China jails sect leader for tax evasion-HK group

HONG KONG, Sept 18 (Reuters) - A Chinese court sentenced the leader of a meditation group to 12 years in jail on Tuesday for tax evasion, a Hong Kong-based rights group said.

Shen Chang, 44, who founded the "Human Anatomy Group" in 1990, was arrested last July for "using an evil cult to breach the law," the Information Center for Human Rights & Democracy said.

The group said he was later charged with "tax evasion" and "operating an illegal business."

The court in the southeastern city of Suzhou heard how Shen produced and sold 300,000 cassette tapes to promote his exercises in 1995 without first obtaining authorisation, said the Hong Kong group in a statement.

The tapes generated a profit of 6.3 million yuan.

The group also said authorities accused Shen of evading 900,000 yuan in taxes on profits made from exercise classes.

It said Shen had a following of around 5 million people, most of them in the southeastern province of Zhejiang.

The Hong Kong group said it feared Shen's conviction signalled an imminent crackdown on Xiang Gong, another spiritual group that is gaining prominence in China.

Beijing has grown increasingly sensitive to the operations of such groups since it banned the Falun Gong movement in 1999 after it staged a mass protest around China's leadership compound. China has branded the group an "evil cult" and says it is trying to overthrow the Communist party.