The "long arm" of Beijing prevented Australian Falun Gong practitioners from joining last year's Chinese New Year Festival in the southern city of Melbourne, lawyers for the spiritual movement said Tuesday.
Mark Irving, an attorney for Australian Falun Gong members, told a civil court in Victoria state that the Federation of Chinese Associations, which organizes the annual festival, discriminated against his clients because of their political and religious views.
Falun Gong, which combines slow-motion exercise with Buddhist and Taoist beliefs, was branded an "evil cult" and outlawed by China in 1999. Since then, authorities in China have conducted a harsh crackdown on its followers.
Irving said Falun Gong members had been refused the right to open a stall at the 2002 event on Little Bourke Street in Melbourne's Chinatown district because the organizers feared their presence "might upset powerful friends."
"What's occurred in this case is that the long arm of that Beijing-based anti-religious bigotry has stretched out to Little Bourke Street," he told the court.
Irving said the Falun Gong members were told no more space was available for stalls, but when they complained to the Equal Opportunity Commission their application was accepted. However, a day before the festival began, the Falun Gong members were again told their application was rejected, with no reasons given.
Lawyers for the Chinese associations were due to make their opening submission in court Wednesday and were not immediately available for comment.
Irving said his clients were not seeking financial compensation, but an admission of fault and an apology.
Cailu Xu, a research associate at the University of Pittsburgh, wants to send a Valentine to his wife.
But the Oakland resident knows it probably will never reach her without help from U.S. authorities. That's because his wife, Xiaomei Jia, 41, remains jailed in a notorious prison in China.
-On the front of the Valentine, two butterflies take flight, symbolizing the 40-year-old Chinese engineer's hope that his wife of 14 years will be freed and travel 6,800 miles to join him in the United States.
Since November 2001, Jia has been held in Beijing's Female Forced Labor Camp, a place where prisoners are reportedly deprived of sleep and proper nutrition, and denied use of the toilet, exposed to extreme temperatures and tortured with electric batons.
Jia and her husband practice Falun Gong, a Chinese form of meditation and five slow physical exercises designed to improve the mind, body and spirit. Practitioners say they strive for truth, forbearance and compassion.
Falun Gong practitioners demonstrated Saturday against a planned anti-subversion law that they said aims to ban the meditation group from Hong Kong.
Close to 100 Falun Gong followers sat in meditation poses outside the Legislative Council displaying banners that said, "Uphold human rights," and "No draconian law in Hong Kong."
"We don't want such a law," said Falun Gong spokesman Kan Hung-cheung. "It would be like giving a remote control to Beijing and allowing it to dispel any groups it dislikes."
Ever since the former British colony was returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, Hong Kong has been constitutionally required to outlaw subversion, sedition, treason, secession and other crimes against the state.
Opponents worry that Hong Kong could be heading toward a Beijing-style crackdown on dissent, with some saying the Falun Gong could be targeted.
The meditation group is outlawed in mainland China, where the government is trying to eradicate it, but it is thus far free to practice, and protest, in Hong Kong.
Officials insist the bill does not threaten local freedoms of the press, speech and assembly and are pushing ahead with the legislation. The bill is expected to be passed soon by the Legislative Council, which is dominated by pro-Beijing and big business interests.
After a fierce, drawn-out political battle over Hong Kong's plan to outlaw subversion, the government released the fine print Thursday of a bill that critics said would weaken the territory's rule of law.
"This is a giant step backward from the system as we know it in Hong Kong, which is open justice and open trial," said lawmaker Audrey Eu.
Secretary for Security Regina Ip said the bill does not threaten local freedoms of the press, speech and assembly ? as rights activists, journalists and pro-democracy figures have been charging for months.
Most details of the bill had already been made public, in a published outline that said Hong Kong wants to outlaw treason, subversion, secession and sedition ? basically any violent attempt to overthrow the government or break up parts of China.
But opposition legislators, who fear the law would give authorities too much power to stifle dissent, said they found a new provision that would make it difficult for any outlawed group to overturn its ban through the courts.
