Chinese Exercise Teacher Arrested

BEIJING (AP) - A popular teacher of traditional Chinese "qigong" exercise arrested last year on cult charges was sentenced to 12 years in prison Tuesday for tax evasion, a court official and a human rights organization said.

Shen Chang was convicted by a court in the eastern city of Suzhou of selling tapes about the discipline without a business license and then concealing the income, said a court official, who gave his name only as Mr. Han.

The Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said Shen, who had as many as 5 million followers, was arrested in July 2000 on suspicion of leading a cult.

Qigong is a centuries-old belief that health can be improved by channeling unseen forces.

Practitioners have come under intense scrutiny during a campaign by authorities to crush Falun Gong, a spiritual group based in part on qigong.

Falun Gong leaders often are prosecuted on fraud, illegal assembly and other charges, rather than for association with the movement.

Shen, founder of the group "Physical Science," was accused of evading some $110,000 in taxes, said Han, the court official.

The Information Center said Shen, 44, was accused of selling 300,000 tapes of his teachings without a business license.