An award-winning artist was sentenced to eight years in prison for reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic and practising Falun Gong by a court in Beijing, China, on 16 January 2022. Chinese human rights site Weiquanwang (Rights Defense Network) reports that Xu Na was also fined 20,000 yuan (approximately £2,300 GBP).
Xu Na was arrested by Beijing police in July 2020 along with 10 other Falun Gong practitioners, on suspicion of “using a cult organisation to undermine law enforcement”. However, a copy of the indictment document, provided by China Aid, specifically accuses them of sending photos and reporting to The Epoch Times, a US-based outlet affiliated with the Falun Gong new religious movement, about COVID-19 restrictions in Beijing between February and June 2020. The indictment identifies Xu Na as the leader of the group. It also says that Xu Na “met with others to practise Falun Gong several times” at a privately rented property, where police officers found items containing Falun Gong materials.
The group of 11 were tried behind closed doors at the Dongcheng District People’s Court, Beijing, on 15 October 2021. Their lawyers were blocked from attending the trial, and Xu Na’s lawyer Liang Xiaojun has since had his legal license revoked.
The 10 individuals arrested alongside Xu Na are said to have also been handed custodial sentences, though the details are currently unknown.
This is the third time that Xu Na has been imprisoned in connection with her activities as a Falun Gong practitioner. She has previously been jailed twice for the same offense of “using a cult organisation to undermine law enforcement”, serving a total of eight years, and has faced torture while in prison.
In January 2008, she and her husband, Yu Zhou, were taken into a detention centre during a pre-Olympic crackdown by Beijing police. Eleven days later, Yu died in custody under suspicious circumstances.
Separately, Falun Gong businessman Fang Bin and Christian lawyer Zhang Zhan have also been targeted for reporting on the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan by sharing videos on social media. Fang’s whereabouts and status have remained unknown since he was taken by police in February 2020; while Zhang, who was arrested in May 2020 and later sentenced to four years imprisonment for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, is currently critically ill after a prolonged hunger strike in a prison in Shanghai.
CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: “CSW condemns the sentencing of Falun Gong artist Xu Na, who, like Fang Bin and Zhang Zhan, has been targeted for risking her own personal safety to reveal the truth in a time of crisis. We call for her immediate and unconditional release, and for the release of all those detained for the sharing of information relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. We also call on the Chinese government to respect its international legal obligations and end the persecution of the Falun Gong, including by immediately and unconditionally releasing all those detained in connection with their religion or belief, including Falun Gong practitioners. As Beijing prepares for another Olympics, it is essential that the international community pays close attention to China’s ongoing human rights crisis, raising cases like that of Xu Na, Fang Bin and Zhang Zhan with the Chinese Communist Party at every opportunity.”