(Minghui.org) An appeals court in Heilongjiang Province ruled in March 2017 to uphold the conviction of three locals, but to reduce their prison sentences.

Mr. Ge Zhenhua, Mr. Su Kun, and Ms. Wang Cui’e were arrested on June 20, 2016 after being reported for hanging banners bearing messages of Falun Gong, a spiritual discipline being persecuted by the Chinese communist regime. Police smashed the windshield of the car they were driving and impounded the vehicle.

Mr. Su and Ms. Wang were sent to Harbin City Second Detention Center, while Mr. Ge was sent to Shangzhi City Detention Center.

Zhang Yijun, prosecutor of Shangzhi City Procuratorate, filed an indictment on October 9, 2016 against the three Falun Gong practitioners, charging them with “using a cult to undermine law enforcement.”

The indictment was based on the statutory interpretation of Article 300 of the Criminal Law (“Interpretation” hereinafter) issued by the People’s Supreme Court and the People’s Supreme Procuratorate back in November 1999, four months after Jiang launched a nationwide campaign against Falun Gong. The interpretation directed that anyone practicing or spreading Falun Gong be prosecuted to the fullest extent possible as the practice was a cult.

Zhang cited multiple witnesses who saw the banners and subsequently reported to police, including: Zhang Xijun, Xu Yujun, Zeng Qingmin, Leng Chuanhe, Li Shulin, Liu Changxin, Lu Chengde, Peng Chunmei, Sun Jianyu, and Yin Jinhai.

Judge Dong Wenkuan of Shangzhi City Court convicted the three practitioners on December 2. Mr. Ge was given 12 years in prison and fined 50,000 yuan, Mr. Su 10 years and 40,000 yuan, and Ms. Wang 5 years and 10,000 yuan.

The three practitioners’ families weren’t notified of the trial. They were also denied visits with their loved ones. They didn’t find out about the verdicts until weeks later.

As the case was moving through the appeals process, a new statutory interpretation of the Criminal Law was developed to replace the 1999 version, and it took effect on February 1, 2017. The new interpretation made no mention of Falun Gong and emphasized that any indictment against anyone engaging in a cult must be based on solid legal grounds.

Judge Zhao Lu of the local higher court ruled on March 17, 2017 to uphold the guilty verdicts but reduce sentences based on the new Interpretation. Mr. Ge now faces 7 years in prison and 30,000 yuan in fines; Mr. Su 6 years and 20,000 yuan in fines; Mr. Wang 2 years in 5,000 yuan fines.

Related Report:Harbin Man Sentenced to 12 Years for Displaying Falun Gong Banners