China jails two for inciting subversion

HONG KONG, Sept 19 (Reuters) - A Chinese court has sentenced two key leaders of the banned Zhong Gong spiritual group to two and a half years in jail for "inciting the subversion of state power," a Hong Kong-based rights group said on Wednesday.

Ju De, 46, and Ye Yaonian, 36, from central Henan province were arrested in September 1999 after they sent letters to fellow members in the province criticising the authorities for cracking down on the movement, said the Information Centre for Human Rights & Democracy.

They did not appeal their sentences which were handed down on August 28.

Some 600 members of the movement have been arrested since the end of 1999, the rights group said.

Another key member, Zhou Xinyang of central Hunan province, was given a seven year jail sentence on August 30 for tax evasion. Zhou is appealing the sentence.

The founder of the sect, Zhang Hongbao, was granted U.S. asylum in June despite demands from Beijing that he be repatriated to face rape charges.

The sect, started in 1987 in China and which boasted a following of some 38 million followers by 1990, has repeatedly denied the rape accusations.