Singapore Falun Gong Practitioners Boycott Trial Tuesday, Jan 23 2007 

By Huang Hui, Epoch Times Singapore Staff, 23 Jan 2007

SINGAPORE β€” In an act of civil disobedience in a Singapore courtroom Monday morning, six adherents of the Falun Gong spiritual movement protested the secrecy in which their trial was being held. The judge found the practitioners guilty of contempt of court, and sentenced the practitioners to two days in prison without possibility of bail or visitation. In a surprising move, the practitioners were released after one night in prison.

The Falun Gong adherents β€” or practitioners, as they often call themselves β€” were on trial for events that occurred over two years ago. They had been arrested Nov. 23, 2005 along Orchard Road in Singapore for distributing fliers telling about the persecution of Falun Gong in China and were charged with “assembling without a permit.”

At issue in their dispute with the judge on Monday morning was the size of the courtroom. Their trial had been scheduled to be held in courtroom No. 35, which is the smallest courtroom in the Subordinate Court, having only eight chairs inside it.

The presiding judge refused to bring additional chairs into the court, as had been done in a previous hearing, and refused to move the trial to another courtroom. As a result, no family members, media or supporters were allowed access to the courtroom, leading to the practitioners’ protest.

Outside the Courtroom

At 9:30 a.m., after the six defendants had entered the courtroom, their family members and the media outside who requested to observe the proceedings were refused admittance. Police explained that the room had only eight chairs and all seats were occupied. According to seasoned court observers, for a Singapore court holding an open trial to deny observation by family members and media is very rare.

About 40 minutes later, the police instructed the supporters outside the courtroom to retreat, claiming that the judge had decided to detain all six defendants. When the police escorted the six defendants in handcuffs out of the courtroom, the scene was tense. Many of the supporters cried while some kept shouting, “Falun Dafa is good!”

When asked why the practitioners were taken away, the police replied, “They did not cooperate.”

A family member of defendant Dr. Wang Yuyi asked to meet her before she was taken away, but his request was rejected, as had been his repeated requests to observe the trial. When he asked for an explanation, the police told him, “It is the judge’s instruction.”

At 2:30 p.m., the court resumed the trial, but until the end of the trial session at around 4:30 p.m, none of the accused Falun Gong practitioners could be seen. It was later learned that they had been led into the courtroom by another passage.

Inside the Courtroom

Dr. Wang, in a telephone interview, explained what happened inside the courtroom.

Dr Wang said the defendants were forced to represent themselves because they had not been able to find a lawyer in Singapore who would do so. According to Dr. Wang, before the trial commenced, the defendants, representing themselves, had written to the pre-trial conference judge on Jan. 5 requesting a bigger courtroom so that observers could witness the proceedings.

The judge turned down their request.

Before the trial started this morning, Dr. Wang says the defendants again raised their request for a larger courtroom, and the judge again refused.

Dr. Wang then asked if the trial could be postponed, and the judge replied that the trial had to take place that day.

Dr. Wang then asked if the judge could order that six extra chairs be brought into the sides of the courtroom. She pointed out that she had seen the same arrangement had been made in this courtroom for other trials, and said that if the judge granted this request the trial could take place that day.

The judge also refused this request, and asked the defendants if they wanted to meet privately for ten minutes to discuss the situation.

The six immediately answered that they did not need ten minutes, and one of the practitioners said to the judge, “We don’t need ten minutes. But you need the time to ask for instructions.”

The judge then ordered the prosecutor to call his first witness, who was the police officer who had videotaped the events on Oct. 23, 2005.

In response, the practitioners turned their backs on the judge, boycotting the trial.

According to Dr. Wang, a few moments into the police officer’s testimony, the practitioners began loudly reciting “Lunyu”β€”the preface to Zhuan Falun, Falun Gong’s main book of teachings.

The judge, the prosecutor, and the police all shouted “Stop!” but the practitioners continued their recitation.

The judge and the prosecutor then left the courtroom, and the police handcuffed the defendants and took them to the temporary holding cell in the courthouse.

In the afternoon the judge asked the defendants if they would apologize.

According to Dr. Wang, she then said, “You need to apologize to us for what you did. You know the law well while violating the law.”

After a discussion in which all the defendants took part, the judge said that if they would not apologize, they would be found in contempt of court.

