Four members of the banned South China Church who were acquitted of assault charges in a retrial have been arrested and sentenced to labour re-education, says a Christian activist. After the acquittal on Thursday in Jingmen Intermediate People's Court, the four women said they would file civil lawsuits against Jingmen police for alleged physical abuse suffered while in custody. Before Meng Xicun, Xiang Fengping, Li Yingping and Liu Xianzhi could return home on Thursday, they were arrested and immediately sentenced to three years' labour re-education, said Fu Xiqiu, a Christian activist in the United States who closely followed the case. The sentencing made it virtually impossible for the four women to sue the police for abuse. Labour re-education is frequently used by mainland police to imprison political dissidents and defiant religious figures. Chinese law gives police total discretion in handing out the punishment without going through any legal process. The South China Church has been branded a cult by Beijing but overseas Christians say it is just a radical Protestant movement. The group has as many as 50,000 followers but refuses to register with the government, claiming this would contradict its beliefs. The latest sentence makes a mockery of the original sentence and retrial, foreign Christians claim. One of the defendants, Liu, was originally sentenced to two years in prison for assault. Although acquitted at the retrial, the 31-year-old now faces three years of hard labour. The four were among 17 members of the church who went on trial from Wednesday to Thursday in Hubei province's Jingmen city. Church founder Gong Shengliang and two co-workers, Xu Fuming and Hu Yong, were convicted of rape and assault charges and sentenced to life in prison. Two others, Li Ying and Gong Bangkun, were sentenced to 15 years in prison on assault charges. Another eight received jail terms of two to 15 years for assault and damage to property. Mr Fu said prosecutors had barred defence lawyers from calling any witnesses during the two-day trial. The prosecutors dropped two charges - organising an evil cult to sabotage state property and intentional damage of property - but filed a new charge of 'fomenting a gang for unlawful activities' against Gong Shengliang. The retrial was ordered after the Hubei Higher People's Court overturned verdicts passed by the Jingmen Intermediate People's Court last December on the grounds of 'insufficient evidence and unclear facts'. Gong Shengliang and four other members were sentenced to death in the earlier trial. Although the group faced virtually the same charges at the retrial, prosecutors presented no new evidence or called new witnesses, Mr Fu said. The assault charges were related to an incident in summer last year when Gong's group became involved in a quarrel with local police and several officers were reportedly assaulted. Gong was not involved in the fight. 'The new gang charge was added because they [the police] wanted to link the assault with Gong Shengliang,' Mr Fu said. Mr Fu said defence lawyers wanted to summon the alleged rape victims to testify, but prosecutors stopped them.