Officials in Beijing are vowing to hunt down and punish sympathizers of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, who have been hijacking Chinese satellite TV signals. China blames overseas activists for helping the banned group get its message onto TV screens across the country.
The pictures lasted less than half a minute and showed some Falun Gong symbols and members sitting in meditation. Top broadcast officials in China say Falun Gong and its supporters hijacked government satellite frequencies and interrupted broadcasts on June 23, reaching what they called a "vast" number of Chinese television viewers.
In Beijing Monday, China's Ministry of Information pointed the finger at unknown overseas parties that allegedly helped plan and execute the broadcast interruption. Liu Lihua, China's top broadcast regulator, refused to say exactly where the signal came from, but insists Falun Gong supporters behind it will be found and "severely punished."
"They can run, but they can't hide forever," Mr. Liu says. The satellite hijacking follows at least three incidents since January where Falun Gong supporters hacked their way into Chinese cable television systems on the ground to display programs promoting their illegal group.
Falun Gong is such a sensitive topic in China that the British Broadcasting Corporation's TV news program was recently removed from a Chinese-owned satellite system because a program mentioned the Falun Gong. The group was banned three years ago after it alarmed Chinese officials by holding a peaceful but massive demonstration outside the compound where China's leaders live.
The group says its exercises and philosophy promote good health, but Beijing has deemed the group an evil cult that brainwashes followers and deceives them into forgoing medical treatments. China's government says Falun Gong once had millions of members. But thousands of supporters have been detained, and others sent to labor or re-education camps.
China's crackdown has brought strong criticism from human rights groups and foreign governments.