Update in Cao County, Shandong case: Arrests of Christians Zhao Weiliang & Cheng Hongpeng approved

Zhao Weiliang

China Aid Association

(Cao county, Shandong—Aug. 7, 2014) Two Christians who were among 22 in coastal Shandong province taken into police custody while rehearsing hymns in June are to be formally arrested, their defense lawyer reported last week on his blog.

Christian rights defense lawyer Chen Jiangang said that local authorities have approved the formal arrest of the two, Zhao Weiliang and Cheng Hongpeng. Chen, who is Zhao’s defense lawyer, said an Aug. 1 post to his Weibo blog that the two are genuine Christians and innocent of the charge of “using a cult organization to undermine law enforcement.”

Zhao and Cheng were the only ones still in detention following the June 25 raid on the 357 Wood Mill Factory in Cao County where the Christians were rehearsing. More than 50 police and plainclothes officers with machine guns burst into the factory in the town of Zhuangzhai at about 3 p.m. Without showing any identification or following legal procedures, they forcibly rounded up 22 people by twisting their arms. Three children, two of whom were less than a year old, were also taken away, and one of the 22 adults was pregnant.

Zhao later described being taken first to a local police station, where he was slapped in the face, and then detained at a hotel where a drunken police officer jumped on his back and beat him, telling him that he would be allowed to go home if he admitted that he was a member of a cult and promised to cut all ties to the group. But Zhao was unmoved, choosing persecution over denying his faith.

The Cao County Public Security Bureau then formally detained 12 of the 22: Zhao Weiliang, Tang Zhaoru, Zhang Huiyu, Yan Ximing, Su Quangang, Cheng Hongpeng, Chen Lijie, Liu Sisheng, Chen Ruilan, Si Xinling, Yao Fayi and Chen Liyuan.

On July 23, all but Zhao and Cheng were released. Before the decision to approve the arrest of Zhao and Cheng, Zhao’s lawyer Chen issued a lengthy statement arguing that there was no legal basis for issuing formal arrest warrants for them. Saying that singing hymns was no different than singing any kind of songs, Chen argued that if singing songs was a violation of the law, then the local police might as well kill all the skylarks. A translation of the full text of his statement is provided below.

ChinaAid is paying close attention to this case and will monitor developments closely. We call on the Shandong provincial government to abide by the constitution and other laws that protect the right of Chinese citizens to enjoy freedom of religion, to safeguard in the true sense of the word all basic human rights, including religious freedom and to immediately release Zhao and Cheng as innocent of the charges against them.

Legal Opinion Arguing Against the Formal Arrest of Zhao Weiliang—Chen Jiangang, defense counsel for Zhao Weiliang
Cao County Procuratorate, Shandong Province:

Lawyer writing this letter: Chen Jiangang. Lawyer from Beijing Yingke Law Firm. Tel: 13381367825.

Having been hired by Zhao Weiliang’s family and with Zhao’s approval, I am serving as defense counsel for Zhao Weiliang. After accepting his case, I met with Zhao Weliang in the Cao County Detention Center on July 16, 2014. That same day, I submitted to the Cao County Public Security Bureau an application for bail pending trial as well as my written legal opinion of this case. In accordance with legal procedure, a request for approval to arrest in this case has already been filed. Herewith is defense counsel’s legal opinion, submitted to this procuratorate, on why Zhao Weiliang should not be arrested.

Based on Zhao Weiliang’s oral statement and the investigation conducted by defense counsel, the defense counsel has learned the following facts:

1. At about 3 p.m. on July 25, 2014, when Zhao Weiliang and 21 other Christians (not including children) were rehearsing hymn singing (an activity specific to the Christian faith; singing hymns means they are singing songs of praise) in the 357 Wood Mill Factory, located on the side of the road in the town of Zhuangzhai, Cao county, more than 50 police officers and plain clothes officers suddenly broke in. Carrying “machine-guns,” they burst into the area where the hymn singing was taking place. Without showing any identification or going through any legal procedures, they rounded up and forcibly removed the 22 people by twisting their arms. They also took away three or more children, two of whom were less than a year old. A pregnant woman was also among those taken away.