Critics have worried that Hong Kong will use the law to ban Falun Gong, the meditation sect outlawed in mainland China as an "evil cult." Falun Gong is legal in Hong Kong and carries out numerous protests against Beijing's efforts to eradicate it in the mainland.
Once Hong Kong has passed its anti-subversion law, a banned group might have to appeal its ban without being informed of the "full particulars" of why it was imposed.
"This is absurd," said Albert Ho, a lawmaker from the opposition Democratic Party.
Ho also attacked a provision that would let Hong Kong's security chief ban any local group if he or she "reasonably believes" that it acts against national security and is "subordinate" to a mainland organization outlawed in China on national security grounds.
The security chief would not have to let a group argue against being banned in cases where it would not be "practicable."
"This is the area where we are most likely to blur the two systems and one country," said lawmaker Eu, referring to Hong Kong's government arrangement, which allows considerable personal freedoms not allowed in mainland China.
The bill seems certain to be passed by the legislature ? dominated by pro-business and pro-Beijing parties ? within the next few months. Ip insisted that the government has struck "a balance between protecting national security and safeguarding fundamental rights and freedoms."
She also shrugged off criticism from opposition politicians and human rights activists who had demanded to see the wording of the planned law months ago.
An earlier release of the text would have allowed critics to propose changes before the bill goes to the Legislative Council, but the government refused.
The Hong Kong Bar Association issued a statement Thursday night demanding more time for the public to comment now that the text has been released and said it was important that the bill "not be rushed."
The anti-subversion measure has stirred one of the biggest political battles since Hong Kong was returned from British to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.
Since its return, the territory has been constitutionally required to outlaw subversion, sedition, treason and other crimes against the state.
The government began work last year on legislation that would punish many offenses with life in prison, stirring fears that local freedoms could be crushed.
Opponents worry that Hong Kong could be heading toward a Beijing-style crackdown on dissent. Hong Kong officials dispute such contentions and say they have no intention of using the law to go after Falun Gong.
Nearly three weeks after Menlo Park resident Charles Li was arrested in China on charges of sabotaging Chinese television and radio broadcasts, friends and fellow Falun Gong practitioners staged a protest walk through the streets of Chinatown on Sunday.
"We are trying to help rescue Charles from China," said Kerry Huang, a volunteer with the Friends of Charles group that started up as an offshoot of the Falun Dafa Information Center. "We worry about his safety. We want to get him back."
Around 50 Falun Gong practitioners from across the Bay Area gathered in Portsmouth Square in the heart of Chinatown, where they distributed pamphlets on Li's case and videotapes showing Falun Gong exercises.
After a brief rally, the demonstrators, bearing large white signs saying "Rescue Charles," took their march through the sunny streets crowded with weekend shoppers and tourists.
Chinese officials have called Falun Gong an "evil cult."
Sherry Zhang, a spokeswoman for the Falun Gong Information Center in the Bay Area, said that Li's case has been taken up by Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, who has circulated a letter on his behalf in Congress.
According to Zhang, Li remains in prison in Yangzhou, China, and does not yet have legal representation.
"This is also about bringing awareness," said Alex Ma of El Cerrito , who says the meditative exercises of Falun Gong have helped his health immensely. "We want to gain the attention of President Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and other congressional representatives."
As the deadline for the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize nominations loomed, the committee charged with deciding the winner was flooded with nominations Friday.
Mailed entries must be postmarked by Feb. 1, but the secretive five-member committee does allow for slow mail and the sorting of thousands of proposals.
"There is a lot of mail and many new proposals, but beyond that we have nothing to say until Feb. 17," Geir Lundestad, the award's committee secretary, told The Associated Press Friday. The winner is announced in mid-October, capping a week of Nobel prize announcements.
The Nobel Prizes, worth roughly US$1 million, are always presented on Dec. 10, the anniversary of their Swedish creator Alfred Nobel's death in 1896.
The prizes in physiology or medicine, literature, physics, chemistry and economics are awarded in the Swedish capital, Stockholm, while the peace prize is awarded in Oslo.
