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Friday, 20 September, 2002, 08:04 GMT 09:04 UK
Falun Gong 'TV hackers' jailed
Falun Gong practitioners
Falun Gong is banned in China
China has sentenced 15 members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement to between four and 20 years in jail for breaking into a television network to show protest videos.

Television services in the cities of Changchun and Songyuan in north-east China were suspended for up to four hours in March this year following the hijacking.

Li Hongzhi
The hijackers broadcast a programme on the group's founder
The defendants were convicted on Friday in Changchun of violating anti-cult laws and damaging broadcast equipment, said the official Xinhua news agency.

Falun Gong, which China says is trying to overthrow the Communist Party, was banned on mainland China three years ago.

The movement maintains it is a spiritual group that teaches exercise and meditation.

Orchestrated campaign

Those convicted on Friday were Zhou Runjun, Liang Zhenxing, Liu Chengjun, Liu Weiming, Lei Ming, Zhao Jian, Yun Qingbin, Zhang Wen, Sun Changjun, Li Dehai, Liu Dong, Zhuang Xiankun, Wei Xiushan, Chen Yanmei and Li Xiaojie, the China Daily said.

Chinese police say they were well organised and had financial and technical support.

During the television "hijack" on 5 March, 16,000 people had their viewing interrupted in Songyuan city, according to Xinhua.

And four districts in Changchun city suffered disruption after two trunk cable television transmission lines were cut off, the agency says.

Correspondents say that China's clampdown on the spiritual movement has prevented it from staging the high-profile demonstrations it used to.

As a result the movement has changed its tactics - overriding television signals on several occasions to broadcast promotional footage.

Usually, these broadcasts have been restricted to small local television stations, but in June Falun Gong managed to hijack a state-run satellite broadcast during the football World Cup finals.

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The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes
"These stations have audiences of around 15 to 20,000 people"

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