|Shaoguan Intermediate People’s Court, which granted Yu a seven-month sentence reduction. Image credit: Baidu Maps|
Acts of clemency for Chinese religious and political prisoners have become increasingly rare in recent years. This decrease is the result of Xi Jinping’s hardline approach to both dissent and unorthodox religions, coupled with a sharp drop in judicial transparency. An exception took place in the summer of 2022 when Yu Rongxin (余荣新), a long-time Falun Gong practitioner in Guangdong, was granted a seven-month sentence reduction by the Shaoguan Intermediate People’s Court in June.
Yu, born 1972, and wife Xie Qing (谢清), born 1966, were both residents of Jiangmen, Guangdong Province, and Falun Gong practitioners. Their case was highlighted on the Guangdong Province Anti-Cult website as a homepage news item in April 2019.
The couple were summoned by police on September 18, 2017 and detained the next day for violating Article 300 of the Criminal Law, “organizing or using a cult to undermine implementation of the law.” They were subsequently arrested on October 26 of the same year.
|The Yuan bills with propaganda messages. Image credit: sohu.com|
The anti-cult website reported that Yu and Xie were both long-time Falun Gong practitioners, starting in 1993 and 1997, respectively. Yu was the Falun Gong guidance counselor for the Jiangmen branch during the mid-1990s. For this, he received administrative punishment in 1999.
The couple’s 2017 legal ordeal started when police searched their residence and found numerous materials with Falun Gong messages. Those included: 3,834 Yuan bills printed with propaganda messages, 425 copies of pamphlets, 68 optical discs, two USB flash drives, two SD cards, one each of an MP3 player and MP4 player pre-loaded with Falun Gong content, and computers and printers.
According to Falun Gong media, the couple was first tried by the Jiangmen Pengjiang District Court. On December 28, 2018, Yu was sentenced to eight and a half years and Xie to seven and a half years. Both appealed.
The anti-cult website reported that on March 12, 2019, the Jiangmen Intermediate Court rejected their appeals and upheld the original sentences. The court found that the couple had been spreading cult messages by spending the message-laden Yuan while shopping as well as gathering others to practice Falun Gong. The court deemed those offenses to be “extremely severe.”
Yu, according to the Falun Gong media, was sent to the Beijiang Prison in Shaoguang City; while Xie was sent to the Provincial Women’s Prison.
|Beijiang Prison. Image credit: Southern Metropolis Daily |
According to sources, Yu has behaved well in prison. He and his wife exchanged letters of encouragement with each other. The Beijiang prison looked upon those exchanges favorably and submitted a sentence reduction request for Yu. The women’s prison apparently did not submit a request for a sentence reduction for Xie. Yu will be released in August 2025, while Xie will be released in March 2025.
Dui Hua's research into Shaoguan Intermediate Court's sentence reduction and parole decisions released in 2021 and 2022 revealed that clemency granted to “cult” practitioners is uncommon. There were more sentence reduction approvals for prisoners who committed drug-related crimes and violent crimes than there were for "cult" prisoners, even though those offenses were mostly non-violent. When approvals were given, the courts granted shorter periods of reduction than those recommended by the prisons.