Pastor Wan Changchun’s family blocked from attending pretrial meeting

Ma Peipei, You Xiulin, and Liu Xunzhen outside the court supporting their respective husbands (Source: Internet)
Ma Peipei, You Xiulin, and Liu Xunzhen outside the court supporting their respective husbands (Source: Internet)

(Bengbu, Anhui Province – May 21, 2024) On May 13, 2024, a pre-trial meeting was held at the Yuhui District Court in Bengbu City, Anhui Province for the case of Pastor Wan Changchun, Elder Xue Shaoqiang, co-worker Cao Binting, and Wan Chunqin of the Cornerstone Reformed Church in Bengbu, who were accused of “fraud.” All four Christians attended the hearing. It is reported that their attitude was peaceful and they still have the willingness to suffer for the Lord. They do not acknowledge any connection between the church’s acceptance of offerings and fraud. The court has temporarily notified that the formal trial will begin on May 16.

 

The lawyers believe that the court has generally protected the legal practice of the defense lawyers. However, the court initially blocked family members from entering, then agreed to let them pass, but unfortunately they were unable to see their imprisoned family members.

 

Cao Binting’s wife, Ma Peipei, posted on Weibo to thank all the family members, friends, brothers and sisters who care about them. She said, “The first pre-trial meeting on May 9 and the second pre-trial meeting today have both ended. Although we cannot see the four family members, we have always been accompanying you outside the courtroom. We, who are separated from you by a wall, have always been standing with you! Thank you to all the lawyers for their hard work, and thank you to all the brothers and sisters who have accompanied us!”

 

The case was originally scheduled to be heard at 9:00 a.m. on March 25, 2024. However, after the defense lawyers entered the courtroom on time, the judge suddenly informed them that the case involved state secrets and would not be tried openly, and no one would be allowed to attend. The court also tried to have Chang Hao attend the trial by video, but after strong protests from the lawyers, the judge decided to postpone the trial. On May 9, 2024, a pre-trial meeting was held for the case. Because the court had not notified the defendants to appear in court, the lawyers believed this did not comply with legal regulations and refused to budge. After negotiations, the Yuhui District Court agreed to continue holding a pre-trial meeting on May 13 and bring all the defendants to court.

 

Lawyer Zhao Qingshan, who represents Xue Shaoqiang, published an article titled “Is it reasonable for defendants’ family members to be barred from attending the trial because they are testifying?” on his public account, questioning the trial’s prohibition on family members attending.

 

He said that a few days ago, Liu Xunzhen, the wife of the third defendant Xue Shaoqiang whom he is defending, received a notice from the Yuhui District People’s Court of Bengbu City, informing her that because she is a witness in this case, she cannot attend the trial on the day of the hearing.

 

The handling of similar incidents by courts is almost a common practice in courts across the country. Therefore, in the investigation of some major and complex cases, regardless of whether the suspect’s close relatives are related to the facts of the case, the public security organs first call them over to make a transcript, and then the court uses this as a reason to prohibit the family members from attending the trial.

 

In this regard, the question raised by Lawyer Zhao Qingshan is: “Is it really legal for the court to prohibit the defendant’s close relatives from attending the trial because they made a transcript during the investigation stage?”

 

He believes that the court’s practice does not conform to the legislative intent of the “Criminal Procedure Law.” He analyzes from four aspects:

First, the reason why witnesses are not allowed to attend the trial is to keep their testimony from being interfered with by other case circumstances.

The provision that witnesses shall not attend the trial is based on article 265 of the “Interpretation of the Criminal Procedure Law,” which states that “witnesses, appraisers, persons with specialized knowledge, investigators, interrogators or other personnel shall not attend the trial of the case. After the relevant personnel testify or express their opinions, the presiding judge shall inform them to leave the court.”

The legislative logic is that if witnesses attend the trial, their testimony in court may be interfered with, which will affect its authenticity. Therefore, article 124, item 2 of the “Criminal Procedure Law” also requires that the interrogation unit should question witnesses individually.