2. Without going through any legal procedures, the police took from Zhao Weiliang and the other Christians a large number of [items that were their] legal property, including musical instruments, speakers, tables and stools and even toilet paper and anti-mosquito coils.

3. On the afternoon of June 25, 2014, plainclothes and [uniformed] police officers took Zhao Weiliang to Taoyuan Police Station where he was illegally interrogated. No one showed him any identification. Some police officers threatened Zhao Weiliang and wanted him to admit that he was a follower of the cult “Total Scope Church.” Zhao said he had never heard of “Total Scope Church” and that he has never followed any cult beliefs. The interrogating police officer blamed Zhao Weiliang for refusing to admit that he was a cult follower and beat him and slapped him in the face. He also openly threatened Zhao Weiliang, saying: “There is no surveillance camera in this room. If I beat you to death, no one will know. What human rights? Do you think you are in Hong Kong? This is China!” For the whole of the night of June 25, they did not give Zhao Weiliang any food or water and did not let him sleep.

4. On June 26, they continued to interrogate Zhao Weiliang, and this time, it was mainly threats and verbal abuse. The police said they would take down the curtains and hang him up there [instead] and beat him. In the afternoon, the police gave Zhao Weiliang a piece of bread so that it could be recorded on camera. They denied Zhao Weiliang even a minute of rest until dawn of June 27.

5. On June 27, the police took Zhao Weiliang to Rainwater Business Hotel and detained him there. In the evening, a drunken ranking criminal police officer rushed back to the room where Zhao Weiliang was detained and continued to threaten and verbally abuse him. He said: “If you don’t tell the truth, we will beat you to death.” Then, he handcuffed Zhao’s and jumped on his back and beat him. This ranking police officer repeatedly slapped Zhao Weiliang’s face and pummeled Zhao’s chest with his fists.

6. Zhao Weiliang said that the Lord he believes in is the true triune God, Jesus Christ, and that he does not believe in heresy; that his belief is totally based on Christianity’s Apostles Creed (The Apostles Creed: I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord; Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary; Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell; The third day he rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead; I believe in the Holy Ghost; I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints; The forgiveness of sins; The resurrection of the body; And the life everlasting. Amen.)

He does not worship earthly idols, much less any person in the secular world. Zhao Weiliang and the other Christians do not have any organization. When they get together to sing hymns, it is so that when there are happy occasions in Christian families, such as weddings or the birth of a child, they can perform the hymns. The site for their hymn singing is the factory building of the 357 Wood Mill Factory (which occupies more than 10 mu of land). Besides, there are virtually no neighbors in the vicinity of the wood mill, so their singing in the factory did not cause any harm to anyone.

Given the above facts, defense counsel hereby puts forward the following legal opinion to this procuratorate:

I. When Zhao Weiliang and the others were singing Christian hymns, this was a legal activity and they did not violate any laws. Singing hymns is the same as singing songs and singing songs is not illegal, much less criminal. If singing hymns were a crime, then perhaps the Cao County Public Security Bureau would have to kill all the skylarks.

II. There is no legal basis for the Cao County Public Security Bureau to seek the arrest of Zhao Weiliang and the other Christians on the charge of “using a cult organization to undermine law enforcement.”

Article 300 of the Criminal Law of China says: Whoever organizes and utilizes superstitious sects, secret societies, and evil religious organizations or undermines the implementation of the state’s laws and executive regulations by utilizing superstition is to be sentenced to not less than three years and not more than seven years of fixed-term imprisonment; when circumstances are particularly serious, to not less than seven years of fixed-term imprisonment. According to the regulation of this article, there must be the following conditions to constitute the crime of “using a cult organization to undermine law enforcement:”

① An organization must exist. What Zhao Weiliang believes in is Christianity. According to the Bible, Christians call each other “fellow members in Christ” or they simply call each other “brothers and sisters.” However, there is no organization and there is no organ that that makes decisions, executes policies, supervises activities or performs disciplinary inspection.

