(Minghui.org) Four Falun Gong practitioners in Qinhuangdao City were sentenced to 8 to 13 years in prison in the Changli County Court in Hebei Province, a year and a half after they were arrested for refusing to renounce their faith.

Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a mind-body discipline that has been persecuted by the communist regime since 1999.

Mr. Zuo Hongtao was sentenced to 13 years, Mr. Wu Wenzhang to 11 years, Ms. Li Guoai to 10 years and Mr. Liu Changfu to 8 years. They have appealed their verdicts to Qinhuangdao Intermediate Court.

Mr. Zuo's wife, Ms. Cui Qiurong, who does not practice but is supportive of Falun Gong, was sentenced to 19 months. She was released on January 9, 2019, after serving her term.

Except for Mr. Liu, the other four were arrested with Mr. Yang Xiaoyong and Ms. Yuan Sujing, both Falun Gong practitioners, at Mr. Zuo's real estate office on June 9, 2017. Mr. Liu was arrested an hour later that same day at his own home.

The police ransacked all the practitioners' homes and Mr. Zuo's place of business. The 100,000 yuan in cash he kept on hand for business transactions was confiscated as well as 50,000 yuan in cash that Mr. Wu kept at Mr. Zuo's office.

The police also seized Mr. Zuo's electric motorcycle and office supplies, Ms. Yuan's new electric motorcycle, and a car that Ms. Li had borrowed from her friend and that was filled with garments she was selling.

The police didn't present a search warrant during the home-ransackings nor provide a list of confiscated items afterward.

All seven were taken to Qinhuangdao City Detention Center that evening, with Mr. Yang released shortly afterward.

Shanhaiguan District Procuratorate approved their arrests on July 15, 2017.

Both Ms. Li and Mr. Zuo held hunger strikes to protest the arbitrary arrests and detention. They were force-fed and suffered from declining health. Mr. Zuo was taken to Qinhuangdao Police Hospital for emergency treatment.

Mr. Zuo's son visited him in the hospital on July 31, a month after he was hospitalized. He suffered from venous insufficiency, muscle atrophy, and heart palpitations. His son applied for medical parole for him, but the authorities turned him down.

Ms. Yuan was released on June 9, 2018, after one year of detention. It wasn't clear whether she was sentenced.

The other five—Mr. Zuo and his wife, Mr. Liu, Mr. Wu, and Ms. Li—appeared in Changli County Court on November 16 and 17, 2017; October 16, 2018; and November 11 and 12, 2018.

The prosecutor accused them of “undermining law enforcement,” a standard pretext used by the Chinese courts to criminalize and imprison Falun Gong practitioners.

The practitioners' lawyers pled “not guilty” on their behalf. They argued that the persecution of Falun Gong was illegal and that the prosecutor failed to present evidence showing how their clients' practicing of Falun Gong obstructed law enforcement.

No prosecution witnesses appeared in court to be cross-examined.

The practitioners also defended their innocence. The bailiffs took pictures of their family members and friends who attended the hearings.

Related reports:

Seven Qinhuangdao Residents Arrested and Awaiting Indictments, One Has Cash Seized from His Business

56 Falun Gong Practitioners Remain Detained in Qinhuangdao, Hebei Province