Just weeks before the opening of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, Chinese authorities sentenced a group of eleven people who sent photos of the empty city during the pandemic to a foreign media specialized in China with up to eight years in prison.

Minghui.org is an independent organization dedicated to reporting on the persecution of Falun Dafa practitioners, a discipline of the Buddha School that the Chinese Communist Party has persecuted since 1999. Minghui said that eleven Falun Dafa practitioners were sentenced on Jan. 14 to prison terms ranging from 2 to 8 years for sending photos of the city of Beijing during the peak of the pandemic in 2020 to The Epoch Times newspaper.

The eleven practitioners who received prison sentences are as follows:

Ms. Xu Na was sentenced to eight years with a fine of $3,160.

Messrs. Li Zongze and Li Lixin, and Ms. Zheng Yujie and Ms. Zheng Yanmei were each sentenced to five years with a fine of $1,581.

Ms. Deng Jingjing, Ms. Meng Qingxia, Mr. Zhang Renfei, and Mr. Liu Qiang were each sentenced to four years, with a fine of $1,265.

Ms. Li Jiaxuan and Ms. Jiao Mengjiao were sentenced to two years each, with a fine of $632.

Arrests, detentions and illegal procedures

It all started when in June 2020, officials from Beijing’s Ministry of State Security saw photos of the empty city during the pandemic on the Epoch Times website.

Upon examining the city’s video cameras, they recognized Ms. Xu Na and other practitioners passing by the place where the photos had been taken and began to follow them.

On July 19, the Beijing Domestic Security Bureau and the Dongcheng District Police Department sent 100 policemen to arrest the practitioners who participated with Ms. Xu Na. Ten policemen for each practitioner, many of them elderly.

One month after arresting the practitioners, the authorities approved the formal arrests, but their families never received legal notice of the proceedings.

In early November 2020, the practitioners’ lawyers learned that their cases had been submitted to the Dongcheng District Procuratorate to request that the practitioners be convicted. 

Procurator Zhang Li did not allow the lawyers access to the case files as legally required for the defense to prepare their arguments.

They were given less than four hours to review it, take photos, or copy the most relevant parts by hand.

Most of the “evidence” presented by the police were photos of the practitioners’ daily lives taken without their permission.

The case was returned by the prosecutor’s office three times: in November 2020, in December 2020, and in January 2021 for lack of evidence to prosecute.

But being a high-profile case, the police insisted again, and the procuratorate filed charges against the eleven practitioners on April 2 and sent the case to the Dongcheng District Court.

With the case in the judge’s hands, the judge also did not allow the lawyers to review the documents.

The lawyers filed a formal complaint against the judge because Chinese law allows legal representation to access the files without time restrictions or conditions, but their complaint was dismissed.

Lawyers interrupted, practitioners mistreated, sentences without legal basis

On Oct. 15, 2021, the eleven practitioners were tried, and five lawyers found them not guilty. 

The practitioners were accused of sending the photos of the city to the Epoch Times, having “unlawfully assembled” to discuss their Falun Dafa faith, and distributing informational materials to others.

In their legal argument, the lawyers pointed out that The Epoch Times, to which the practitioners sent the photos, is a legitimate U.S.-registered media outlet engaged in reporting on China.

The practitioners’ actions, the lawyers said, were protected by the “freedom of speech” guaranteed in China’s Constitution, and being able to talk about their faith falls under the category of “freedom of belief,” which is also a constitutional right.

The lawyers explained that the confiscated Falun Gong books and materials were for their personal use, not for distribution.

Judge Bai Chongwei constantly interrupted the lawyers’ arguments. Then, when the practitioners were about to testify in their defense, he asked the bailiffs to move the microphones away so they could not be adequately heard.

Initially, the prosecutor had accused the practitioners of “starting a quarrel and provoking a trouble” but then eventually changed and accused them of “undermining law enforcement.” However, he could not justify which law the practitioners undermined or violated. 

The practitioners received their sentences, and all their valuable personal belongings were seized.

The case is the tip of an iceberg of the hell experienced by millions of innocent people in China who never know when they will be targeted for persecution by the Chinese Communist Party.

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