The Peace Prize committee keeps the list of candidates secret for 50 years, only releasing the number of nominations it receives. Last year, when former U.S. President Jimmy Carter won the prize, 156 nominations were submitted.
Even the preliminary number released Feb. 17 is likely to change because the committee can add its own nominations at its first meeting of the year on Feb. 25.
The names of some nominees are already known because the people who nominated them aren't required to remain silent.
Nominations can be made by former laureates, committee members, members of national governments and legislatures, some university professors and selected organizations.
Former Illinois Governor George Ryan was nominated by a law professor for his work against capital punishment, including pardoning and commuting the sentences of death row inmates during his last days in office this year.
Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya Sardinas was nominated by Czech politicians for his peaceful struggle to bring democracy to Cuba. Jailed Israeli nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu program was nominated by a group Norwegian university professors.
The American Friends Service Committee (The Quakers), which shared the 1947 peace prize, announced the nomination of Women in Black, a worldwide peace network.
According to the groups' own Internet home pages, Global Witness and Partnership Africa Canada were nominated by three U.S. lawmakers for their efforts to stop diamond trading in war zones in Africa.
Other nominations mentioned but not confirmed included: the Tianenmen Mothers, Irish Catholic Father Shay Cullen for his work in the Philippines, American Kathy Kelly for co-founding the Voices in the Wilderness Group, and members of the faculty at the University of Kabul in Afghanistan.
Those likely to be nominated again could include the Salvation Army, the U.S. Peace Corps, Chinese-American dissident Harry Wu and Chinese Falun Gong movement founder Li Hongzhi.
China has detained an American follower of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, accusing him of sabotaging television and radio broadcasting systems on the mainland, the U.S. embassy said Thursday.
But an Australian member of the sect detained a week ago in southwestern China had been freed and was on her way home, an Australian embassy spokesman said.
U.S. citizen Chuck Lee was taken into police custody in the southern city of Guangzhou on January 22 and transferred two days later to the eastern city of Yangzhou, where he was accused of sabotaging broadcasting systems, an embassy spokeswoman said.
A U.S. consular official visited Lee, who appeared to be healthy, she said. No other details were available.
Falun Gong identified the the detainee in a statement as Charles Li from Menlo Park, California. He denied the charges but could be jailed for up to 15 years if found guilty of hijacking the airwaves and cables to broadcast Falun Gong material.
Sydney resident Nancy Chen was aboard a flight bound for Australia Thursday, an embassy spokesman said without explaining why she had been held or specifying that she was a Falun Gong member.
The group's U.S.-based information center, which spelled her family name in a statement as Chan, said she was detained by police last week. It did not specify the charges against her.
The Australian embassy said it had sent a consular official to Sichuan province Wednesday to meet the detained 34-year-old. The diplomat had also talked to Chinese officials, but the spokesman declined to provide details.
The Falun Gong statement called the detentions "an alarming escalation to the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners."
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue, commenting on the American's case, said Thursday he had damaged public facilities and disturbed the normal lives of Chinese citizens.
"These facts have shown that Falun Gong is an evil cult, jeopardizing social stability and damaging public order. Anybody who takes actions like these are violating Chinese laws," she told a news conference.
"Those who damage China's public facilities will definitely be investigated and punished."
She declined to comment on the case of the Australian.
China banned Falun Gong in 1999, branded it an "evil cult" and has waged a fierce battle to snuff out the group, curtailing its once common protests on Beijing's Tiananmen Square.
As the protests dwindled, the group switched tactics, overriding television signals to broadcast footage proclaiming the virtues of Falun Gong, which combines Taoism, Buddhism, traditional Chinese breathing exercises and the ideas of its founder, Li Hongzhi.
Falun Gong says more than 1,600 members have died in police custody. The government says only a handful have died, from either illness or suicide.
Beijing accuses Falun Gong of being responsible for the deaths of 1,900 people, most of whom it says committed suicide or died after refusing medical care in line with their beliefs.
