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China Sentences Falun Gong Members

November 12, 1999

BEIJING (AP) _ A leading member of the Falun Gong sect was sentenced today to 12 years in prison, and three others received lesser sentences, in the first trial against what China’s government calls an ``evil cult.″

Similar trials appear to await dozens and possibly hundreds of other Falun Gong practitioners who have been rounded up since communist authorities began cracking down in July on the group, said to have millions of members.

After a seven-hour, one-day hearing, the Intermediate People’s Court in the southern city of Haikou found the three men and one woman guilty of ``using an evil cult to obstruct the law,″ officials said.

Identified as a ringleader, Song Yuesheng was also convicted of illegal organizing and attempted escape, leading to the 12-year sentence, said Fu Yu, a provincial government spokeswoman.

The court also sentenced Jiang Shilong to seven years, Chen Yuan to three years and Liang Yulin to two, the spokeswoman said.

State-run television showed Song standing calmly in the court dock, a uniformed police offer behind him. Liang, the woman, had a worried look. China Central Television said she confessed to her crimes and ``her attitude was good.″

Interspersed with trial footage, CCTV showed scenes of a gathering of 183 Falun Gong followers that Song and the others were accused of organizing at a Haikou park on Aug. 8, more than two weeks after the government ban. Followers performed slow-motion, meditation exercises and sat cross-legged on the grass.

The government alleges Falun Gong members staged several hundred such illegal gatherings. In addition, police recently have detained hundreds of Falun Gong believers who tried to appeal to government officials in Beijing.

The trial 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 ``backbone members″ of Falun Gong.

The Hainan trial was so sensitive that only CCTV and the Xinhua News Agency, both tightly controlled by the government, were allowed to cover it, said a court official who gave his name as Mr. Chen. Local government media were barred.

Founded in 1992 by Li Hongzhi, a former government clerk now living in New York, Falun Gong combines slow-motion exercises and ideas drawn from Buddhism, Taoism and Li’s own theories.

One official estimate before the crackdown put the group’s membership at 70 million _ bigger 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 ban in July kicked off a propaganda campaign to vilify Falun Gong and its leaders that is still under way.

The government, which recently started calling Falun Gong an ``evil cult,″ claims it threatens social stability and the Communist Party’s hold on power.