Monday, October 7, 2013

UPDATE: Appellate hearing in Pingdingshan religious case ends inconclusively when defense lawyers refuse to return to court after daylong trial

China Aid Association

The 14 defense lawyers in the Pingdingshan case.
(Pingdingshan, Henan—Oct. 7, 2013) A daylong appellate court hearing in the case of seven Christians from Henan province who were convicted and sentenced last year to long prison terms ended inconclusively late last week when the 14 defense lawyers refused a judge's order to return to court for an evening session.

The presiding judge for the Pingdingshan Intermediate People’s Court, Shi Weiping, had refused the defense lawyers’ request to adjourn at the end of the day in the appeal trial for the seven believers from the group commonly known as “the Shouters” who were sentenced to prison terms up to 7-1/2 years in April 2013.

ChinaAid's earlier reports on the case are here:
http://www.chinaaid.org/2012/06/update-pingdingshan-hebei-province.html
http://www.chinaaid.org/2012/12/7-christians-go-on-trial-in-henan.html
http://www.chinaaid.org/2013/04/seven-christians-in-henan-province.html

The appellate court hearing last Friday opened at 10 a.m., with only a one-hour recess for lunch, and Shi ordered the court to reconvene at 7 p.m. after a half-hour dinner break.

With two of the defense lawyers exhausted from putting up a vigorous defense, the 14 lawyers protested this violation of laws and regulations and, failing to get a satisfactory explanation from the court, decided collectively to refuse to appear after the dinner recess.

The day before the hearing, presiding judge Shi had telephoned the lawyers to tell them that the case was being watched closely by "the leaders," who would be in attendance the next day. He also said he hoped the hearing could be concluded the same day.

During the hearing, Shi had repeatedly violated criminal procedural law, seriously limiting or depriving the defendants and their defense counsels of their litigation rights. The lawyers protested the court's actions, including holding the defendants in custody beyond the legally allowed time frame, barring observers from the hearing, evasiveness from the bench and procedural violations.

Because of these violations, the lawyers concluded that their clients’ legitimate rights and legal defense could not be guaranteed. Furthermore, Shi's insistence on reconvening in the evening appeared to be part of the court's plan that the trial had to end that day.

Not wanting to be part of such a hastily conducted trial or to cooperate with the court in just "going through the motions," the lawyers decided not to return to the courtroom.

Meanwhile, outside the courtroom, another battle had continued throughout the day between more than 300 uniformed and an unknown number of plainclothes police officers and hundreds of supporters of the defendants as well as the defendants' family members. Before the hearing convened, the police had cordoned off the area around the courthouse and stationed officers at the front entrance.

Hundreds of Christians, both local and from out-of-town, showed up at the courthouse, some hoping to join the defendants' family members in the courtroom to observe the proceedings. When police tried to disperse the crowd by force, chaos ensued and the situation was briefly out of control. Police forcibly removed at least three people from the scene, two of them family members and the third a girl who had just started college. When uniformed and plainclothes police converged upon an amateur reporter, the crowd of supporters and family members helped him escape being taken into police custody and the police succeeded only in grabbing his camera from him.

The three who were taken into police custody were released by 10 p.m.

According to the defense lawyers, the court is not likely to reconvene the hearing until October, and they believe that the case is likely to be returned to the lower court for a re-trial. The lawyers said they were confident that their efforts would eventually win the freedom of the seven defendants, and all were determined to continue defending the law despite the fact that some have come under pressure for taking the case.

ChinaAid calls on the Pingdingshan Intermediate People's Court to abide by the law, hear the case independently and free of all interference, quickly rectify the wrongful conviction by the lower court and immediately and unconditionally release the seven innocent defendants. ChinaAid also warns the other government agencies involved not to abuse their power or violate citizens' fundamental rights, which are protected by law.

ChinaAid will continue to monitor the developments in this case, and hopes that Christians worldwide will continue to pray for these brothers and sisters in jail and their families.


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