Hong Kong government leaders announced a scaled-back version of a planned anti-subversion law Tuesday in an apparent attempt to appease critics who say the law threatens the territory's freedoms
"We are being very lenient and we are being very reasonable," Secretary for Security Regina Ip told a news conference, while repeatedly insisting the government was not caving in to opponents
"We are not talking about concessions," Ip said. "It is clarification."
Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa told journalists earlier that while most Hong Kong people accept the need for the legislation, it is being toned down in part to address concerns about free press rights in the former British colony.
Hong Kong no longer plans to outlaw possession of seditious materials, and authorities will limit a ban on the theft of state secrets and apply it only in cases where people obtain classified information by computer hacking, stealing or by bribing officials, Tung said.
Journalists had expressed concerns they could run afoul of the law by reporting information that has not been officially released.
"We must allay their fears because we have no intention of undermining press freedom," Tung said.
Opposition lawmaker Cyd Ho said the government seemed to have backed down amid massive public discontent, but added she would remain skeptical until she sees "the fine print" of the latest plan.
"If people didn't react so strongly these past three months, these clarifications or compromises would not have happened at all," Ho said.
In the latest draft, treason could only be a crime committed by Chinese nationals who are residents of Hong Kong and not by foreigners, as had been proposed earlier, Ip said in outlining the changes.
People accused of breaking the law could demand a trial by jury, Ip said. Groups banned in mainland China could see their Hong Kong chapters banned only if the Hong Kong group is "subordinate" to the mainland group and acting against national security and not merely if they are "affiliated," Ip said.
Some critics have voiced worries that Hong Kong could use the law to target groups including the Falun Gong meditation sect, which is outlawed in mainland China as an "evil cult," although it remains legal in Hong Kong. The government has denied it.
Ever since Britain returned Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, it has been required under the mini-constitution negotiated by the two powers to outlaw subversion, sedition and other crimes against the state.
The government began working on the legislation last year, drawing fire from critics who fear the death of the Western-style civil liberties Hong Kong has enjoyed as part of China, under a so-called "one country, two systems" government arrangement.
Tens of thousands have protested against the law, which has drawn criticism from business leaders and foreign governments in addition to the usual human rights activists who grumble that Hong Kong's government acts like a puppet to Beijing.
Those favoring the law have turned out in similarly large numbers, questioning the patriotism of the other side in a standoff that some say raise fears of a split in Hong Kong society.
Tung and Ip insisted the government was paying close attention to public views, and there were some expressions of relief.
"I can't say we're delighted with everything, but right now it's a huge step in the right direction," American Chamber of Commerce Chairman James Thompson told reporters.
But Ip refused to back down on giving police powers to search for evidence of subversion without a court warrant. A warrant would be obtained in most cases, she said, but in emergencies a decision could be made by senior police officials.
"If people have already made bombs to bomb the Legislative Council building, should we still wait?" Ip asked.
Opponents have demanded that Hong Kong release a draft text of the legislation, but thus far all they've seen is an outline of the law, which officials hope to pass by midyear.
Australia's embassy in China was trying to contact one of its nationals who has apparently been kidnapped by Chinese agents because of her membership of the Falungong spiritual group.
Nancy Chen, 34, was abducted last week while visiting her parents in Chengdu city in the south-western part of China, Falungong said in a statement.
Her husband Herbert Lu later received confirmation that she had been taken away by members of China's National Security Bureau, the statement said.
The group, banned in China as an "evil cult", said she was being held simply because she was a Falungong practitioner.
Chen's parents have been contacted by officials from the National Security Bureau who threatened them if the husband made the incident public in Australia or on the internet, it said.
The Australian embassy here said today it had received no further information about what happened to Chen.
"We're trying to obtain information about her whereabouts and to contact her," an embassy spokesman told AFP.
China considers the Falungong, which has millions of followers in the mainland, the biggest threat to social stability since the 1989 Tiananmen democracy protests.
Since banning the group in 1999, it has jailed tens of thousands of its followers in prison, labor camps or police stations.
Every weekend, Fat Ping Cheung and De Rong Zhang take their son, Stanley Chun Chi Cheung, to Kissena Corridor Park in Flushing, Queens, to practice the exercises, similar to tai chi, that are a part of the spiritual movement known as Falun Gong.
