A Chinese court has sentenced 15 members of the banned Falun Gong meditation group to jail terms of up to 20 years. The conviction came after Falun Gong members hijacked Chinese television signals to show protest videos earlier this year.
The official Xinhua News Agency says the 15 Falun Gong followers were convicted of damaging radio and television property and conspiring to undermine law enforcement. It says a court in Changchun, a city in China's northeastern Jilin province, handed the defendants prison terms ranging from four to 20 years.
Friday's verdict was unusually rushed, as the trials only started on Wednesday. Falun Gong's television campaign started on March 5, when scheduled programming was interrupted in Jilin, and viewers instead saw videos opposing the government's crackdown on the group.
Since then, members of the group have staged similar television campaigns elsewhere in China.
Sophie Xiao, a spokeswoman for Falun Gong in Hong Kong, says police are carrying out mass arrests of the group's followers in northeastern China. "It is very horrible, from my point of view," she said. "I remember the March 5th case triggered 5,000 arrests in Jilin Province, where the case happened, with brutal tortures, we've heard, followed with some cases tortured to death."
China banned the Falun Gong in 1999 as an evil cult, and has tried to wipe out support for the movement by sending thousands of its followers to re-education camps. Authorities admit that some members of the group have died in detention, but they say the deaths were the result of hunger strikes, or of followers refusing medical treatment in prison.