Second, witnesses have already fulfilled their obligation to testify by making an interrogation transcript at the investigation unit during the investigation stage.

Professional criminal defense lawyers all know that in the judicial practice of criminal proceedings, in the vast majority of cases, witnesses will not be notified by the court to appear in court to testify.

According to the provisions of article 192 of the “Criminal Procedure Law,” whether a witness needs to appear in court depends on “the public prosecutor, the parties or the defender, the agent ad litem have objections to the witness’s testimony, and the witness’s testimony has a significant impact on the conviction and sentencing of the case, the people’s court considers it necessary for the witness to appear in court to testify……” In other words, the current law sets three necessary conditions for witnesses to appear in court: objections, significant impact on conviction and sentencing, and the people’s court deems it necessary…… Under such strict conditions, witnesses appearing in court in judicial practice are extremely rare.

Therefore, for the vast majority of witnesses, when the public security’s interrogation transcript of them is completed, their legal obligation to testify has been fulfilled. Regardless of what content they hear when attending the trial, it has no impact on their testimony.

It is worth mentioning that those who know the case should testify, which is an obligation stipulated by law. Article 62 of the “Criminal Procedure Law” stipulates that “anyone who knows the circumstances of the case has the obligation to testify.”

Third, the law exempts close relatives from the obligation to testify.

Article 193 of the “Criminal Procedure Law” stipulates that if a witness does not appear in court to testify, they should be compelled to appear in court or be given a certain punishment. However, the article also exempts close relatives from this compulsory obligation to testify. The first item of Article 193 stipulates that “if a witness fails to appear in court to testify without justifiable reasons, the people’s court may compel them to appear in court, except for the spouse, parents, and children of the defendant.”

This provision reflects to a certain extent the principle of “relatives can conceal each other” advocated by traditional Chinese judicial values. At the very least, it clearly stipulates that close relatives cannot be forced to prove the defendant guilty.

From a human perspective, if a judgment cites the testimony of parents, spouses, or children to prove the defendant’s guilt, it does make people feel emotionally unacceptable. Unless the testimony made by this close relative is favorable to the defendant.

Fourth, since the obligation to testify is exempted, close relatives should be allowed to attend the trial.

In judicial practice, from the time a defendant is detained until the end of the case trial and serving the sentence in prison, it can be as short as half a year or as long as three to five years. In extreme cases, it can even reach nearly ten years. During this extremely long period of time, the only opportunity for the suspect (defendant) to see their relatives, even just a glance, is during the court trial. The preciousness of this opportunity is not only for the defendant himself but also for their family members, far surpassing Du Fu’s “family letter worth ten thousand gold pieces” in ancient times.

The law should have basic humanitarianism. Therefore, family members should not be refused to attend the trial on the grounds that they are witnesses.

After analyzing the above four points, he then mentions a related side note, which is whether family members can be denied the right to serve as defense counsel because they are witnesses.

 

He said that in the Li Weiping gang case in Luoyang, Henan Province, in which he participated in the defense, four family member defense lawyers were denied the qualification to serve as defense counsel by the court because they had previously served as witnesses for the public security. For the same reason, this lawyer believes that the court’s practice is incorrect. When a person faces criminal charges, it is the judicial authorities using state power to bring charges against an individual. The judicial authorities can use the power of the entire country to investigate whether a person’s actions constitute a crime. In terms of the balance of power, public power does not necessarily need the testimony of close relatives to achieve the purpose of prosecution; in terms of expectation, the prosecution of crimes cannot expect the testimony of the defendant’s close relatives to be used as key or even the only evidence (that would almost inevitably result in extorting confessions by torture); in terms of the situation, the defendant urgently needs to use all defensive forces to protect their rights at this time.

 

Regardless of whether they have the ability to hire a lawyer, if family members themselves have the ability to appear in court to defend the defendant, it is not only a balance of prosecution and defense power but also a kind of emotional support from family members. At this time, the law should allow family members to support each other and appear in court to defend their relatives. This is a reflection of family ties.

 

At the end of the article, he says that the family is the foundation of society, and only by maintaining good family ethics can social development be healthy.