They come here because they have faith in Falun Gong and its ability to improve and elevate the mind, body and spirit. They have faith, and in America their faith ? everyone's faith ? is a protected right.
That's why they came here, to this park, and to this country.
Mrs. Zhang was born in China, and Mr. Cheung was born in Hong Kong. They married in 1998, though Mrs. Zhang had never expected marriage in her life. In 1994, she said, the gas heater in her apartment in Shenzhen, China, exploded while she was showering. She said she suffered burns on her face and arms.
"I couldn't work at all," she said through a translator, Janet Xiong, a friend. "I couldn't be exposed to the sun. The doctors recommended skin grafts and plastic surgery."
But the operations were too costly, she said. Soon after, Mrs. Zhang was introduced to Falun Gong, with its slow-motion exercises, meditations and healing theories. She says that practicing the exercises and striving to be a better person made her burns clear up. Soon after, Mr. Cheung started Falun Gong as well.
As newlyweds, they seemed to have a brighter future within their grasp, although they had to live apart. Mrs. Zhang worked as a floral arranger at the Shenzhen Agricultural Research Institute. Mr. Cheung was a chef at his father's restaurant on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong. And in November 1998, Mrs. Zhang was pregnant.
And in 1999? That's when the Chinese Communist government banned Falun Gong.
Mrs. Zhang said the police began approaching her often, asking her why she wanted to practice Falun Gong. Worried about the future their baby would face if born a Chinese citizen, Mrs. Zhang and Mr. Cheung left for St. Martin in the Caribbean, where Mr. Cheung worked at a relative's restaurant. Their baby, Stanley, was born there in 1999.
In January 2000, Mrs. Zhang returned to China with Stanley. Mr. Cheung returned to his job in Hong Kong. The decision was tough, but Mr. Cheung could earn more money there. They saw each other as often as they could. But meanwhile, the harassment worsened in China.
On Nov. 11, 2000, Mrs. Zhang said, she was at home talking with a friend when the police arrived. "They ransacked and searched the apartment," she said. "They took our pictures of my son and took us to the police station."
The police questioned Mrs. Zhang about her involvement in Falun Gong. "They put my baby on a bench where he was crying and cold," she said. She had heard stories about Falun Gong practitioners and their children being beaten or killed. So she pretended to go to the bathroom, and then raced out of the station into a cold, rainy night.
She called all her relatives and her husband, imploring them to help her get Stanley back. The family quickly formed a plan. "My brother went to the police and guaranteed to bring me to them in exchange for my baby," Mrs. Zhang said.
Her brother took the baby to Mr. Cheung, while Mrs. Zhang had already begun her journey out of China. She took a bus to Huanggang, a train to Shanghai, and a flight to Japan. There, she was reunited with her husband and child and, using tourist visas, they flew to New York.
They could not return to China, so they applied for political asylum. After their case was assigned to a judge, the Immigration and Naturalization Service referred the family for legal representation to the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, one of seven charities supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund. There they met Diana Castanéda, a staff attorney for the charity's immigrant and refugee services department.
"I interviewed them and felt they had a strong case," Ms. Castanéda said. "And there was no other way for them to pay for a lawyer."
The Catholic Charities used $3,000 of Neediest money to help the family, pay for such items as interpreters and research. On Nov. 11 of last year, "the judge found they had met their burden," Ms. Castanéda said.Their status will be finalized in March.
Mrs. Zhang, 39, and Mr. Cheung, 45, now sublet a room in an apartment in Flushing, Queens. Mr. Cheung does interior renovation, and Mrs. Zhang has given flower-arranging workshops at the public library.
But they still face uncertainties. For example, they say, the tenant from whom they are subletting has asked them to move by March.
Still, they are determined to make their own way, as they have before.
Mr. Cheung said: "We will solve our own financial problems. We don't want to be a burden to this society. We want to merge into society and become part of the community."
The Justice Ministry decided not to accept five Chinese members of the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual movement as refugees but suggested the five will be guaranteed permission to reside in Japan, their lawyers said Friday.
