Human Rights in China (HRIC) strongly condemns the secret show trials and severe sentencing to up to eighteen years imprisonment of four key members of the Falun Gong spiritual group on December 26. Two of the sentences, for 18 years in one case and 16 years in another, were the harshest sentences handed down to peaceful demonstrators in the last ten years, and are reminiscent of the lengthy and arduous prison terms meted out to at least seven members of the China Democracy Party (CDP) earlier this year.
All four of those sentenced were members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), with the most severe prison term, 18 years, reserved for Li Chang, 59, an official in the Public Security Ministry. Wang Zhiwen 50, an engineer in the company of the Railways Ministry, was sentenced to 16 year’s imprisonment. Ji Liewu, 36, a manager of a Hong Kong subsidiary of a government metals company, was sentenced to 12 year’s imprisonment. Yao Jie, 40, leader of the CCP committee of a large real estate company in Beijing, was sentenced to 7 year’s imprisonment. The convictions, said an official announcement by the official Xinhua News Agency, involved charges of “organizing and using the cult organization to undermine the implementation of laws, causing human deaths by organizing and using the cult organization, and illegally obtaining State Secrets.”
According to China’s television news, Ms. Yao had received a lighter sentence because she had only been an accessory to the “principal culprits” and had expressed “sincere remorse,” and Mr. Li’s 18-year sentence was lighter than it otherwise might have been because he, too, had been repentant. The truth behind these statements may never be known, however, as the one-day trial took place behind closed doors, without any advance notice and at Christmas time, when the Western media were largely unavailable for it. Moreover, the defendants were reportedly denied outside legal representation, and were each allowed to have only one family member present at the trial.
These sham trials and harsh sentences are the inevitable product of the new anti-sect resolution passed by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee on October 30 to buttress its venomous propaganda campaign against, and mass detentions of, Falun Gong members for merely engaging in peaceful protests and exercising their rights to freedom of association, thought, conscience and religion. The resolution does not enact any new legal standards to pursue the anti-Falun Gong campaign. But it does call for the country’s entire law enforcement apparatus to rally in “smashing” the Falun Gong and other “heterodox” organizations. If the word “heterodox” appears archaic, it is with good reason: the resolution reflects the imperial practice in which the emperor decided which religious beliefs and practices were permissible and which were not. In modern day China, the decision about what is to be banned “by law” is left to the CCP – as is disturbingly common in Chinese law and practice, there is no definition of “heterodox religious groups” in the Standing Committee Decision, or in the Chinese Criminal Law.
The anti-sect resolution is an integral part of the Chinese government’s routine employment of the pretext of criminal charges to dissolve religious and spiritual groups and to punish their leading members. Over the last 20 years, among the harshest sentences for “counterrevolutionary crimes” have been imposed on those accused of “organizing and using reactionary sects or secret societies for counterrevolutionary purposes.” To our knowledge, almost all of the “counterrevolutionaries” sentenced to death in this period have been in this category. Although the revisions to China’s criminal code enacted in 1997 abolished counterrevolutionary crimes on paper, the government has in fact merely exchanged the term “counterrevolutionary” for the equally pernicious concept of “violations” of so-called “state security.” Like “heterodox religious groups,” the term “state security,” and what constitutes harm to it, is left undefined in the Chinese legal system. On the other hand, the way that “state security” is used to justify violations of basic human rights is abundantly clear, and the 1997 revisions may have even broadened the capacity of the State to curtail the peaceful exercise of free speech and association. Thus, for example, any individual or group who departs from the standard party line may be accused of “illegally obtaining state secrets,” and forced to serve lengthy prison terms, as were the four defendants here.
In a society governed by democracy and rule of law, elected government officials are accountable to the people they represent for the laws they enact. In China, however, the CCP’s stranglehold on political power means that there are no checks and balances on lawmakers, and no effective way of challenging government-imposed regulations, even those so overly vague and overly broad as to be inherently arbitrary. The state is thus able to use the abusive laws it creates as both a sword to smite down dissenters and a shield to justify its human rights violations.
“The sentencing of peaceful Falun Gong practitioners reveals the true face of China’s “rule by law,” said Xiao Qiang, HRIC executive director. “This is representative of the systematic way in which the Chinese government not only violates universally recognized human rights standards that are enshrined in its own Constitution, but compounds the outrage by manipulating the law to rationalize its violations. Under the CCP, the law is designed not to preserve and protect the rights of the Chinese people, but to preserve and protect the power of the ruling elite.”
These, and other “legal” aspects of the campaign against the Falun Gong, provide a telling manifestation of what the Chinese leadership, despite its highly public show of “legal reform,” really means by “ruling the country according to law.” The December 26 trials and verdicts are the latest indication that those who see such “rule by law” as a bridge toward an impartial and independent rule of law are viewing Chinese reality through rose-colored glasses.
HRIC urges the Chinese government to show a true commitment to international human rights standards with the immediate and unconditional release of Li Chang, Wang Zhiwen, Li Jiewu and Yao Jie, as well as all other detained Falun Gong practitioners. HRIC believes that the ban on the Falun Gong should be lifted, and will be raising this case with the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. HRIC will additionally be asking the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance, who visited China in 1994, to take up this issue with the Chinese government as a matter of urgency.
Articles on the Falungong sentencing: