(Minghui.org) Five residents of Qingyuan County, Liaoning Province, were sentenced to up to three and a half years in prison for their belief in Falun Gong, but the prosecutor deemed the sentences too light and appealed to a higher court.

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

By law, prosecutors can appeal sentences handed down in criminal cases. A higher procuratorate and a higher court will then hear the appeals case.

The Fushun City Intermediate Court held a hearing of the five Falun Gong practitioners in a makeshift courtroom at Nangou Detention Center on June 4, 2019. Two prosecutors from Fushun City Procuratorate attended the hearing.

Five lawyers defended the five practitioners. They argued that no Chinese law criminalizes Falun Gong and that the practice was within their clients' right to freedom of belief. The lawyers asked how their clients, most of whom were elderly women, could be capable of “obstructing law enforcement” as charged. This criminal statute is a standard pretext used by the Chinese courts to imprison Falun Gong practitioners.

The practitioners also testified in their own defense. They said they shouldn't have been sentenced for striving to be better people and raising awareness of the persecution of their faith.

The presiding judge Qiu Zhongcui adjourned the hearing without announcing a verdict.

Four of the practitioners, including Mr. Ding Guozhu, Ms. Xu Junying, Ms. Zhang Chuanwen, and Ms. Yang Xiufang, were arrested on June 21, 2018 after being reported for distributing informational materials about Falun Gong. Ms. Wang Haichao was arrested while visiting Ms. Zhang; the police were still ransacking her home at the time.

The five practitioners stood trial at Qingyuan Court on December 12, 2018 and sentenced to prison weeks later: three and a half years for Mr. Ding, three years for Ms. Wang, 18 months for Ms. Zhang and Ms. Xu, and 15 months for Ms. Yang.

During her 12 months at Nangou Detention Center, Ms. Zhang was often beaten and verbally abused by inmates for refusing to follow detention center rules. She was also forced to do long hours of slave labor and often punished for not finishing the daily production quota on time. She lost more than 50 pounds as a result of the abuses.

Ms. Zhang was very weak and distressed when she appeared in court again on June 4, 2019. She became emotional and cried upon hearing how much her 94-year-old mother missed her. She passed out as soon as the hearing ended. Her family is very worried about her.

Related reports:

Five Liaoning Residents Sentenced to Prison for Their Faith in Falun Gong

Five Liaoning Falun Gong Practitioners on Trial For Their Belief

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