China jails organisers of Falun Gong protest

FOUR PRINCIPAL organisers of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement were convicted in China yesterday and sentenced to prison terms of up to 18 years.

Judges at Peking's Number One Intermediate People's Court found the four guilty of organising and using a cult to undermine the implementation of laws and other offences, the government's Xinhua News Agency reported. Li Chang and Wang Zhiwen were sentenced to 18 and 16 years in prison - among the harshest sentences given to political or religious dissenters this decade - while Ji Liewu and Yao Jie were sentenced to 12 and seven years.

Their trial was the most important prosecution since the government outlawed Falun Gong as a menace to the public and Communist Party rule five months ago.

The four defendants were party members with positions of influence in government and business, underscoring Falun Gong's reach, and the government's difficulties in suppressing the movement. The state-run media have portrayed them as key figures in a huge Falun Gong demonstration in April.

A human rights group estimates that 3,000 practitioners have been sent to labour camps since Falun Gong, which mixes meditation exercises with ideas drawn from Buddhism and Taoism, was banned in July. (AP)