China Sentences Falun Gong Members
BEIJING (AP) _ Four members of the banned Falun Gong sect were convicted and sentenced Friday to prison terms of up to 12 years, the first of what is expected to be a series of prosecutions against the group the government calls an ``evil cult.″
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Friday in Tokyo that he was concerned about the government’s treatment of Falun Gong members and he would discuss the matter with Chinese leaders when he visits Beijing beginning Sunday.
``I hope any action that the government takes will be in conformity with basic requirements of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Chinese Constitution,″ he said.
The Haikou Intermediate People’s Court in the southern province of Hainan convicted the four Falun Gong members of ``using an evil cult to obstruct the law,″ said Fu Yu, a provincial government spokeswoman.
Song Yuesheng, who also was convicted of illegal organizing and attempting to escape custody, was sentenced to 12 years in prison, she said. Jiang Shilong was sentenced to seven years, Chen Yuan to three years and Liang Yulin to two years.
The trial lasted seven hours, court officials said. It came two weeks after China’s national legislature approved harsher punishments of cult members. The prosecutor’s agency then issued a directive to speed up indictments of some key Falun Gong members.
The defendants were accused of organizing a gathering of 183 Falun Gong members on Aug. 8 in Hainan, two weeks after the government banned the sect and started a propaganda campaign against it.
The government alleges Falun Gong members held several hundred illegal gatherings. Police also have recently detained hundreds of Falun Gong believers who tried to appeal to government officials in Beijing.
Falun Gong is an exercise and meditation movement that was popular throughout China. Founded by Li Hongzhi, who now lives in New York, it combines slow-motion exercises and ideas from Buddhism, Taoism and Li’s own theories. An official estimate before the crackdown put membership at 70 million _ more than the 61 million-member Communist Party.
Falun Gong practitioners included police, government and military officials and Communist Party members, as well as others attracted by promises of health and spiritual guidance.
The Communist Party was alarmed by Falun Gong’s organizational ability in April when 10,000 adherents suddenly appeared in a daylong silent protest around the party’s headquarters in Beijing.
The government claims Falun Gong is a cult that threatens social stability and the Communist Party’s hold on power.