② This organization has to be a cult organization. Since there is no organization, how can there be a cult organization?

③ There should be conduct that utilizes this organization. Since there is no organization, how could it utilized? What did they utilize?

④ As for the assertion that their conduct violated the law and undermined the enforcement of laws and regulations, Zhao Weiliang and the others are ignorant and have no rights, how could they undermine law enforcement? Which law or administrative regulation did they undermine?

Since the essential conditions do not exist in any of the above circumstances, approval of an arrest on the basis of this article of the law is obviously a case of persecution of Christians.

III. The police officers of the Cao County Public Security Bureau who handled this case engaged in serious abuse of power, illegal detention and extortion of confessions by means of torture and other unlawful and even criminal acts.

The police officers of Cao County Public Security Bureau handling this case engaged in conduct that violated the law and were even criminal acts, the details of which I will not reiterate here. Zhao Weiliang has authorized me to sue the police and he has signed the indictment papers.

Let me ask the procuratorator who approved the arrest: What crimes were committed by the three or more children who were detained along with their mothers? At least two of these children are infants under one year of age, but the Cao county police officers seem to acted without a conscience in detaining them for two days without food and water. It was not until the babies’ mothers showed them that the babies appeared to be dying that they gave them some snacks. This kind of persecution of babies, children and pregnant woman by the Cao county police in their handling of the case not only violated the law, but was an inhumane act of atrocity.

IV. The true nature of this case is accusing virtuous and innocent people of criminal acts and destroying virtue to gain reward.

There is a special backdrop against which the Cao county police dispatched such a large police force and took illegal measures in rounding up and interrogating the law-abiding religious believers. The defense counsel has learned that, after the Almighty God Incident in Zhaoyuan, Shandong, the director of the Shandong Provincial Public Security Department convened a conference in which he said that he would stage a concentrated campaign within Shandong province to strike a blow against cult organizations. “It was decided that between June and August of this year, a concentrated effort would be made to deal a severe blow against cult organizations in their illegal activities and crimes, to dig up a group of cult members and wipe out key members.”

As the Chinese saying goes: “When a superior has a hobby, his subordinates make every effort to please him.” The Cao county Public Security agencies spared no effort in arresting Christian believers by ignoring legal procedures, and we cannot rule out the possibility that they will take credit and seek rewards on the pretext of having dealt blows against so-called cult organizations.

As another Chinese saying goes: “Let me use the blood on your neck to dye my hat red (win a promotion).” Against the backdrop of earning rewards in the name of dealing blows against a cult, Zhao Weiliang and other pure-hearted Christian believers were taken into government custody.

Let me emphasize one point: How does Zhao Weiliang regard the police officer who beat him? His words to his defense counsel were: “Though he beat and cursed me, with the love of Jesus Christ, I forgive him.” The difference between benevolence and evil and right and wrong are self-evident.

To sum up, the so-called charge that Zhao Weiliang “used a cult organization to undermine law enforcement” does not exist in fact. There are no criminal acts in this case and there are no consequences of a crime or the object of a crime. Therefore, this case is a fake case. Given the fact that the procuratorate has the official authority to decide whether to approve the arrest of the suspect and to supervise the Public Security Bureau in its handling of the case, defense counsel hereby requests that this procuratorate carry out its responsibility of legal supervision and correct the illegal handling of the case by the Cao county police, and urges the police to withdraw the case and immediately release Zhao Weiliang. After all, the function of the so-called people’s police’s is to “protect the personal safety, personal freedom and legal properties of citizens,” not to maim and harm ordinary people; after all, the speech by Xu Zhubao, the director of Shandong Provincial Public Security Department, was about dealing a blow to cult organizations, not to law-abiding religious believers, and not to persecute Christians, let alone “creating a cult” in the name of dealing a blow against a cult.

To: Cao County Procuratorate, Shandong Province
Defense counsel: Chen Jiangang
Date: July 21, 2014

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