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Sunday, October 31, 1999 Published at 12:59 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Falun Gong leaders charged

Falun Gong: Labelled a cult and now banned

Four leaders of the Falun Gong spiritual movement in China have been charged with violating state security as Beijing intensifies its crackdown on the group.

The announcement comes a day after parliament passed legislation designed to eliminate what it described as cults, including Falun Gong.

The BBC's Adam Brookes: ''The defendants are likely to face stiff sentences''
The four, who were already in custody, have been accused of stealing and leaking state secrets, and organising a cult.

They were named by Xinhua News agency as Li Chang, Wang Zhiwen, Ji Liewu and Yao Jie. All four are believed to have been detained since the government banned Falun Gong in July.

Our correspondent in Beijing, Adam Brookes, says acquittals are rare in this kind of case and the defendants are likely to face stiff prison sentences.

[ image: Police question suspected followers in Tiananmen Square]
Police question suspected followers in Tiananmen Square
Officials say the first trials of more than a dozen people who have been charged with offences relating to their Falun Gong activities could begin as soon as next week.

For the past week, soldiers and police in Beijing have dragged away the group's followers from Tiananmen Square, where they have been protesting against what they say is persecution.

A big surveillance operation is now underway there. The Chinese authorities believe the group poses a threat to internal security.

But its millions of members argue they are merely promoting meditation and exercise.

Cult activity

China first labelled Falun Gong a cult on Thursday, when the official People's Daily newspaper published a blistering attack on the group.

The parliament called for any cult activity to be dealt with rigorously in accordance with the law.

It accused the Falun Gong movement of destroying the normal social order through illegal gatherings, and said it was guilty of rape, theft and actions which had caused the death of followers.

The Chinese authorities began their crackdown on Falun Gong in April after 10,000 of its members staged a protest in Beijing.

In recent days, demonstrators in the capital have been calling for the authorities to treat the movement with more tolerance.

Beijing has drawn a distinction between the leaders, who it says should be punished, and the followers who it calls deceived and in need of education.

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