Beijing -- A Chinese court has sentenced four Falun Gong followers to prison terms ranging from seven to 16 years for hacking into a cable television network and broadcasting information about the banned group, state media said.
The Jan. 1 broadcast in a district of the southwestern city of Chongqing interrupted regular programming for some viewers and "had extremely bad social effects,'' the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
Tapping into TV stations has been one tactic used this year by Falun Gong in its fight against a government crackdown that has driven followers underground or away from the group.
Aside from Chongqing, Falun Gong followers have also hacked into TV networks in at least three other cities - Harbin, Changchun and Anshan, all in the northeast, Chinese authorities say. Followers also post fliers and use the Internet to publicize the group's views.
China's government banned Falun Gong in July 1999 as a threat to communist rule and a social menace. The government says Falun Gong is a cult that has caused 1,700 deaths.
Falun Gong followers say it is a peaceful meditation movement that builds health and happiness. They say hundreds of followers have died as a result of police abuse and torture during the three-year-old crackdown.
The four Falun Gong followers in Chongqing were sentenced Friday by the city's No.1 Intermediate People's Court, Xinhua reported.
One of them, Jin Wei, was sentenced to 16 years in prison for organizing and using a cult to obstruct enforcement of the law and for sabotaging television facilities, Xinhua said.
Li Xiangdong was sentenced to 15 years, Shu Jianqiu to nine years and Li Wei to seven years. A fifth follower involved in the broadcast, Liu Chunshu, has died of illness, the report said. It did not name the illness.