BEIJING (AP) - Seven followers of the banned Falun Gong meditation sect have been arrested and accused of hacking into a northern Chinese city's cable television system to broadcast material about the group, police officials said Tuesday.
The seven were detained last week and more arrests are planned, said a police spokesman in Changchun, where the pirate broadcast was shown. It was not clear what the exact charges were or the penalty they face if found guilty. He said police believe dozens more followers were involved in the incident, one of Falun Gong's most daring acts of defiance against the often brutal 21/2-year government crackdown against it.
"There are dozens of criminals involved. We have not got all of them," said the spokesman, who refused to give his name. He gave the names of the seven arrested - including Liang Zhenxing, Zhou Runjun and Zhao Jian, the three identified as the leaders.
The March 5 broadcast cut into prime-time 7 p.m. programming in the cities of Changchun and Songyuan in Jilin province, according to an account Tuesday in the China Women's News, a government newspaper.
It said followers led by Liang, Zhou and Zhao began planning the broadcast early in December. Liang borrowed a storage space and wrote instructions, spending $1,300 of his own money to buy equipment, it said.
Learning that Falun Gong followers were going to be sentenced in Changchun on March 6, they chose the evening before to act to "disrupt the normal sentencing work of the court," the paper said.
The pirate broadcast lasted for about 10 minutes, the Changchun cable company said. Falun Gong representatives abroad said the broadcast showed group leader Li Hongzhi lecturing on the sect's beliefs and sought to refute government accusations.
Alarmed at the size and organizing power of Falun Gong's membership, the Communist government has pursued the group relentlessly since banning it in mid-1999 as an "evil cult'' and has sentenced its members to up to life in prison for sect-related activities. It says Falun Gong is a public nuisance that deludes members with dangerous teachings and wants to sabotage China.
China has detained thousands of sect members and the group's organizers abroad say more than 350 have died in custody.
The group claims to be apolitical. It says it only wants to spread its program of meditation, traditional Chinese calisthenics and teachings based on Chinese philosophy and the ideas of Li, its founder, a former grain clerk.
Group members have challenged the crackdown through an underground campaign of leafleting and Internet postings, along with occasional public protests that are harshly repressed by authorities.
Foreign practitioners of Falun Gong have also staged a number of protests against in Beijing in recent months, always followed by arrests and swift deportations. Several have complained of brutal treatment by police, but Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said Tuesday that all had been "treated humanely.''
"We call on the relevant countries to educate their people to abide by Chinese laws and regulations when they come to China,'' she said at a regular news briefing.