Friday, November 12, 1999 Published at 09:39 GMT
Falun Gong leader gets 12 years
The government has declared Falun Gong a cult
A leader of the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual movement in China has been jailed for 12 years.
Three other followers were sentenced to seven, three and two years respectively, in the first trial of members of the banned group.
More than 100 other people have been charged with offences relating to the movement and are awaiting trial.
The defendants in the first trial - Song Yuesheng, Jiang Shilong, Chen Yuan and Liang Yulin - were convicted of "using an evil cult to violate the law".
They were accused of defying a Ministry of Public Security ban on Falun Gong and organising illegal gatherings of practitioners, including one in a park in August attended by more than 180 people.
Song, the leader, was also sentenced for escaping from police custody, according to an official from the People's Intermediate Court in Haikou, Hainan Island.
'The Aids of society'
The sentences came as a group of academics called for strong action to stamp out Falun Gong in a full page article in the official People's Daily.
The Chinese authorities say they have so far charged 111 Falun Gong members.
In addition to these, many others have been sent for re-education or sentenced without trial to labour camps.
China has not released figures to show how many have been held in other forms of detention.
Falun Gong, which boasted millions of followers in China before the crackdown, blends exercises with ideas drawn from Buddhism and Taoism.
The ruling Communist Party became alarmed by the movement's rapid growth and its international links, branding it a threat to social and political stability.
China's leadership was stunned when 10,000 members descended on Tiananmen Square in April to stage a silent protest demanding official recognition of their faith.
Officials estimate that more than 1,000 followers have converged on the square in recent protests while parliament deliberated the anti-cult legislation.
Human rights workers in Hong Kong say at least six Falun Gong members have died in custody - including one whom they say was beaten to death.
Beijing denies that anyone has died in custody as a result of police brutality. But it admitted that two women had died from ill health and another had committed suicide.