UPDATE: First day in appeal hearing of religious case of Ye county ends with little progress

Friday, August 30, 2013

China Aid Association
August 30, 2013

Editor’s note: ChinaAid previously reported on the raid and detainment of these church members. Previous stories can be read at http://www.chinaaid.org/2012/05/henan-province-house-church-raided-more.html, http://www.chinaaid.org/2012/06/update-pingdingshan-hebei-province.html, and http://www.chinaaid.org/2013/08/pingdingshan-henan-ye-county-religious.html.

The appeal hearing for the religious case in Pingdingshan, Ye, Henan Province began at 10:30 a.m. on Aug. 29 at Ye County Court. Thirteen lawyers were present to defend the seven Christian defendants’ innocence. The defense lawyers are Wang Hui, Yang Xingquan, Lu Jinyong, Zhao Yonglin, Chen Jian’gang, Li Guisheng, Xu Ping, Xiao Fanghua, Fan Biaowen, Wang Hongjie, Zhang Jinhong, Xu Weijin and Zhang Peihong.

Ye County Court was heavily guarded the day of the trial.
At 10 a.m., dozens of the defendants’ family members gathered outside the Ye County Court, but were told they would not be able to enter the courtroom. Only 14 of the 60 seats in the gallery were given to the family members. The remaining seats were taken by police officers and family members of others involved in the case on the prosecution’s side, as arranged by the police and the court. The first row of the courtroom was occupied by 10 policemen, leaving five seats vacant.

As soon as the hearing officially began, lawyers Zhao Yonglin, Chen Jian’gang and Li Guisheng and other defense counsels asked the court why the number of family members allowed to attend the court session had been limited. The lawyers claimed that this violated the principle of a public trial. The defense also demanded that the chief judge make public how the members of the gallery were selected. When faced with this questioning, the court agreed to let approximately 10 additional family members of the clients enter the gallery. Additionally, the lawyers pointed out to the chief judge that the court had failed to notify the defendants in accordance with law

Many family members of the defendants were
not allowed to enter the courtroom.
Lawyer Zhao Yongli then demanded that the chief judge recuse himself, reasoning that issuing auditor’s certificates violated the principle of a public trial and that the court failed to notify the defense counsels when they suddenly changed the people in the judicial panel. The chief judge rejected the demand and said there wouldn’t be a reconsideration on that matter.

Li Guisheng claimed that according to the law, whether the chief judge must recuse himself is to be decided by the president of the court and that the chief judge himself has no say in the matter. Because of this, Chen Jian’gang drafted a written document, signed by all the defense lawyers, which demanded that the chief judge be recused.

Additionally, lawyers Wang Hui and Wang Hongjie demanded that the chief judge make public the religious background of the members of the judicial panel. The lawyers suggested that one member of the panel should be replaced with a theist if all the members were found to be atheists. Their reasoning was that atheists would naturally oppose all the theist faiths, creating bias against the defendants. The chief judge claimed this suggestion was unreasonable and wouldn’t consider it.

The lawyers argued that the panel was neither professional nor devoted to its duties. Twice, the court reportedly sent the lawyers the wrong summons. At noon, the court adjourned.

The court session continued in the afternoon. The chief judge said he hoped the defense counsels could “understand” the failure to deliver the notice of the court session to the defense counsels in accordance with the law. He said the error was for the purpose of fastness and convenience. Some of the lawyers said that it was unacceptable for an appeals court to make such a lowly mistake.

Police were on duty to ensure that family 
members did not sneak in to the hearing.
A multi-level debate followed on whether the judges should be recused. For the whole day, debate was between the chief judge and the defense counsels. The prosecutor didn’t say a word. At 5 p.m., the chief judge hurriedly announced adjournment and said the trial would once again be delayed. The judge claimed he would notify the people of the date of the new court session at another time. Though the lawyers still needed to submit their additional disagreements, the chief judge hurriedly left the court.

The lawyers informed the public of the developments of the court session via Weibo, a Chinese Twitter-like website. According to a source, many Christians and netizens in China sent text messages to encourage each other. The most quoted passage was Deuteronomy 31:6: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

ChinaAid will continue to watch the case closely. In the meantime, ChinaAid calls on Christians both in China and the rest of the world to pray for these seven innocent brothers and sisters who have been sentenced to imprisonment. Also, pray for the house churches in China. We hope that Pingdingshan Intermediate Court will respect facts and the law, quickly correct the wrong sentences reached in the original trial, and let these seven Christians be free again.

China Aid Contacts
Rachel Ritchie, English Media Director
Cell: (432) 553-1080 | Office: 1+ (888) 889-7757 | Other: (432) 689-6985
Website: www.chinaaid.org