(Minghui.org) Five residents in Dongying City, Shandong Province appeared in court for their faith in Falun Gong, a spiritual discipline that has been persecuted by the Chinese communist regime since 1999.

The five Falun Gong practitioners, including Mr. Wang Ziming, Mr. Gao Hongwei, Ms. Zhang Aili, Ms. Shang Zhaoxiang, and Mr. Wang Lianzhong, were arrested in a police sweep on November 24, 2018.

Mr. Wang Lianzhong, in his 70s, was released on bail due to his physical condition, while the other four practitioners have been held at Dongying City Detention Center since their arrest.

The five practitioners were tried by Dongying District Court on November 15, 2019.

Judge Zhang Ting said to the practitioners’ lawyers before the hearing started, “You can just talk about the facts and there is no need to bring up the topic of Falun Gong.”

She also said, “You need to think about whether you’ve chosen the right position if you intend to enter not guilty pleas (for them).”

Their lawyers weren’t deterred by the judge and still entered not guilty pleas for their clients.

When Ms. Zhang Aili's lawyer argued that no law criminalizes Falun Gong in China and that the persecution doesn’t have any legal basis, judge Zhang repeatedly interrupted him.

“This isn’t something for you to comment on.” Liu Shuzhou, the presiding judge, said to Ms. Zhang’s lawyer.

The lawyers also argued that the prosecutor failed to provide any evidence to support the charge against their clients – “undermining law enforcement with a cult organization,” a standard pretext used to frame Falun Gong practitioners.

The prosecutor used Falun Gong books and materials confiscated from the five practitioners as evidence against them. He presented a document to say that the police had verified that the evidence was enough to show the practitioners had broken the law with a cult organization.

The lawyers countered that law enforcement agencies were not qualified to authenticate prosecution evidence and that no police officer signed the authentication form.

Mr. Wang Lianzhong testified how his lumbar disc herniation and gallstones disappeared after taking up Falun Gong. Judge Zhang stopped him and said, “Just tell me whether you are still practicing Falun Gong!”

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Dongying: 17 Arrested Over Four Days, Four Face Further Prosecution