Eight Falun Gong practitioners sentenced to jail for highjacking TV

Associated Press, Dec. 27, 2002

BEIJING (AP) — Eight Falun Gong members have been sentenced to up to 13 years in prison for hijacking local television and radio signals in eastern China’s Anhui province to promote the banned spiritual movement, the official Xinhua News Agency said Saturday.

The Hefei Intermediate Court recently upheld a lower court’s decision to give the followers sentences of between five to 13 years, Xinhua said.

The Hefei court based its decision on evidence that the eight purchased tools and equipment which helped them take over TV and radio signals at 9 p.m. on May 31 to publicize the movement, Xinhua said, without elaborating.

At least 3,900 households were affected during the 30-minute blackout, during which pirate transmissions touting the benefits of the group were played, Xinhua said.

China has said that such transmissions have “disrupted the public order” and go against international communications standards.

A man who answered the telephone Saturday at the court in Hefei, Anhui’s capital city, said no one was on duty and declined comment.

Falun Gong attracted millions of followers during the 1990s with its combination of calisthenics and philosophies drawn from Buddhism, Taoism and the unorthodox ideas of its founder, Li Hongzhi, a former soldier and government clerk who lives in the United States.

Followers say the practice promotes health and morality and that experienced practitioners can gain supernatural powers such as the ability to fly.

China’s leaders banned Falun Gong in July 1999, fearing the group’s size and organizational ability could challenge Communist Party rule.

Since then, thousands of followers have been detained. Most are freed after a few months, though a government official told The Associated Press earlier this year that nearly 1,300 had been sentenced to prison.

Falun Gong activists abroad say hundreds of supporters have been killed in detention. Chinese officials deny killing detainees but say some have died in hunger strikes or from refusing medical help.

In recent months, Falun Gong members have hacked into local TV feeds and broadcasts.

On Sept. 9, Xinhua reported that signals of a service designed to enable remote villages across the country to see broadcasts from China Central Television, or CCTV, the leading government-run network, were jammed.

Also in September, 15 people were convicted of breaking into a cable television system to show videos protesting China’s ban on Falun Gong and were sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.

The March 5 broadcasts in the northeastern city of Changchun and nearby Songyuan marked the start of the hacking campaign.

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