Retired Teacher Dies in Custody Three Weeks Before Chinese New Year

Ms. Song Zhaoheng, a 76-year-old retired teacher in Yushu City, Jilin Province, died on January 14, 2019, while awaiting the verdict of her trial. Her “crime”? talking to people about her faith in Falun Gong.

Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a peaceful mind-body practice that includes gentle exercises and adherence to the principles of Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance. Since the Chinese Communist Party began to persecute Falun Gong in July 1999, tens of thousands of practitioners have been arrested, detained and tortured, and many have died.

Ms. Song credited Falun Gong with improving her health and moral character. Having had firsthand experience with the practice, she seized every opportunity to tell people that Falun Gong was nothing like what was depicted by the hate propaganda perpetuated by the Communist Party.

Ms. Song was arrested on August 27, 2018, while she was talking to people about Falun Gong. She was taken to the Yushu City Detention Center after being interrogated in the local police station.

Her case was forwarded to the Yushu City Court by the Yushu City Procuratorate about a month later. She defended her right to practice and share information about Falun Gong during her trial on November 16, 2018.

It was said that officials planned to sentence Ms. Song to 9 years in prison, but she died suddenly in the detention center on January 19, three weeks before the 2019 Chinese New Year (which falls on February 5). At the time of writing, the authorities still hadn't disclosed the cause of her death.

According to insiders, Yu Shen, deputy mayor and police chief of Yushu City, has been going all out to persecute local Falun Gong practitioners since he came to office in January 2018. Under his directives, the local police, the procuratorate, and the courts are working hand-in-hand to arrest, charge, and sentence practitioners who refuse to renounce their faith in Falun Gong.

While practitioners aged 70 and over were spared detention in the past, Yu gave orders that all practitioners who are arrested are to be kept in detention. Ms. Song was not the only local practitioner recently targeted for her faith. Ms. Li Qingxia and Ms. Liu Shuyan, both 75, and Mr. Xu Jingchao, 85, remain incarcerated and are facing further prosecution.

Ms. Song's death came only three days after 82-year-old Ms. Guo Zhenxiang, a resident of Shandong Province, died just hours after being arrested for distributing Falun Gong materials.

Many more elderly practitioners across China have been arrested for their faith. In 2018 alone, 403 practitioners over 65 were arrested, with the oldest being 90. In addition, 99 practitioners over 65 were sentenced to prison in 2018, with terms as long as 9 years.

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