By Rachel Ritchie
|Chen Jiangang holds a banner outside
the courtroom, reading “Believing in
Christ is our freedom; persecuting
Christians is a crime.”
(Photo: China Aid)
(Cao County, Shandong–May 13, 2015) The trial of two Christians from China’s coastal Shandong province, accused of “using a cult organization to undermine law enforcement,” took place on April 22-23, 2015.
Zhao Weiliang and Cheng Hongpeng were detained on June 25, 2014 when authorities raided a choir practice and took 22 church members into custody in Heze. Some of the church members were released the same day, and some were placed under administrative detention. Only Zhao and Cheng were placed under criminal detention and later under formal arrest. The group was accused of being members of the Born Again Movement, also known as the Total Scope Church.
One of Zhao’s lawyers Chen Jiangang, told China Aid that a large amount of evidence was presented by the prosecutor; however, “expect for the testimonies of two witnesses from the Heze Municipal Civil Affairs Bureau and the testimony of one witness from the Heze Municipal Religious Affairs Bureau, all the evidence was presented in the form of photocopies, not original documents. They are not valid, according to legal provisions.
“In addition, in the photocopied testimonies presented, almost every witness was persecuted and coerced,” Chen said. “The witnesses were forced to sign the testimonies during their interrogations. Some witnesses were beaten, tortured or threatened with a three-year prison sentence.
“After the adjournment, witnesses came to us and said ‘I never said anything like that, and they never asked me about that,’” Chen said. “The government employees forced Su Quangang to sign the fabricated testimony by threatening the 2-1/2-year-old Su was holding at the time. Su was then released on bail.
“Another piece of evidence presented was an explanation, written by the police, about how they cracked the case. It was obvious that some elements were fabricated, and we exposed those,” Chen said.
“An assessment done by the prosecutor on confiscated electronic media is illegal in form and content, and the information claimed to be from the church members’ materials is suspected of being forged by authorities,” Fu Yonggang, Chen’s other lawyer, said. “The assessments included content from two books, titled Light of Truth and Key to Going up the Mountain. The Heze Bureau of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television presented the assessment, which stated that the books were illegal publications, produced by a so-called cult, the Born Again Movement.”
“There is no evidence to prove these people believe in the Born Again Movement,” Chen said. “Five witnesses from the church group testified in court that they had never heard of the Born Again Movement before they were taken into custody.”
Chen told China Aid that authorities beat Zhao, forcing him to kneel on the floor while officers took turns kicking and slapping him following the trial’s adjournment on the first day.
The trial ended on April 23, and the judge said that the verdict would be announced at another time.
Fu said that during the trial, the judge was courteous and didn’t interrupt the lawyers, but that he got into an argument with the prosecutor.
Only two members of each of the defendants’ families were allowed in the courtroom. Hundreds of Christians gathered outside the court to support the Christians and their families.
A lawyer, Zhang Keke, planned to attend the trial but was forced to stand outside the courtroom in the crowd. “At the gate, about two hundred people gathered to try to attend the trial, but the court police wouldn’t let them enter. Some police officers were patrolling and supervising the area. Sections of the roads were blocked off.
“One of my clients appeared in court as a witness,” Zhang said. “He was one of the Christians placed under administrative detention and released on bail. After he appeared in court on April 22, he was taken away.”