By Jeremy Page
BEIJING (Reuters) - Defiant members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual group [used] state television in a Northeastern Chinese city to show a film protesting a government [persecution] on their faith, locals said on Thursday.
Reports of the television protest, one of Falun Gong's most audacious, emerged as China detained seven foreign adherents on Tiananmen Square for protesting Beijing's campaign against the group [...].
State television broadcasts in Changchun were interrupted on Tuesday evening by footage of Falun Gong's U.S.-based leader Li Hongzhi and a film accusing the government of staging a self-immolation of alleged adherents in Tiananmen Square last year, locals said.
"There was a brief blackout and then there was Li Hongzhi speaking, banners saying Falun Dafa is good,' and there was a news analysis about the Tiananmen Square self-immolation incident which indicated that it was planted by the government," a television viewer in Changchun told Reuters.
The footage lasted about 50 minutes before normal state television programming resumed, he said.
It was one of the most daring protests by Falun Gong, whose once regular demonstrations in Tiananmen Square have petered out in the last year since the government arrested group leaders and sent thousands of followers to "re-education" camps.
However, foreign adherents have kept up their campaign with a string of protests on the square -- the latest coming on Thursday right in front of the building where the National People's Congress, China's parliament, was holding its annual meeting.
Police whisked away the foreigners, at least three of whom were Australian, after the latest of several protests in recent months by foreigners who were swiftly expelled from the country.
Police in Changchun had arrested a local man in connection with the television incident, the Changchun Evening newspaper said, without offering more details.
Changchun residents said they believed the incident was the work of underground Falun Gong practitioners still active in the city, but it was unclear how they managed to penetrate the local cable TV network.
Changchun, a city of 1.3 million people, is Li Hongzhi's home town and thousands of people there remain faithful to the self-styled spiritual leader, they said.
Officials at the city's police department and state-owned Changchun Cable Television Corporation, the city's biggest cable broadcaster, declined to comment on the incident. But a city government official told Reuters a police circular sent to city hall said high-ranking officials and investigators from the Ministry of Public Security in Beijing had been sent to Changchun to investigate the incident.
The television protest was the group's latest effort to fight back against a fierce state media campaign to discredit the group, focusing on the self-immolations in which a 12-year-old girl and her mother died.
Falun Gong denies they were true adherents and accuses the government of setting up the incident.
The foreign demonstrators were detained on Tuesday at a police station where they sat in a circle and meditated, a witness said.
"I heard this one man telling the Chinese police about their rights of protest and expression according to the Chinese constitution," he said.
"I saw the banners that belonged to them spread out on a table. They were banners for Falun Gong -- some were purple and yellow."
Kati Vereshaka, a spokeswoman in Australia for the Falun Gong which is also known as Falun Dafa, identified three of the detained protesters as her cousin Mihai Molnar, his wife, Candice, and Greg March, all from Melbourne.
Vereshaka said she had asked the Australian Foreign Ministry and the Australian embassy in Beijing to intervene.
"They are now trying to get in contact," she said. "Hopefully, they will be released soon because they have done nothing illegal," Vereshaka told Reuters.
"They went there to appeal on behalf of the Chinese Falun Gong practitioners. All they did was unfurl a banner saying Falun Dafa is good in Chinese characters."
There was no immediate comment from the Australian embassy or from the Chinese government.
China expelled 53 Westerners last month and 35 foreign Falun Gong members in November for similar protests.
Falun Gong says more than 1,600 followers have since died as a result of abuse in police custody or detention centres.
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