Families of South China Church prisoners complain of injustice

Saturday, August 10, 2002

Families of jailed South China Church leaders complained about mistreatment and injustice in an open letter to United Nations officials.

The letter outlines inconsistencies between the way the retrial was handled by judges of the Jingmen City Middle Court and the mandates of China's criminal court statutes. "The families of all the victims feel deeply sad and worried about the result," the letter states. Complete text of the letter is available on the VOM web site at www.persecution.com .

"This letter contains a long list of outrageous injustices committed against these believers," said Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for The Voice of the Martyrs. "This is a clear-cut case of a church group coming under all-out attack by a government that is frightened by the growth of Christianity in China."

The 17 SCC leaders were all being re-tried on charges originally filed last December. Five of them were sentenced to die in the original trial, and the other 12 were sentenced to prison terms.

On September 22, the Hubei Province Supreme Court ordered a re-trial, citing "ambiguous facts" and "insufficient evidence" to revoke the original verdict. Supreme Court judges were dispatched to supervise the retrial on October 9.

Families cite several examples of injustice in the case:

• They were given only one business day to prepare, and therefore could not find attorneys to represent all 17 defendants. Six of the accused did not have attorneys at the re-trial. Attorneys who asked for a postponement to allow time to prepare a defense were denied.

• Attorneys were asked to file documents with false dates, implying that they had more time to prepare for the trial than they actually did.

• Attorneys were told the case was an important political one, and that they would have to keep state secrets and cooperate with the court fully to carry out the trial.

• It was not a jury trial, but held only before Jingmen City Court judges.

• The trial was held behind closed doors, in secret.

• The court allowed only a limited time for the trial, and didn't require the prosecutor to produce all relevant witnesses and evidence. He gave only an outline of the evidence and the expected witness testimony. When defense attorneys asked for evidence details, they were overruled by the judge.

• When some defendants showed their wounds in court from torture used to elicit false testimony, the judge did not ask for any investigation. He accepted all police testimony without question.

• The charges were changed. In the original trial the leaders faced charges as being part of an illegal religious group. In the re-trial, religious charges were dropped and they were accused of being a criminal group. Defense attorneys objected, but the chief judge overruled them and accepted the new charges.

Four women who were released by the court were re-arrested by police that same day and sent away for three years of "re-education through labor." The Voice of the Martyrs has learned that the four re-arrested women have now been sent to the largest labor camp in China, the Sha Yang Lao Gai Labour Camp in Hubei province. Attorneys for the four are currently filing a court challenge to their incarceration.

These discrepancies violate not only the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which China is a signatory nation, but also Chinese legal statutes.

The group acknowledges that some members of South China Churches have "showed not enough patience in the face of the long-term cracking down and persecution, and did something radical, thus violating their own faith, the core spirit of Christianity, and state laws." However, they say that those few cases do not make the whole group a criminal organization.

The families close their letter, addressed to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and UN Human Rights High Commissioner Sergio Vieira de Mello, by expressing their fear. "This case prompts all of us to think about our living environment and our personal safety. We are all full of fear..."

The Voice of the Martyrs urges Christians in America to continue to pray for members of the South China Church, and to write letters on their behalf to both US and Chinese government officials.