August 19, 2001

BEIJING, China -- Alleged Falun Gong organizers have been jailed for up to 13 years for helping the spiritual movement, an official newspaper has reported.


The Beijing Daily said the sentenced were among 45 in court over the past few days for organizing protests, making banners and printing leaflets in defiance of a government campaign against a movement it outlawed and declared an "[Jiang Zemin government's slanderous term omitted]" in 1999.

The newspaper said the heaviest sentence was imposed on Zhang Hongli, jailed for 13 years on charges of renting a safe house, organizing the manufacture of banners and printing Falun Gong leaflets.

Others were sentenced for their roles in what were once almost daily protests in Tiananmen Square, China's political heart, which are now rare, Reuters reported.

The Beijing Daily said Shao Qiang and Qiu Xiuxin were each jailed for 10 years for making banners and organizing people to try to raise them in the square, where a heavy police presence meant few such attempts were successful.

It gave no personal details of those sentenced beyond calling them "diehards," but when the [party's name omitted] Party began its crackdown on Falun Gong, it found adherents almost everywhere.

The Associated press said the report didn't say whether the other 40 defendants were convicted or when the verdicts were handed down.

Officials of the four courts cited by the newspaper were not available for comment on Sunday. The courts were separate from the one where defendants accused in the group suicide attempt were tried.

In the party's campaign against Falun Gong organizers have been jailed while recalcitrant followers have generally been sent without trial to labor camps.

The [party's name omitted] Party accuses Falun Gong, which stunned the leadership with a mass protest outside its central Beijing compound in April 1999, of aspiring to overthrow it. Falun Gong denies having political aims.

The movement says more than 50,000 followers have been jailed, sent to labor camps or mental institutions in the crackdown. It alleges many are tortured, some to death.

The government has acknowledged several deaths in custody, but ascribed them to suicide or illnesses.

It has declared victory over Falun Gong several times and its intense campaign appears to have ended what were once daily protests in Tiananmen Square.

But the movement has become more and more active overseas in a mounting campaign for international backing against China's crackdown.

In the latest action, eight followers launched a hunger strike in front of the Chinese embassy in Washington D.C. to appeal for the release of practitioners held in China.

The eight said they launched the protest on Friday to press for the release of 130 members who began a hunger strike at a labor camp in the northeastern province of Liaoning three weeks ago.

There has been no official comment in China on the hunger strike.