The five, together with 12 other members of Falun Gong, applied for refugee status at Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka and Fukuoka immigration authorities, saying they will be persecuted if they return to China.
In the first decision for the applicants, the ministry said the five ? four female and one male aged in their 20s to 40s who work in Japan as office employees and researchers ? failed to fully prove that they will face persecution in their country.
It suggested, however, that it will give special consideration to them so that they will be guaranteed permission to reside in Japan, according to the lawyers.
In response to the suggestion, the five have applied for residence permission, they said.
"While it is regrettable that the ministry did not approve the five as refugees, we welcome its stance to guarantee resident status," their lawyers said.
The Australian Embassy in Beijing is investigating a claim an Australian woman has been arrested in south-west China.
An Australian Embassy spokesman says enquiries are being made with Chinese authorities but no facts have yet been established.
Falun Gong activists in Australia claim a 34-year-old Australian citizen disappeared in the city of Chengdu two days ago whilst on holidays.
They say she is a practioner of the spiritual movement.
Chinese authorities consider it an evil cult and have banned it.
The woman apparently rang her mother early on Wednesday morning to say she had been kidnapped before the phone dropped out.
The Falungong spiritual group petitioned Hong Kong chief executive Tung Chee-hwa to help seek the release of an elderly practitioner jailed in Myammar.
The spiritual sect urged Tung to help secure the release of Hong Kong native Chan Wing-yuen, 71, arrested in Rangoon December 12, 2001, for unfurling a Falungong banner during President Jiang Zemin's visit.
Chan, who faced justice without legal representation, was sentenced to seven years in prison last January, the group said.
Chinese embassy staff and local authorities had repeatedly demanded Chan publicly denounce his belief in Falungong in exchange for his freedom but he refused, they added.
"We are worried that Beijing is extending its human rights abuses and its persecution against Falunggong practitioners in more and more countries through diplomatic channels," said Falungong spokeswoman Sharon Xu.
"It is not only in countries in Asia, but in Europe as well as Americas."
Xu cited as an example a mainland couple repatriated to China by Cambodia at the request of Chinese embassy staff because of their belief in the spiritual group.
A baby born in Britain was refused a Chinese passport because his Chinese born parents practiced Falungong, she added.
"There were also cases in which Chinese passports of Falungong practitioners were not renewed by the Chinese embassy in the United States," Xu said.
The spiritual group, which combines meditation with Buddhist-inspired teachings, was banned by mainland China in July 1999 as an "evil cult" but remains legal in Hong Kong, a special administrative region that is supposed to have a degree of autonomy from the mainland.
Opposition lawmakers took aim at the government's plans for rescuing Hong Kong's ailing economy in a question-and-answer session Thursday that became heated when one legislator told unpopular chief executive Tung Chee-hwa he should quit.
Tung faced a hail of criticism a day after announcing pay cuts and tax hikes in a bid to reduce a record budget deficit.
Hong Kong's small political opposition accused him of offering no measures to tackle unemployment or bolster public confidence in his administration.
"Have you considered stepping down as chief executive so that more capable people can give it a try and do a better job?" asked Albert Ho of the Democratic Party.
Tung, who was taking questioning from lawmakers in response to his annual policy address, said Ho's finger-pointing was not appropriate.
"Hong Kong's economic problems will not be solved by you or some other people ridiculing me," said Tung. "This is not the time to put the blame on you or me."
Tung announced Wednesday that he and other senior officials would take a 10 percent pay cut to help bring down Hong Kong's growing budget deficit, which is expected to hit a record of more than 70 billion Hong Kong dollars (US$9 billion) in the fiscal year ending March 31.
The chief executive also said the government will raise taxes.
But he has been unable to shake criticism that he has failed to come up with new ideas to revive an economy that has long been stagnating. Unemployment hit a record 7.8 percent in the May-July quarter.
As Tung walked into the Legislative Council for his 75-minute session with lawmakers, about 20 protesters jeered loudly and tore apart copies of Tung's policy address then threw the pieces of paper at him.
