Beijing -- Authorities have detained 2,000 followers of the banned Falun Gong spiritual group in a northern Chinese city after a defiant television broadcast by the group, a rights organization said Thursday.
More than 150 followers in Changchun have been sent to "re-education through labor'' camps, the Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said. Changchun's women's labor camp alone has admitted 80 Falun Gong followers over the last six weeks, the Hong Kong-based center said.
Authorities have already announced the arrest of seven Falun Gong followers blamed for orchestrating the March 5 incident, during which cable TV broadcasts in Changchun and nearby Songyuan were interrupted to show programs attacking government propaganda against the group.
The information center said those could go on trial as early as next month.
In Beijing, the third anniversary of a 1999 protest that eventually led to the ban on Falun Gong passed uneventfully Thursday. Only tourists were in evidence on Beijing's Tiananmen Square, where dozens of followers were beaten and detained last year for protesting. No one was arrested, police said.
The Changchun broadcasts was among the boldest acts by Falun Gong amid the three crackdown against it. After the broadcasts, officials in Changchun and surrounding Jilin province were punished or sacked, the information center said. All levels of law enforcement have been pressured to make arrests, it said.
People answering phones at police and labor camp offices in Changchun either hung up or said they knew nothing of the reported detentions. The central government's information office in Beijing did not respond to requests for comment.
Since Beijing banned Falun Gong in July 1999, calling it an "evil cult'' that threatens public safety and communist rule, thousands have been detained and Falun Gong supporters abroad say at least 400 have died in custody. China denies killing anyone but says some have committed suicide or died by refusing food or medicine.
Falun Gong was banned three months after Chinese leaders were stunned by an eerie, silent protest on April 25, 1999. Some 10,000 followers gathered around the central Beijing compound where President Jiang Zemin and other top officials live.
Falun Gong members said they were demonstrating against mistreatment by local officials and wanted only to be able to practice the group's slow-motion exercises and meditation in peace. But the demonstration frightened the government by revealing the group's ability to mobilize thousands of people undetected.