BEIJING, Jan 18, 2001 -- (Agence France Presse) China gave a rare indication Thursday of the vast scale of its crackdown on the Falun Gong spiritual group by revealing that at least 470 followers were held at just one labor camp in northeastern China.

The official Legal Daily said 47 followers were granted early release from the Masanjiazi camp in Liaoning province, while 86 would be allowed to serve their sentences outside the camp and that a further 337 had sentences reduced.

The paper did not give the total number of practitioners held at the camp, but it hinted the number was much higher by revealing that around 4,200 letters of repentance had been extracted from Falun Gong members at the camp. [Note from Editor: labor camps have been using inhumane tortures to extract repentance letters.]

China has not said how many Falun Gong followers have been detained since it banned the movement in July last year.

Human rights groups estimate that thousands, maybe even tens of thousands, of followers have been sent for re-education through labor at hundreds of camps around China.

Police in China have the power to order up to three years detention in a labor camp without trial.

In a new publicity offensive against the group this week, China said it had only sentenced 242 Falun Gong practitioners to jail terms since it launched its offensive against the group.

Core Falun Gong leaders have been given jail terms of up to 18 years while the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy says nearly 100 practitioners have died from ill-treatment in police detention.

The Falun Gong movement is led by their New York-based guru Li Hongzhi. It combines meditation and breathing exercises with Eastern philosophies. ((c) 2001 Agence France Presse)