4 leaders of Falun Gong to go on trial

The first trial of leaders of the banned Falun Gong group will begin tomorrow in Haikou, Hainan province.

Xinhua said Song Yuesheng, Jiang Shilong, Chen Yuan and Liang Yulin had been charged with 'using an evil religion to violate the law'.

The four allegedly defied the July 22 Ministry of Public Security ban on the Buddhist-based sect and organised 'illegal gatherings of Falun Gong practitioners', including a gathering in a Haikou park on August 8 attended by 183 people.

The suspects were arrested on September 28.

Song is also charged with attempting to escape police custody.

Beijing sources said the central Government had called on local governments to begin trials of defiant Falun Gong leaders within the next two weeks.

At least four other leaders were expected to be tried for leaking state secrets related to the banning of the group. Anyone found guilty on these charges faces the death penalty.

Xu Mingwu, who has been charged in Hebei province for leaking state secrets, was expected to be taken to court within a week.

A Falun Gong branch leader in Qingdao, Shandong province, indicted on Thursday on charges of 'using a cult group to sabotage legal institutions', was also expected to appear in court soon.

The Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China said it believed more than 100 leaders of the group would be tried.

State press has reported more than 40 formal arrests of Falun Gong leaders across the mainland.

Charges in the Haikou trial are expected to be based on Article 300 of the Criminal Law. This deals with cults and was extended last Saturday with a decision passed by the National People's Congress Standing Committee.

Those found guilty of violating the article face sentences of two to seven years for non-serious violations and more than seven years for crimes judged to be serious.

Yesterday's Jilin Daily reported that seven practitioners had been sent without trial to labour camps for one year for 'disturbing social order'.

The information centre said at least six Falun Gong practitioners had died in police custody, with four committing suicide after being persecuted, one dying as a result of a hunger strike and another suspected of being beaten to death.

Zhu Shaolan, detained on September 28, began a hunger strike the next day and continued it for four days, causing her to become weak and leading to her death on October 7, the centre said.