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Pastor Wan Changchun’s family blocked from attending pretrial meeting

Ma Peipei, You Xiulin, and Liu Xunzhen outside the court supporting their respective husbands (Source: Internet)
Ma Peipei, You Xiulin, and Liu Xunzhen outside the court supporting their respective husbands (Source: Internet)

(Bengbu, Anhui Province – May 21, 2024) On May 13, 2024, a pre-trial meeting was held at the Yuhui District Court in Bengbu City, Anhui Province for the case of Pastor Wan Changchun, Elder Xue Shaoqiang, co-worker Cao Binting, and Wan Chunqin of the Cornerstone Reformed Church in Bengbu, who were accused of “fraud.” All four Christians attended the hearing. It is reported that their attitude was peaceful and they still have the willingness to suffer for the Lord. They do not acknowledge any connection between the church’s acceptance of offerings and fraud. The court has temporarily notified that the formal trial will begin on May 16.

 

The lawyers believe that the court has generally protected the legal practice of the defense lawyers. However, the court initially blocked family members from entering, then agreed to let them pass, but unfortunately they were unable to see their imprisoned family members.

 

Cao Binting’s wife, Ma Peipei, posted on Weibo to thank all the family members, friends, brothers and sisters who care about them. She said, “The first pre-trial meeting on May 9 and the second pre-trial meeting today have both ended. Although we cannot see the four family members, we have always been accompanying you outside the courtroom. We, who are separated from you by a wall, have always been standing with you! Thank you to all the lawyers for their hard work, and thank you to all the brothers and sisters who have accompanied us!”

 

The case was originally scheduled to be heard at 9:00 a.m. on March 25, 2024. However, after the defense lawyers entered the courtroom on time, the judge suddenly informed them that the case involved state secrets and would not be tried openly, and no one would be allowed to attend. The court also tried to have Chang Hao attend the trial by video, but after strong protests from the lawyers, the judge decided to postpone the trial. On May 9, 2024, a pre-trial meeting was held for the case. Because the court had not notified the defendants to appear in court, the lawyers believed this did not comply with legal regulations and refused to budge. After negotiations, the Yuhui District Court agreed to continue holding a pre-trial meeting on May 13 and bring all the defendants to court.

 

Lawyer Zhao Qingshan, who represents Xue Shaoqiang, published an article titled “Is it reasonable for defendants’ family members to be barred from attending the trial because they are testifying?” on his public account, questioning the trial’s prohibition on family members attending.

 

He said that a few days ago, Liu Xunzhen, the wife of the third defendant Xue Shaoqiang whom he is defending, received a notice from the Yuhui District People’s Court of Bengbu City, informing her that because she is a witness in this case, she cannot attend the trial on the day of the hearing.

 

The handling of similar incidents by courts is almost a common practice in courts across the country. Therefore, in the investigation of some major and complex cases, regardless of whether the suspect’s close relatives are related to the facts of the case, the public security organs first call them over to make a transcript, and then the court uses this as a reason to prohibit the family members from attending the trial.

 

In this regard, the question raised by Lawyer Zhao Qingshan is: “Is it really legal for the court to prohibit the defendant’s close relatives from attending the trial because they made a transcript during the investigation stage?”

 

He believes that the court’s practice does not conform to the legislative intent of the “Criminal Procedure Law.” He analyzes from four aspects:

First, the reason why witnesses are not allowed to attend the trial is to keep their testimony from being interfered with by other case circumstances.

The provision that witnesses shall not attend the trial is based on article 265 of the “Interpretation of the Criminal Procedure Law,” which states that “witnesses, appraisers, persons with specialized knowledge, investigators, interrogators or other personnel shall not attend the trial of the case. After the relevant personnel testify or express their opinions, the presiding judge shall inform them to leave the court.”

The legislative logic is that if witnesses attend the trial, their testimony in court may be interfered with, which will affect its authenticity. Therefore, article 124, item 2 of the “Criminal Procedure Law” also requires that the interrogation unit should question witnesses individually.

