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Sect Hacked Into TV, China Says

Asia: Beijing accuses outlawed Falun Gong movement of disrupting broadcasts with images. It vows to punish the spiritual group.

July 09, 2002|ANTHONY KUHN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

BEIJING — Chinese officials vowed Monday to punish the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement for allegedly hacking into Chinese satellites to broadcast its messages on state-run television.

Liu Lihua, China's chief broadcast regulator at the Ministry of Information Industry, said broadcasters had discovered and traced an unauthorized signal aimed at the nation's Sinosat 1 satellite.

"We have sufficient evidence to show that this was perpetrated by the overseas Falun Gong cult organization, manipulated and directed by Li Hongzhi," he said, referring to the group's U.S.-based leader. Liu declined to specify the source of the interfering signals.

As Chinese viewers tuned in to the evening news June 23, screens went black, according to the New China News Agency.

Then, with classical Chinese music playing in the background, images popped up showing tidy rows of Falun Gong practitioners doing yoga-like exercises in a large public square.

The disruptions continued sporadically for a week, affecting more than a dozen hours of programming, Liu said.

Beijing outlawed the group in 1999 after 10,000 of its members surrounded the central government compound seeking official recognition in a peaceful protest.

The electronic intrusion "is extremely despicable and represents yet another crime committed by Falun Gong," Liu said.

He added that the hacking violated international telecommunications conventions, threatened China's national security and could disrupt the Sinosat's navigation, meteorological and flood warning functions.

"They can run, but they cannot hide forever," Liu said. "They will be subjected to severe punishment according to the law."

An editorial in Friday's Communist Party flagship People's Daily lambasted the hacking as "a challenge to human civilization."

With many Falun Gong disciples jailed, under surveillance or driven underground in China, propaganda battles between authorities and the group have shifted to the airwaves.

Liu confirmed that Falun Gong disciples had hacked into cable TV systems in the cities of Changchun and Chongqing this year. Several group members convicted of the acts were sentenced to prison terms of up to 16 years.

On its Web site, Falun Gong's information center said followers had hacked into cable systems seven times and were "revealing the truth about [Chinese President] Jiang Zemin's persecution of Falun Gong and demonstrating the true nature of the practice."

Fearing that Falun Gong might hijack broadcasts of Jiang's speech marking the fifth anniversary of Hong Kong's return to Chinese sovereignty, China Central Television, or CCTV, scrapped plans for live coverage of the event, Hong Kong media reported.

When the BBC's World Service channel showed footage of Falun Gong adherents protesting Jiang's visit in Hong Kong, Beijing cut its signal, which is also beamed into China from the French-built Sinosat satellite.

Officials said Falun Gong's signal interruption last month affected nine CCTV channels and 10 provincial channels that are part of a government project roughly translatable as "Every Village Wired."

The project aims to expand signal coverage to China's most isolated and mountainous regions. Before they had television, some locals did not know who their country's leaders were.

CCTV news previously reported that the project's programming had helped villagers see through Falun Gong's teachings.

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