The defendants refused to apologize and then the judge asked if they wanted to claim any mitigation for their actions. According to Dr. Wang, the defendants replied that they had not done anything wrong, and that it was the judge who should apologize.

The judge then sentenced the six to two days in prison, with no bail or visitation allowed.

After one night in prison, the Singapore officials, in an apparent move to save face, claimed that the practitioners had already served two days (Monday night and Tuesday morning) and released them. Family members of the defendants believe that the Singapore government reversed itself due to intense international pressure.

Unfair Judicial System

Falun Gong practitioners in Singapore believe they have been unfairly targeted by the Singapore police, and received unfair treatment in the judicial system.

One aspect of that mistreatment has been Singapore’s denial of counsel to Falun Gong practitioners.

In a trial in 2004 on charges of having distributed VCDs without a permit, Falun Gong practitioners were defended by Mr. Dodwell. After that trial, the court demanded Mr. Dodwell apologize for his behavior in that case. The lawyer concluded that if he continued defending the practitioners, he would lose his license, and regretfully declined to offer his services further.

In late November, two Falun Gong practitioners were sentenced, one for ten days and the other for 15 days, for having meditated opposite the Chinese Embassy in Singapore beneath a banner that called for an end to the persecution of Falun Gong.

During that trial the practitioners’ defense lawyer, Mr. Ravi, was admitted to a hospital. The court claimed there was not sufficient evidence that he was too sick to defend the practitioners, rejecting a statement from the hospital to that effect. The practitioners were given one day to find a new lawyer.

Later Mr. Ravi’s license was suspended. In fact, Mr. Ravi was the only lawyer in Singapore who was willing to defend the Falun Gong practitioners.

Ms. Theresa Chu, the Director of the legal watchdog organization Human Rights Legal Foundation, traveled to Singapore at the time of the hearing on Mr. Ravi’s medical condition to try to help ensure that a fair trial was given.

As the Epoch Times reported in September 2006, Ms. Chu raised serious concerns about Singapore’s judicial system following the hearing.

“[The court] wants to force the accused practitioners, who have no legal expertise, to defend themselves. They are given only one day to find a new lawyer, which is definitely unfair and unreasonable,” she said. “I have many doubts about the fairness [of the trial]” she concluded, saying that even in Hong Kong Falun Gong has more freedom that in Singapore.

Monday’s trial for “assembly without permit” will resume on Wednesday morning. The defendants have all told their family members that if their requests that media and family members be allowed to attend should not be granted, they will continue boycotting the trial.

Additional reporting by Stephen Gregory


The Precision Of Ritual In The Gallows’ Shadow Tuesday, Jan 23 2007 

3 days to go before Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi is hanged at 6am on 26 Jan 2007.

What you’re about to read is a Nov 2005 news report about Nguyen Tuong Van. Just replace Nguyen’s name with Amara Tochi’s and you’ll have a picture of his final days till 6am on 26 Jan 2007……….

The precision of ritual in the gallows’ shadow, Nov 24, 2005, The Age

Place of execution: Singapore’s Changi Prison, where Nguyen Tuong Van is scheduled to hang in eight days. Photo: Craig Abraham

In his final days, Nguyen Tuong Van will get the best care Changi Prison has to offer. He will also be weighed and measured with clinical precision to help calculate the length for the rope from which he will hang.

If his treatment mirrors that of those who have gone before him, Nguyen is now living in strict isolation in a cell measuring about three metres by three metres. He has a toilet and a mat for sleeping, but no bedding and uses a bucket for washing. He is not permitted to go out for fresh air or exercise.

Next week, his status as a man close to execution should win him special concessions: food of his choice (within the prison’s budget) and extra visits from relatives. And a visit from the hangman, who will check his weight and measure the distance from Nguyen’s neck to the floor before going away to make his calculations according to a bureaucratic manual, the Official Table of Drops, published by the British Home Office in 1913.

Singapore is believed to use “the long drop” method, which is meant to be the most merciful. The correct length of the rope for an individual is crucial to the “success” of a hanging – if success is defined as a quick death with little suffering.

Normally, only jail staff and a doctor are present at executions in Singapore, although others, such as a minister of religion, may be admitted at the discretion of the prison superintendent.

Nguyen’s senior lawyer, Lex Lasry, QC, has applied to be a witness at the execution, along with fellow defence lawyer Julian McMahon.

