputy President Di and Presiding Judge Hou “briefed” the five attorneys on the following day’s proceedings. They planned to complete the trial between 8:00 AM and 6:00 PM at night, with verdict and sentence immediately following—indicating a verdict had already been reached.

The suspicious conduct of the court set a forbidding tone for the trial. On November 25th, plain-clothes police lined the street to the Linfen Courthouse, spaced one-yard apart military-style, barring access to all but the lawyers. As the preliminary proceedings went underway, the lawyers were given access to only 30 documents used by the prosecution for evidence, out of the more than 100 documents submitted as evidence against the five Linfen pastors. These far-fetched documents included testimonies of one pastor against his wife, and vice versa, among other dubious eye-witness accounts. Furthermore, discrepancies over dates and documents were overlooked, including vital details such as a two week difference between the date of original detention for the pastors and the date indicated in the prosecution-submitted documents. Such inconsistencies were examined and validated, “because they were in the record.” The show trial broke for a brief recess at noon from the small court on the 3rd floor of the Yaodu District Courthouse. During the recess Yang Rongli and Wang Xiaoguang spoke with their son, one of the four able to attend, encouraging him with hope. There was no trace of fear in their eyes.

As the trial continued the pastors were charged with the crimes of “unlawfully occupying agricultural land” and “gathering to disturb the traffic order.” The land dispute, incidentally, referred to the land upon which the three-story Golden Lampstand Church resides, not the demolished Gospel Shoes Factory of Fushan Church. The land issue, by which authorities justified their attack on Fushan Church, had been stricken from the record entirely. The prayer rally with thousands in attendance for Fushan Church on September 14th was classified as the “traffic disturbance”—a typically minor violation.

Cui Jiaxing was further questioned about alleged “tax evasion” for church accounts, and many charges like his had no substantial evidence; Attorney Cheng Zhunqiang said that as for his client, Yang Xuan, the bill of prosecution had only one sentence accusing Yang of organizing the construction of the church—founded on a solitary piece of paper which had not been verified. Such was the nature of hundreds of pieces of evidences mounted by the prosecution against the Linfen pastors.

Throughout the proceedings, the five pastors held their heads high, and responded respectfully to the questions of the prosecutors, despite the ridiculous charges. They arrived in court hand-cuffed, and only after the lawyers requested their shackles to be removed did the court police abide by the rules. Yang Rongli, a primary target for her years of community work on behalf of the church, spoke confidently of her actions. Wang Xiaoguang, Yang Xuan, and Cui Jiaxing likewise appeared calm and confident. Each of them was interrogated separately.

Only Zhang Huamei showed any sign of stress. Barred by prison guards from meeting with her following the trial, her lawyer Zhang Kai later learned from other she had been harassed, possibly beaten by the guards for sharing her faith. The trauma continued when she was isolated from the other pastors after the trial and sent to Yicheng County prison—a special unit for injured and ailing prisoners.

Though the lawyers defended the honor of their clients with strong evidence and the law on their side, the court found the five pastors guilty of “unlawfully occupying agricultural land” and “gathering to disturb the traffic order.” As the Chief leader of Linfen Church and Head Pastor of the Golden Lampstand Church, Yang Rongli was charged with “illegally occupying land” and “disturbing the traffic order,” criminally sentenced to 7 years and fined 30,000 Yuan, one of the worst sentences against a house church pastor in the last decade. As the Chief Leader of Fushan Church, Zhang Huamei was charged for “gathering to disturb the traffic order,” and criminally sentenced to 4 years. The other three persons, Wang Xiaoguang, Yang Xuan and Cui Jiaxing were all charged for unlawful occupation of agricultural land. Cui Jiaxing was later on added with another charge for tax evasion. Wang Xiaoguang earned 3 years, with a fine of 10,000 Yuan; Yang Xuan was sentenced to 3 ½ years with a 20,000 Yuan fine; and Cui Jiaxing received 5 ½ years with a 50,000 Yuan fine for both his charges. Upon hearing the verdicts, announced just hours after the rushed trial concluded, family members lamented, "The law is silent when arms are present."

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