Beijing -- Chinese police have arrested more than 20 members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement for hijacking a state television broadcast last month, state media and officials said on Tuesday.
"There are around 20 of them now under arrest," police in China's northeastern city of Changchun told Reuters.
The China News Service named seven of those under arrest and said at least 16 others had helped to hack into a cable television broadcast on March 5 to show a Falun Gong film protesting against a fierce government crackdown on the group.
"Initial investigations have revealed that the case was an organised, premeditated crime," the semi-official agency said.
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, said police had detained more than 5,000 of its followers in Changchun and up to 100 of them had died in police custody since the March 5 protest, one of the most daring since the group was banned in 1999.
The New-York based Falun Dafa Information Centre said last month Chinese President Jiang Zemin had ordered a series of executions targeting those involved in the protest.
"The die-hard Falun Gong members damaged the cable television network, disrupted social order and disturbed people's normal lives in their ferocious promotion and instigation activities for Falun Gong, which fully exposed its essence as an evil cult," the China News Service said.
"They have seriously violated the Criminal Code and will be severely punished by the law," it said.
It accused "die-hard" Falun Gong member Liang Zhenxing of masterminding the incident in Changchun, capital of Jilin province and hometown of Falun Gong leader Li Hongzhi, who lives in exile in the United States.
Liang began conspiring with several other adherents late last year to stage a major event promoting the group, which Beijing has labelled an "evil cult," it said.
He bought broadcast equipment worth 11,000 yuan ($1,300), wrote operation manuals and trained about 20 Falun Gong members for the stunt in a rented warehouse, it said.
The group picked prime-time cable television on March 5 because the city court was due to try some Falun Gong adherents the next day, the report said.
"I think most of the accomplices will receive lenient punishment, like re-education through labour," the Changchun police officer said, referring to the controversial Chinese practice of sending people to labour camps without trial.
But the organisers would be charged with "using an evil cult to damage law enforcement," a crime which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison, a city prosecutor told Reuters by telephone.
No date has been set for the trials, the prosecutor said.
The 50-minute television protest showed a film accusing the government of staging a self-immolation by alleged Falun Gong adherents in Tiananmen Square last year, locals have said.
China banned Falun Gong in 1999 after thousands of followers shocked leaders with a protest at their Beijing leadership compound to demand official recognition of their faith.
Falun Gong says thousands of followers have since been sent to labour camps and more than 1,600 have died as a result of abuse in police custody or detention centres.
The government says only a handful have died, mostly from suicide or natural causes. It blames Falun Gong for the deaths of at least 1,900 people by suicide or refusing medical treatment.