Second, witnesses have already fulfilled their obligation to testify by making an interrogation transcript at the investigation unit during the investigation stage.

Professional criminal defense lawyers all know that in the judicial practice of criminal proceedings, in the vast majority of cases, witnesses will not be notified by the court to appear in court to testify.

According to the provisions of article 192 of the “Criminal Procedure Law,” whether a witness needs to appear in court depends on “the public prosecutor, the parties or the defender, the agent ad litem have objections to the witness’s testimony, and the witness’s testimony has a significant impact on the conviction and sentencing of the case, the people’s court considers it necessary for the witness to appear in court to testify……” In other words, the current law sets three necessary conditions for witnesses to appear in court: objections, significant impact on conviction and sentencing, and the people’s court deems it necessary…… Under such strict conditions, witnesses appearing in court in judicial practice are extremely rare.

Therefore, for the vast majority of witnesses, when the public security’s interrogation transcript of them is completed, their legal obligation to testify has been fulfilled. Regardless of what content they hear when attending the trial, it has no impact on their testimony.

It is worth mentioning that those who know the case should testify, which is an obligation stipulated by law. Article 62 of the “Criminal Procedure Law” stipulates that “anyone who knows the circumstances of the case has the obligation to testify.”

Third, the law exempts close relatives from the obligation to testify.

Article 193 of the “Criminal Procedure Law” stipulates that if a witness does not appear in court to testify, they should be compelled to appear in court or be given a certain punishment. However, the article also exempts close relatives from this compulsory obligation to testify. The first item of Article 193 stipulates that “if a witness fails to appear in court to testify without justifiable reasons, the people’s court may compel them to appear in court, except for the spouse, parents, and children of the defendant.”

This provision reflects to a certain extent the principle of “relatives can conceal each other” advocated by traditional Chinese judicial values. At the very least, it clearly stipulates that close relatives cannot be forced to prove the defendant guilty.

From a human perspective, if a judgment cites the testimony of parents, spouses, or children to prove the defendant’s guilt, it does make people feel emotionally unacceptable. Unless the testimony made by this close relative is favorable to the defendant.

Fourth, since the obligation to testify is exempted, close relatives should be allowed to attend the trial.

In judicial practice, from the time a defendant is detained until the end of the case trial and serving the sentence in prison, it can be as short as half a year or as long as three to five years. In extreme cases, it can even reach nearly ten years. During this extremely long period of time, the only opportunity for the suspect (defendant) to see their relatives, even just a glance, is during the court trial. The preciousness of this opportunity is not only for the defendant himself but also for their family members, far surpassing Du Fu’s “family letter worth ten thousand gold pieces” in ancient times.

The law should have basic humanitarianism. Therefore, family members should not be refused to attend the trial on the grounds that they are witnesses.

After analyzing the above four points, he then mentions a related side note, which is whether family members can be denied the right to serve as defense counsel because they are witnesses.

 

He said that in the Li Weiping gang case in Luoyang, Henan Province, in which he participated in the defense, four family member defense lawyers were denied the qualification to serve as defense counsel by the court because they had previously served as witnesses for the public security. For the same reason, this lawyer believes that the court’s practice is incorrect. When a person faces criminal charges, it is the judicial authorities using state power to bring charges against an individual. The judicial authorities can use the power of the entire country to investigate whether a person’s actions constitute a crime. In terms of the balance of power, public power does not necessarily need the testimony of close relatives to achieve the purpose of prosecution; in terms of expectation, the prosecution of crimes cannot expect the testimony of the defendant’s close relatives to be used as key or even the only evidence (that would almost inevitably result in extorting confessions by torture); in terms of the situation, the defendant urgently needs to use all defensive forces to protect their rights at this time.

 

Regardless of whether they have the ability to hire a lawyer, if family members themselves have the ability to appear in court to defend the defendant, it is not only a balance of prosecution and defense power but also a kind of emotional support from family members. At this time, the law should allow family members to support each other and appear in court to defend their relatives. This is a reflection of family ties.

 

At the end of the article, he says that the family is the foundation of society, and only by maintaining good family ethics can social development be healthy.

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