Reporters Without Borders has condemned jail sentences handed down to five members of the Falun Gong movement on 19 February, ranging from five to 14 years in prison.
They appeared before Court No. 1 in western Chongqing on 19 February accused of helping to post news on an web site about ill-treatment in prison of a student member of the movement.
The international press freedom organisation also called for the release of all 22 Falun Gong members now imprisoned for posting news on the Internet.
"The crackdown on members of this spiritual movement is completely unjustified," it said. "The five Internet-users were convicted for posting online what is already very well known to human rights organisations, that members of Falun Gong are systematically tortured in prison."
In its verdict, the court said that the report published online "tarnished the image of the government by broadcasting fabricated stories of persecution suffered by cult members."
Lu Zengqi, accused of writing the incriminating document, and Yan Qiuyan, who was said to have helped him published the article, were both sentenced to 10 years in jail. Li Jian, who reportedly posted the article on a site run by the movement, was sentenced to 13 years in prison.
Chen Shumin, head of the company where Lu Zengqi worked was jailed for 12 years. Yin Yan was sentenced to five years but without any evidence being given of the part he played.
Apart from the five people sentenced on 19 February 2004, 17 members of the Falun Gong movement are currently in jail for using the Internet.
Seven cyberdissidents, Jiang Yuxia, Li Chunyan, Li Yanfang, Lin Yang, Ma Yan, Huang Kui and Zhang Yuhui, were arrested for posting news on the Net.
One cyberdissident, Zhang Haitao, is in jail for creating an Internet site about Falun Gong.
Nine Internet-users, Meng Jun, Dong Yanhong, Liu Wenyu, Wang Xin, Wang Xuefei, Wang Zhenyong, Yao Yue, Zhang Ji et Quan Huicheng, were simply charged with downloading and spreading news about the movement and repression of its members.
Reporters Without Borders has already drawn attention to repression against Falun Gong members in its report "The Internet under Surveillance". This report also explains that the Chinese authorities block access to all sites that refer to the movement and bans discussion of the subject on online discussion forums.