BEIJING, Oct 25, 1999 (Reuters) - China accused at least 13 leaders of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement on Monday of stealing and leaking state secrets on an unprecedented scale.
The official Xinhua news agency said they illegally obtained 59 classified documents about a crackdown on the group that began in July.
"Falun Gong's organisation of theft of state secrets has reached an unprecedented degree," it said in a report that indicated they would be prosecuted.
If charged and convicted, the 13 leaders face at least five years in prison. The maximum penalty is death.
Xinhua said the leaders had organised more than 300 protests nationwide since April 25 when 10,000 sect members lay siege to Beijing's Zhongnanhai leadership compound to demand official status for the faith, which combines elements of Buddhism, Taoism, meditation and breathing exercises.
It identified one of the leaders as Li Chang. He is a former deputy director at the Ministry of Public Security who has been taken into custody.
Xinhua alleged the leaders of the movement leaked some classified material by posting it on the Internet. Some of it was distorted "to sabotage stability," it said.
Government sources say Falun Gong leaders face charges ranging from leaking state secrets to disturbing public order to subversion.
Xinhua's accusations came during a visit by President Jiang Zemin to France, where he discussed human rights for three hours over dinner on Saturday with French President Jacques Chirac.
Jiang, dogged by human rights protesters during a week of travel in Britain and France, told the French newspaper Le Figaro that China would move step by step towards democracy, but warned outsiders not to interfere over human rights.
Earlier on Monday, dozens of defiant Falun Gong adherents were detained when they staged a bold protest in Tiananmen Square, the political heart of China, as parliament began a session to review a bill curbing cults.
"Tens of Falun Gong members were taken away," one officer at the Tiananmen Square police station said by telephone.
"We are dealing with it," the officer said when asked if those detained would be released. He declined further comment.
One witness said the protesters shouted slogans from the public bus in which they were driven away.
Police later questioned and detained several more people, forcing them to board half a dozen police vans parked on the square.
Since China banned Falun Gong on July 22, police have taken hundreds of followers into custody for trying to mount protests in Beijing and other cities.
Most have been freed after being lectured on the "evils" of Falun Gong, which Beijing says corrupted minds, sabotaged stability and sought to replace the government.
The standing committee of the National People's Congress, the top body of the Chinese parliament, began a one week session on Monday to review a bill aimed at "preventing and dealing a blow to religious cults," including Falun Gong.
"Cult organisations have seriously destroyed social stability, endangered economic development, the safety of people's lives and property," Xinhua quoted senior lawmaker Hou Zongbin as saying. Cults "must be effectively curbed," Hou added.
Falun Gong claims 100 million members worldwide, but the government says two million is more accurate.
Its U.S.-based leader, Li Hongzhi, who preaches science has created an immoral world on the brink of disaster, has said his movement is apolitical and poses no threat to China.
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