(RNS) Beijing police detained several dozen members of the bannedFalun Gong spiritual movement Monday (Dec. 27), one day after four keyorganizers were given prison sentences of up to 18 years in prison.

In Beijing's Tiananmen Square, five Falun Gong members attempted toraise a protest banner Monday but were quickly stopped by uniformed andplainclothes police stationed in the square, the site of frequentprotests by the group since the communist government outlawed it fivemonths ago.

Police questioned many other visitors to the vast plaza and ledseveral dozen into waiting blue-and-white police vans.

The prison sentences were handed down Sunday at the conclusion of aone-day trial. Judges found the four Falun Gong leaders guilty oforganizing and using an "evil cult" to undermine state law, saying themovement had illegally obtained and disseminated state secrets.

The judges also concluded that Falun Gong's unorthodox healthbeliefs have led to as many as 1,400 deaths.

Li Chang and Wang Zhiwen were sentenced to 18 years and 16 years inprison, respectively -- among the harshest sentences given to politicalor religious dissenters in China this decade, the Associated Pressreported. Ji Liewu and Yao Jie were sentenced to 12 years and sevenyears, respectively.

"I'm extremely angry," said Wang Xiaodan, Wang Zhiwen's 20-year-olddaughter, who now lives in the United States. The government's"inflexibility, its inability to recognize its mistakes, makes peoplefurious."

Falun Gong preaches a mix of meditation and physical exercises drawnform Taoist, Buddhist and traditional Chinese beliefs. The movement,which has millions of adherents in China and elsewhere, maintains it hasno political agenda and only seeks to promote good health and moralliving.

However, Chinese officials who maintain tight control over all formsof religious and political expression view the movement's hold over itsfollowers as a threat and have sought to destroy the group.