(Minghui.org) The presiding judge kept saying “yes, acquittal” as he was adjourning the first hearing where two women were charged with using a cult to undermine law enforcement, the standard pretext used by the Chinese communist regime to frame Falun Gong practitioners.

Ms. Yu Fanglan and Ms. Zhang Shaohua, both from Yulin City, Shaanxi Province, hopeful for a prompt release, were sentenced by the same judge during the second hearing two months later. Ms. Yu was sentenced to a four year prison term, and Ms. Zhang to 3.5 years.

Both women suspect that the 610 Office was behind the judge's sudden change in verdict. As an extra-legal agency, the 610 Office is tasked with eradicating Falun Gong, and given the power to override the judicial system.

Arrest and First Hearing

Ms. Yu and Ms. Zhang were arrested on October 8, 2015, while talking to people about the persecution of Falun Gong. The first hearing was held on January 29, 2016.

Judge Wang Fuqiang indicated that he had reviewed the Falun Gong materials confiscated from the two women, and understood what the persecution was about. He also said he did some investigation of them and acknowledged that both were award-winning teachers.

Defense lawyer Zhang Xi followed up by saying that her clients broke no law by exercising their constitutional rights to practice and spread information about Falun Gong.

Judge Wang repeatedly said “yes, acquittal” as he lifted his gavel to conclude the hearing. He promised that a verdict would be issued soon.

Second Hearing and Prison Sentence

Ms. Yu and Ms. Zhang were in for a surprise during their second hearing on March 25. In Ms. Yu's words, “We were totally dumbfounded, as the judge sounded very positive during the first hearing, indicating that he was going to release us soon. Now, two months later, we were sentenced instead.”

They questioned Judge Wang, “Why did you suddenly change your mind? Who ordered you to keep us behind bars?” He declined to answer.

The two women plan to appeal the verdict.