China sentences five to prison for Falun Gong activities

BEIJING (AP) — Pushing the government’s “fight to the end” against Falun Gong, an eastern China court sentenced five people to prison terms Wednesday for illegal activities linked to the banned spiritual movement.

The Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court sentenced the five to terms of three to eight years on charges of “using the cult to sabotage the carrying out of the law,” state television reported.

China banned Falun Gong as an “evil cult” in 1999. Followers insist it’s a legitimate spiritual movement that doesn’t threaten the country’s communist leadership. China last month called for a renewed “fight to the end” against the group.

The court, quoted by China Central Television, said the five were involved in Falun Gong activities and “collaborated with forces from abroad.” They also allegedly set up a company as a cover to carry out Falun Gong-related activities, it said.

“They disregarded the ban on Falun Gong entirely. This is against the law,” the CCTV announcer said.

The report gave no further information about the charges or the activities that preceded them.

Falun Gong, which has kept a low profile in China since the ban, claims the Chinese government has detained and mistreated thousands of followers and killed hundreds through torture or abuse since the ban started.

China denies abusing anyone but says some have died in custody from suicide or refusing food or medical care.

The group attracted millions of followers in the 1990s with its regimen of meditation and calisthenics, and a philosophy mixing Buddhism, Taoism and the teachings of founder Li Hongzhi, a former government clerk now living in the United States.

Sentenced Wednesday in Tianjin were Jing Zhanyi, eight years; Yuan Huiqin, seven years; Gu Huiyun, seven years; Wang Tan, three years; and Chang Jinyun, three years.

The government has recently accused Falun Gong of a litany of offenses, from hacking various cable television stations to impeding the country’s fight against SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome.

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