"Down with Tung Chee-hwa," chanted the demonstrators, who held up a banner that said: "Overthrow the Hong Kong government."
About 40 followers of the Falun Gong meditation sect gathered outside the Legislative Council chambers, urging China to free three Hong Kong people now in custody in the mainland.
China has outlawed Falun Gong as an "evil cult" and is attempting to wipe out the group on the mainland, but it remains legal in Hong Kong and its adherents frequently protest here.
Police in southwestern China said Thursday they raided a secret meeting place of the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual movement, arresting five people and confiscating stacks of books, pamphlets and videotapes.
An additional 30 people were sent to re-education classes following last month's raid in Fengjie, a city near Chongqing, said an official in the Fengjie Political and Judicial Office. He gave only his family name, Liu.
The five were arrested on charges of smuggling Falun Gong materials from abroad and downloading them from the Internet, Liu said. He said they also face charges of organizing secret gatherings of Falun Gong, which was banned four years ago after it staged a massive protest in central Beijing.
The Chinese government calls the group a cult that drives members to suicide. Falun Gong says it is being unfairly persecuted and only wants the freedom to practice its beliefs.
Liu said the secret meeting place raided was the home of one of those arrested, Yu Xiaoru, whom he called the leader of a Falun Gong cell.
At Yu's home, police seized books, leaflets, videotapes, computer disks and several banners promoting the group, Liu said. He said Yu, 72, smuggled many of the materials from Taiwan.
Liu said another of those arrested, Feng Chuanjia, mailed an article to Taiwan that criticized the government crackdown on the sect. The article was posted on the Internet, Liu said.
Thirty other people briefly detained for attending meetings at Yu's house have been forced to attend re-education classes organized by the police and city government, Liu said.
He identified the other three arrested as He Wenyi, Yu's wife, Zheng Chunfeng and Liang Chongqiong.
In an editorial to be published Friday, the Communist Party newspaper People's Daily accuses Taiwanese activists of using Falun Gong to stir up trouble on the mainland, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
The editorial blames activists seeking formal independence for the island, which has been ruled separately from the mainland since 1949, but which the communist government claims as its territory.
Four Falun Gong members have been sentenced to up to 20 years in prison for breaking into cable television systems in western China to broadcast videos promoting the banned spiritual group, a court official said Wednesday.
The group was sentenced Dec. 30 by the Xining Intermediate People's Court, according to the official, who gave only his surname, Zhang. Xining is the capital of Qinghai province, which borders Tibet and is one of China's poorest regions.
Falun Gong was banned in China in 1999 as a threat to public safety and communist rule. The group had attracted millions of followers with a mix of slow-motion exercise and doctrines drawn from Buddhism and Taoism and the ideas of its founder, Li Hongzhi, a former government clerk.
Over the past year, Falun Gong members have staged a series of television break-ins to show videos criticizing the ban and proclaiming the group's good intentions.
They targeted cable television systems in at least four cities ? mostly in eastern and central China ? and also were accused by the communist government of twice hijacking a satellite signal.
In Xining, Falun Gong member Zhang Rongjuan and three other people were sentenced to between seven and 20 years, according to Zhang, the court official. He wouldn't give other details or the identities of other defendants.
But a state newspaper said the break-ins occurred in Xining and Lanzhou, capital of neighboring Gansu province, and broadcast Falun Gong video discs to several hundred households.
The incidents occurred in July and August, said the Jiancha Daily, published by China's top prosecutors' office.
It identified the other defendants He Wanji, Li Chongfeng and Duan Xiaoyan.
Four Falungong members have been jailed by a court in Xining, China.
Local media reports say the four members will serve between 7 to 20 years in jail, for interrupting cable TV networks in northwestern China to broadcast Falungong propaganda in August.
The Falungong sect has been outlawed in China since 1999.
Eight other Falungong followers in Hefei city were also sentenced to prison terms of five to 13 years, for similar offences in May.
What Is Falun Gong? See "Falun Gong 101", by Massimo Introvigne
"Falun Gong 101. Introduzione al Falun Gong e alla sua presenza in Italia" (in italiano), di Massimo Introvigne
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