Proper judicial procedure comes into question on first day of trial of human rights demonstrators
By Jaya Gibson and Steven Smith
On Assignment in Singapore Aug 29, 2006
[A passerby takes a look at a placard against the killing of Falun Gong practitioners in China, in the financial district of Singapore, 02 August 2005. Practitioners were recently arrested for handing out flyers about the persecution. (Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Images)]
SINGAPORE—In a miniscule room, tucked away in the furthest corner of the Subordinate Court, a trial of remarkable human rights interest got underway today. The accused are two Falun Gong practitioners who were peacefully protesting outside of the Chinese Embassy on July 20th, exercising their democratic right to practice their freedom of belief. Their protest consisted of displaying a banner bearing in Chinese the words, "7.20 - Stop the inhumane persecution of Falun Gong in China." (The persecution of Falun Gong in China started on July 20, 1999.)
This statement is allegedly 'insulting' and is 'harassing the Chinese Communist Party' and these are the allegations that resulted in the protesters' arrests.
Trial Treated Differently—Overseas Influence?
From the outset of the trial today, an inordinate number of police restricted court access to anyone who was not a witness or a family member of the defendants. Initially foreign press was also not allowed access as local press went straight through.
The feeling among the many interested parties waiting outside the court—some who had traveled from overseas; Australia, UK and Hong Kong to name a few countries—was that Courtroom 36 was deliberately chosen so as to restrict access and restrict public visibility.
Prior to the trial truly getting underway it was made apparent that the prosecution witnesses were present in the courtroom when the defendant's witnesses were not, thus undermining correct judicial procedure.
One such motion of serious contention was that a VCD containing footage to be submitted as evidence for the prosecution was denied to the defense due to fears that it might be made available to the public via the Internet and other channels. This raises the question: Why does the prosecution fear this footage reaching the public domain?
Defense lawyer M. Ravi put forward several impassioned motions outlining the various discrepancies surrounding the trials circumstances, suggesting a miscarriage of justice. All these motions were denied.
He also stated that article 12 of the constitution—(1) All persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law—had been breached and that the AGC is deliberately targeting Falun Gong practitioners under pressure from the government and Beijing.
73-Year-Old Defendant Ordered Deported Prior to Trial
One such example of this discrimination is clearly evident in the case of Chen Peiyu, one of the three arrested. She was finally able to attend the trial after an unusual series of events.
Chen Peiyu, a 73-year-old lady, who had been handcuffed and detained in July 2005 for handing out leaflets, was abducted by Immigration officials on August 10, 2006 prior to the trial set for August 28, 2006.
Plainclothes police and Immigration officials approached her while she was shopping, asked her name, which she gave, and then requested her passport. She refused and instead offered a duplicate copy of her passport. They then forcibly carried her to a car and drove her to the immigration office. Her green card was then revoked without explanation and she was told she had seven days to leave the country. She had to conclude her affairs and be gone by August 17.
Defense lawyer M. Ravi issued a letter to Immigration on August 14 explaining that Chen was required to attend trial on the 28th and couldn't leave Singapore.
On the August 16, police then hand-delivered a notice requesting that Chen appear in court on the 17th. On August 17, after a very short hearing, charges against her were dropped, allowing immigration to continue deportation proceedings.
Immigration then informed her that she must leave on August 21, as she was no longer required for trial. On the 21st she traveled to Batam but was refused entry and had to return to Singapore. After talking with their superiors, immigration officials granted her an extension until August 22. On the 22nd, Chen traveled to Malaysia.
She was later subpoenaed as a witness for the trial by defense lawyer M. Ravi and granted permission to return for one day to attend trial on the 28th.
This raises the question of why officials went to such trouble to prevent a 73-year-old lady from attending a trial, a lady who has committed no apparent crime, an elderly woman arrested for passing out leaflets.
Chen, who practices Falun Gong, believes she was targeted after Chinese officials put pressure on the Singapore Government to crack down on Falun Gong.
Falun Gong is an exercise and meditation practice which cultivates the universal principle of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. It was banned in China by former head of state Jiang Zemin in 1999 when it became very popular. Since then, many thousands have been tortured or killed and hundreds of thousands sent to labor camps without trial for practicing the exercises and principles.
Recent reports have exposed that organs for China's booming organ transplantation industry are obtained from living Falun Gong practitioners who are imprisoned for their beliefs. Such illicit organ harvesting is widespread in China, with hospitals and the military profiting. In a press conference held in Melbourne, Australia, at the Sir Thomas More Center last week, Edward Macmillan-Scott, the Vice President of the European Parliament, called such use of Falun Gong prisoners of conscience nothing short of genocide.