Chinese police have arrested a group of followers of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement for staging an unusual protest last month. Members of the group have been charged with hacking into a local cable television station to broadcast material about their beliefs.
A government official in Changchun, the capital of China's northeastern province, Jilin, confirms that police have captured some of the Falun Gong members responsible for cutting into a state television broadcast on March 5. The group interrupted prime-time programming in some cities in Jilin Province, to show a film protesting the government's crackdown on the Falun Gong.
The official declines to say how many of the movement's followers have been arrested. But state media Tuesday report that more than 18 people took part in the incident last month. Newspapers say the Falun Gong members damaged the cable television network, sabotaged social order and disrupted people's lives.
A Hong Kong-based spokeswoman for Falun Gong, Sharon Xu, says that since March 5, police in Jilin Province have carried out sweeping arrests of the group's members. "We've learned that more than 5,000 practitioners in Changchun have been arrested and we've received reports saying that over a hundred practitioners over the last two weeks have died," Ms. Xu said.
There has been no independent confirmation that any Falun Gong members have died in custody following last month's protest. But human rights groups say that since the government began a harsh crackdown on the Falun Gong in 1999, thousands of its members have been detained, and hundreds have died as a result of mistreatment by police.
Chinese leaders consider the Falun Gong an evil cult, which deludes members and poses a danger to society.