Executions of Three Protestants despite Evidence of Torture

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For immediate release, CRD

December 4, 2006

Executions of Three Protestants despite Evidence of Torture,

Raises Fear of a Rash to Carry out Death Sentences

CRD deplores the executions of three protestant leaders in Heilongjiang following the appeals court decision to uphold the death sentences in the face of overwhelming evidence of torture used to extract confessions. CRD confirmed the report that the executions were carried out on November 22, before lawyers and families were notified of the appeal decisions on November 29.

The three men, Xu Shuangfu (徐双富 60 years old, male), Li Maoxing (李毛兴 55, male) and Wang Jun (王军 36, male), were leaders of a Protestant house church called “Three Grades of Servants.” In April 2004, Heilongjiang prosecutors charged them and 14 members of their church with “premeditated murder” in connection to the deaths of 20 members of another Protestant group, “Eastern Lightning Group” (and Xu was also charged for embezzling 32 million RMB yuan). They were convicted by the Shuangya City Intermediate People’s Court after trials on March 2-4, 2006. The court announced the death sentences in July. The defendants filed appeals. The Heilongjiang Provincial Higher Court held the appeal trials on October 17-19, but did not announce the verdicts. On November 29, the defendants’ lawyer Li Heping received a phone call from a judge asking for his address in order to send the verdicts. When asked, the judge said that the defendants had been executed the previous week.

Defendants had told lawyers and the court that they were innocent and they had been tortured and forced to sign interrogation records. The lawyers collected overwhelming evidence of torture. They interviewed other church members and family members who were detained for questioning in connection to this case and they were tortured to testify against the three leaders. In their written defense for the first trial, Xu Shuangfu’s lawyers described “the brutality and violence of the torture” as being “beyond [their] wildest imagination.” The lawyers, Li Heping of the Gaobo Longhua Firm, Beijing and Zhang Lihui of the Beijing Branch of the Xingyun Law Office, documented various forms of torture used as interrogation tactics, including:

• Long periods of sleep deprivation

• Forced injection of hot pepper, gasoline, or ginger juice in the nose

• Hanging by the wrists, which were tied up, feet off the ground (“frontal hanging”)

• Forcing tied-up arms through the legs by bending the body forward, hanging by the wrists in this fashion, feet off the ground (“backward hanging”)

• Electric shocks, delivered in three ways: first, threading the electric wire around toes; second, threading the wire around the fingers; third, thread the wire around the sexual organ;

• Forcing the defendant to wear a helmet that generates unbearably laud noises electronically, and beating the helmet with heavy sticks (to increase the noise level);

• Beating with metal chains or heavy sticks (Mr. Xu had several swollen bulges from beatings on his head and legs);

• Chained to a chair without food or water for two days and nights;

• Handcuffed and leg-cuffed on fixed spots, loosened only for 5 minutes for meals (Mr. Xu had been shackled during the period of investigation, from his arrest to December 15, 2005);

• Baking under the intense heat of high-voltage electric light bulbs.

During the trials, when the defense lawyers tried several times to introduce the evidence of torture, the judges cut them off. Consequently, judges did not examine the evidences of torture and ignored the lawyers’ request that the prosecutors’ evidence were un- admissible. For this reason, the death sentences were unfair. The courts violated Chinese law and international conventions, according to which, the court must examine evidence of torture and investigate claims of torture.

The lawyers’ documentations of torture cannot be independently verified. Members of the same house church and families are afraid to talk. Some of them are still detained. Others have been warned to keep silence. The lawyers are under tremendous pressure not to speak up about their case or to publicize the evidences that they documented.

The Intermediate Court of Shuangyashan city in Heilongjiang also convicted 14 other members of the church for murder. The court gave deaths with suspended executions to three others, Zhang Min (35, male), Zhu Lixin (37, male) and Ben Zhonghai, and sentenced the remaining eleven to between 3 to 15 years imprisonment.

According to the Texas-based China Aid Association, a Christian house church monitoring group, police in seven provinces have charged 63 people for the same murders, presumably committed between March 2003 and 2004. The group said that 22 of the 63 were sentenced to death, 12 of them, including the 3, were executed. The 9 others, Liu Hong (刘宏), Zhang Guanzhong (张贵中), Wang Xiang (王祥), Xia Hongwen (夏洪文), Liu Yabin (刘亚斌), Bao Shankun (鲍善坤), Miao Guixian (苗桂显), Wu Guangchang (吴广昌), and Jiao Jianmin (焦见民), were convicted and executed in Chongqing City and in Henan, Shandong, Jiangxi, and Sichuan provinces. No other personal and geographic information about them can be confirmed at this point.

“Three Gates of Servants” is one denomination of the Chinese protestant house church. It claims to have more than 500,000 members. One of the executed leaders, Xu Shuangfu, had been put in jail and “re-education through labor camps” (RTL) for a total of more than 10 years for “illegal missionary activities” and “organizing evil religious activities” since 1976. Another, Li Maoxing, had also been sent to re-education through labor at the Shiliping RTL camp in Zhejiang Province in 2001.

We believe that the speedy and secret executions were designed to deprive defendants’ of an appeal and review, starting on January 1, 2007, by the Supreme Court. A review by the highest court in Beijing may give lawyers and families a chance to expose the legal irregularities involved in the lower courts’ handling of these cases, including accusations of torture, which could lead to lengthy investigations. We are concerned that other local authorities may similarly expedite rulings on appeals and executions before January.

Until the Supreme Court assumes anew its authority, the Provincial Higher Courts’ verdicts on death sentences are final. The PRC Criminal Procedure Law (1997) apparently does not require notifying lawyer and family after a final verdict is reached to uphold a death sentence and before execution, though it does specify that family must be notified within seven days after the execution. (See Article 211) Article 211 also stipulates that “After receiving an order from the Supreme People’s Court to execute a death sentence, the People’s Court at a lower level shall cause the sentence to be executed within seven days.”

The 1980 Chinese Criminal Code vested the final authority in deciding death sentences in the Supreme Court. However, this authority was deferred by the NCP to the Intermediate Courts and/or Provincial High Courts later the same year to respond to political needs for harsh crackdowns, which called for expediting the handling of death sentences. Last year, under international pressure, the NPC decided that the final approval of death sentences should return to the Supreme Court. The PRC Criminal Procedure Law (adopted by NPC in 1979, amended in 1996, and went into effect in 1997), Article 199, specifies that “Death sentences shall be subject to approval by the Supreme People’s Court.”

CRD has called on the Standing Committee of the Chinese National People’s Congress, the nation’s legislative body, to activate special procedures

(1) To investigate the procedural irregularities and rights abuses in the handling of these cases by local law enforcement and the courts;

(2) To issue a special moratorium, halting all executions of inmates, whose death sentences have been upheld by provincial higher courts, until the Supreme Court is able to review the cases;

(3) To reform the country’s criminal system toward the abolition of the death penalty and take incremental measures, at the meantime, to ensure that death sentences are only used fairly and very cautiously. Taking back the authority of final review of death sentences to the Supreme Court would help with this move forward if the Supreme Court could exercise judiciary independence in reviewing and deciding death sentences.

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