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Tuesday, 2 April, 2002, 13:12 GMT 14:12 UK
China arrests leaders of TV takeover
Falun Gong practitioners in Shanghai in 1999
China calls Falun Gong an "evil cult"
Police in north-eastern China have arrested several followers of the banned Falun Gong movement who are accused of hijacking a state broadcast last month.

Li Hongzhi, photographed in 1999
Potentially one million viewers saw Li's face on TV

Police in Changchun, where the illicit broadcast was shown, told Reuters news agency that about 20 people have been detained and more arrests were expected.

A police spokesman said those arrested included Liang Zhenxing, Zhou Runjun and Zhao Jian, the three identified as the leaders of the break-in.

A city prosecutor predicted that the organisers of the transmission would be charged with "using an evil cult to damage law enforcement", a crime which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.

'Break-in'

A group of Falun Gong followers managed to take over the TV station's airwaves and show two films praising the Falun Gong.

The two illegal programmes - one of which praised the exiled, US-based founder of Falun Gong, Li Hongzhi - were prepared in January by ringleader Liang Zhenxing with the assistance of others, according to China News Service's website.

Mr Liang spent 11,000 Yuan ($1,325) on film-making equipment and other materials to break into the cable network, the agency said.

It said the followers were "promoting unrest and propaganda in the name of Falun Gong".

Banned

The group, which China says is an "evil cult" trying to overthrow the Communist Party, was banned on mainland China three years ago.

Falun Gong says it is spiritual group that teaches exercise and meditation.

The TV broadcast, which reportedly replaced state television at prime time for about 50 minutes, condemned the Communist state's crackdown on the movement.

Locals said one of the films accused the government of staging a self-immolation by alleged Falun Gong followers in Tiananmen Square last year.

Falun Gong representatives abroad said it showed the sect's leader, Li Hongzhi, lecturing on the group's beliefs.

The programmes went out to much of the network of 300,000 subscribers, giving a potential audience of around one million.

See also:

07 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
Falun Gong breaks onto China's airwaves
15 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Falun Gong Britons expelled from China
14 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Eyewitness: Falun Gong arrests
21 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
China expels Western 'cult' members
07 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
China detains Falun Gong protesters
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