China has sentenced at least five more members of the banned Falun Gong movement to lengthy jail terms. The news marks a stepped-up effort by the government to wipe out the group.
The state-run Beijing Daily newspaper says that 45 Falun Gong members have been tried in nine separate cases for helping to arrange gatherings of the banned spiritual group. The newspaper said Sunday that Beijing courts sentenced five Falun Gong followers to prison terms of up to 13 years. It did not say whether the 40 other defendants were convicted, or when the verdicts were handed down.
The newspaper said that those convicted had organized protests, made banners and printed pamphlets for the group. It said one person sentenced to 13 years had rented rooms used for secret Falun Gong meetings.
The news comes just two days after four other people were sentenced to lengthy jail terms for organizing a January attempt by Falun Gong members to burn themselves to death at Tiananmen Square. A mother and her 12-year-old daughter died as a result of that incident. But Falun Gong members say the participants were not members of their group, because their teachings forbid suicide.
China's recent trials signal an escalating effort by the government to stamp out the group, which has been banned since 1999 as a threat to society. Public protests by the group have dwindled over the last several months.
Human rights groups say that hundreds of Falun Gong followers have been sentenced to prison and tens of thousands have been sent to re-education camps since the government crackdown began.