(Minghui.org) Six residents from two provinces were sentenced to prison for refusing to renounce Falun Gong, a spiritual discipline being persecuted by the Chinese communist regime.

Mr. Zhao Yijun, Mr. Ma Zhanguo, Mr. Yang Miao, Ms. Zhao Xiaolu, and Ms. Wu Xiaojiao were arrested on October 5, 2016 and tried on April 11, 2017.

Ms. Gong Yuzhi was arrested at her home at around midnight on January 18, 2017. Her husband returned from his night shift the next morning to find his front door pried open and his wife gone. Ms. Gong appeared in court on May 2, 2017.

Except for Ms. Wu, a Xinzhou City, Shanxi Province resident, the other five practitioners are all from Zhangjiakou City, Hebei Province.

The same judge of Xinfu District Court in Xinzhou City oversaw the trials of the practitioners, and he sentenced them to prison around April 2018.

Ms. Gong was given 6 years, Ms. Zhao 4 years, Mr. Zhao and Mr. Yang each 3 years, Mr. Ma 2 years and 10 months, and Ms. Wu 2 years and 8 months. Each of them was also ordered to pay a fine of 5,000 yuan.

All the practitioners filed appeals, but Xinzhou City Intermediate Court ruled to uphold their prison sentences. The female practitioners were sent to Yuci Prison and the men to Qi County Prison. Both prisons are in Shanxi Province.

Ms. Gong's family was never notified of her prison sentence or prison admission. Ms. Wu's husband and daughter weren't allowed to see her before she was transferred to prison.

Judge Admits to Lack of Authority

Falun Gong practitioners in Zhangjiakou and Xinzhou visited the relevant departments in Xinzhou many times following the six practitioners' arrests, urging the authorities to release the detained practitioners. Six lawyers also worked together to defend the practitioners' innocence, as no law in China criminalizes Falun Gong.

Still, the practitioners were sentenced for committing no crime. Judge Lu of the trial court agreed with the practitioners' families that the sentences he handed out were heavy, but he admitted that there was nothing else he could do. During the persecution of Falun Gong, China's judicial system is often used as just a rubber stamp to mete out predetermined sentences.

Lu refused to meet with the families again when they tried to visit him after the appeals court's ruling was delivered. He told them on the phone, “The case has been concluded. If you're not happy, sue me!”

Families Devastated

The arrest and imprisonment of the practitioners have devastated their families. Mr. Ma's family was hit particularly hard. His father, Mr. Ma Dengke, developed high blood pressure and had a stroke after his son's arrest. The elderly man was twice hospitalized, but he went out to collect trash right after he was discharged. He wanted to make some extra money to help support his son's family.

The elder Mr. Ma became especially upset after he was denied a visit with his son on March 29, 2018. Upon returning to his hometown in Zhangjiakou, he went out to pick trash again but never returned. His wife and daughter-in-law found him dead in a pile of trash on March 31. His skull was broken. It's unclear what had happened that took his life.