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Falun Gong TV hackers' trial begins

Staff and wires

Falun Gong
Falun Gong has spread to over 50 countries since it was founded in the early 1990s

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HONG KONG, China -- Fifteen members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement have gone on trial for hijacking a television broadcast in March to air a protest film.

State television broadcasts in the northeastern city of Changchun were interrupted on March 5 by footage of Falun Gong's U.S.-based leader Li Hongzhi and a film accusing the government of staging the fiery deaths of alleged followers in Tiananmen Square last year, Reuters news agency reported.

The trial began Wednesday at the Changchun Intermediary People's Court in the Jilin province in northeastern China. The defendants, mostly unemployed, were charged with violating anti-cult laws and broadcast regulations, a court spokesman told The Associated Press news agency.

The verdict is expected next week, however the court spokesman did not know what type of penalty might be handed down, AP reported.

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The television takeover was one of the most defiant protests by members of the Falun Gong, whose once regular demonstrations in Tiananmen Square had diminished since a government crackdown arrested group leaders and sent thousands of followers to "re-education" camps.

In June this year, state-run satellite signals were also hijacked during the soccer World Cup finals and Falun Gong propaganda was aired. The hacking was on a channel the Chinese government uses to beam TV to remote areas of China that have little access to outside news.

Falun Gong, based on traditional Chinese religions and meditation exercises, acquired millions of followers in the mid-1990s before it was banned by Beijing in July 1999 and denounced as an "evil cult."

Since it was outlawed, thousands of members have been detained and activists based outside China claim hundreds have died and been tortured while in custody.




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