“We’ve taken the view that, for our client’s sake, we’ve requested to be present at his execution,” Mr Lasry said yesterday. He has not yet heard from Singaporean authorities whether they will be allowed to attend.

Mr McMahon declined to discuss how he felt about the prospect of witnessing such an event. “Our focus at this stage is on what’s best for our client.”

Mr Lasry said he had been told not to attend by a lot of friends. “I’ve been cautioned about the consequences of it. People just think to be present at something like that would be a horrible thing and that inevitably there’s going to be a consequence – and I think they have Brian Morley in mind.”

Mr Morley, 69, was one of 12 journalists to witness the execution in Melbourne in 1967 of Ronald Ryan, the last man hanged in Australia.

Mr Morley said he had had some “indirect contact” with Mr Lasry. “He’s read all my stuff on Ryan so he’s mentally prepared for it.”

But all the preparation in the world could not insulate a witness from the shock of the moment, Mr Morley said. “He will still be very traumatised by it. I believe that if the premier of the day and his cabinet had witnessed Ryan’s execution, they would have abolished capital punishment on the spot.”

Mr Morley can still remember every detail “in vivid technicolour” and it distresses him to talk about it. He does so because, in the instant that Ryan fell through the trapdoor, Mr Morley became convinced that the death penalty should be abolished everywhere.

The journalists had gathered in D Division of the old Pentridge jail, keyed up by a string of public protests and intense political debate over the hanging. “It was a little bit like being in the press box at the MCG for the grand final – nervous excitement at the big story to be covered,” Mr Morley said.

A manacled Ryan was led by a hangman in welder’s goggles along a catwalk six metres above them. A green canvas sheet hid the area below the gallows’ trapdoors. Ryan turned to face the media before the cap on his head was pulled down into a hood covering his face.

“Then the hangman leapt back and hit the lever and he dropped immediately out of sight. There was an enormous clang as the trapdoors banged and all I could hear was the creaking of the rope, like a rope in a gymnasium,” he said.

Mr Morley had gone in with an open mind about the death penalty, but “for me it was a total emotional shock; so callous, so dreadful, so horrific . . . Everyone was traumatised, everyone who saw it. My wife said I was a real mess for a long time afterwards.”

Journalist Tom Prior was another witness. He was not available yesterday, but his wife said he had gone to Ryan’s hanging believing in the death penalty “because dead men never offend again”. He, too, converted to opposing it “in that instant. It changed him totally. He has spoken to his children and to me a lot about that.”

The Ryan hanging was traumatic for everyone associated with it, despite the dying man being hidden behind a screen. When the mechanics of the process have failed, the result is even more gruesome.

“If the rope’s too long, the forces build up as the body falls and the person is decapitated,” said Tim Goodwin, anti-death-penalty co-ordinator with Amnesty International. “If it’s too short, it doesn’t break the neck with sufficient violence and the person chokes to death over a longer period.”

There are other variables, he said, such as the importance of placing the knot of the noose just above the jaw under the left ear “in order to crush the vertebrae in a particular way and snap the neck. If the person moves at the last moment, it can cause the knot to be dislodged and it doesn’t have the desired effect. Then the person can slowly strangle to death.”

If all goes according to plan, the dislocation of the vertebrae and damage to the spinal cord render the person unconscious almost instantly. The broken neck while hanging leads to “comatose asphyxia” – lack of oxygen while unconscious. Brain death follows in about six minutes and whole-body death in about 15 minutes. Some people exhibit muscle spasms while they are hanging.

“There’s nothing about this that’s pretty,” Mr Goodwin said. “It’s a brutal and gruesome death.”

Singapore has people who cannot stomach execution. It has been reported that the current hangman has been difficult to replace, as two prison officers trained to take over each froze when it came to pulling the lever for “the real thing”.

So shortly before dawn tomorrow week – Friday is the day for hangings in Singapore – the hangman who has done the job for 46 years will handcuff Nguyen and lead him on his final walk to the gallows, a few metres from his cell.

As the rope is put around Nguyen’s neck, the executioner will say what he always says: “I am going to send you to a better place than this. God bless you.”

Nguyen will be hooded. At 6am precisely the hangman will pull the lever, the trapdoor will open and he will fall to his death.

The hangman will be paid $A312 for services rendered to the state of Singapore.