Members of the banned Falun Gong meditation group have gone on trial in China on charges of hijacking a television station.
China's official Xinhua News Agency said the 15 Falun Gong defendants appeared in a court in Changchun city, in Jilin Province Wednesday. They face multiple charges: damaging state-run television equipment, hijacking broadcast frequencies, severely disrupting public order and organizing a cult.
The incident occurred on March fifth in Changchun City. During the evening, regular programming was interrupted and pro-Falun Gong messages were seen on local television instead.
A police officer in charge of the case, Li Shizhang, is quoted as saying the television hijackers had financial and technical backing from Falun Gong founder, Li Hongzhi, who lives in exile in the United States.
Hong Kong-based members of the Falun Gong say some followers did disrupted state-run programming, but defend it as the only way to express their views peacefully. Sophie Xiao, spokeswoman for the group in Hong Kong, denounces the China's three-year crackdown on the organization.
"China's brutal persecution of the Falun Gong is against its own constitution, which guarantees its citizens have freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of religious belief. In the big picture, they're doing wrong from the very beginning," she said.
Four other Falun Gong members were convicted of hijacking state television signals in May, and sentenced to prison terms ranging from seven to 16 years.
China banned the Falun Gong in 1999 as an evil cult, saying that it deludes its members and is therefore a threat to society. Human rights groups say hundreds of its followers have died from torture or mistreatment in detention camps.