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    Greater China
     Mar 26, 2005
Falungong sabotages Chinese satellite TV
By Florence Chan

HONG KONG - Falungong, which Beijing outlawed as an "evil cult" in 1999, disrupted television broadcast signals in most parts of China last week for about five minutes by jamming signal transmission via the satellite of Asia Satellite Telecommunications Co Ltd (AsiaSat). One communications-technology expert, however, told Asia Times Online that such attacks could be thwarted by using appropriate security measures.

"The attack started at 9:34pm on March 14 and disrupted six C-band transponders of an AsiaSat 3S satellite with Falungong propaganda, causing a break in regular programming of many provincial TV channels in the mainland that hire the attacked transponders for transmission," AsiaSat chief executive officer Peter Jackson told a press conference on March 15.

China considers the well-organized Falungong, which can mobilize thousands of supporters, a threat to Communist Party rule.

This is the second assault after November 20, when an unidentified hacker intruded into the transmission of a transponder on the 3S satellite. But "the interruption proves much more vicious this time, affecting six transponders", said AsiaSat marketing manager Sabrina Cubbon. Under strong interference from offensive signals, the satellite transmission will dangerously outstrip the saturation point, so the affected transponders must be turned off, she added. So far, the company has not yet detected the source of the attack because of technical impediments.

As a result of the intrusion, regular programs were replaced by Falungong propaganda on several provincial-level TV channels that broadcast to all cable TV subscribers in the country via the AsiaSat 3C satellite. TV stations in northeastern China's Heilongjiang province, Jiangsu province in the east, Hunan province in central China and Sichuan province were among those disrupted, to name a few. "We were informed by the clients when the Falungong stuff had gone to air. But our service was back to normal a few minutes later," Liu said.

Dajiyuan or Epoch Times, an overseas Chinese-language news website, said the disruptions were not Falungong images but slogans urging people to leave the Chinese Communist Party (CCP); it included a harangue against the party's flaws and alleged indifference and injustice toward the Chinese people.

"The source of jamming signals must have been close enough to the AsiaSat ground transmitter station to disrupt the frequency," said Dr Li Chi-kwong of the Electronics and Information Engineering Department, Hong Kong Polytechnic University. "Besides, it takes time to target jamming signals at the satellite in outer space. Therefore, a tighter security of the ground transmitter will help prevent further interruption. Alternatively, encryption will make TV signals more difficult to tamper with."

The latest disruption came at a highly sensitive time, as the National People's Congress had just passed the Anti-Secession Law on March 14. But how much the sabotage had to do with the legislation is not known. The Ministry of Information Industry is working with the ministries of National Security and Public Security in an intensive inquiry, and their findings will be released after they are completed and evaluated.

The incident is anything but a hoax. "Whoever successfully jammed the satellite must command a good knowledge of satellite transmission and possess some essential equipment to emit interruptive signals of great strength. Hereby, we presume that the attack was done by wealthy foreigners," said Sabrina Cubbon. Professor Li Chi-kwong of Hong Kong Polytechnic University also agreed that the incident was designed and planned well in advance.

By employing security staff to patrol regularly around the transmitter stations, such attacks can be avoided, said Professor Li.

Hong Kong Falungong spokesman Kan Hung-cheung told Asia Times Online that he had not heard about Falungong disciples plotting the incident on March 14. Yet, he added, "I know some fellows have in the past interfered with TV broadcasts to make known how Falungong members were persecuted by the Chinese Communist Party. And what they did deserves positive recognition ... There's no speech freedom in China, which is why the Falungong members had to jam TV satellites," Kan added.

However, Cubbon said, "The interference disabled our service and negatively affected our reputation. We strongly condemn such outlawed behaviors."

So far, AsiaSat has informed the Office of the Telecommunications Authority under the Hong Kong government, but has not reported the signal disruption to the police. "There're only two places where the Falungong signals could be sourced, so it's very unlikely that the source was in Hong Kong. Since the satellite transmission is worldwide, we can't call the police all over the world," Cubbon explained. Said Dr Li Chi-kwong: "If the source couldn't be spotted when the signals were still on the air, there will be fat chance to locate the source after that. As the latest interruptive signals only lasted for five minutes or so, it's too difficult to find out the source."

In a press release, AsiaSat CEO Jackson said the latest interference and the previous incident in November "seriously violated international telecommunications treaties" and "contravened international regulations". The company said it reserved the right to take appropriate legal actions.

Falungong is a religion blending Buddhist and Taoist credos with breathing (or Qigong, a traditional Chinese martial art) and meditation exercises. On April 24, 1999, a huge legion of Falungong members rallied around Zhongnanhai - the power enclave of the China's central government. After Falungong was banned as an "evil cult", thousands of adherents were detained or jailed for rehabilitation.

Some members of Falungong had jammed other satellites to disrupt broadcasts into China, including the coverage in 2003 of China's first manned space flight. Those convicted were punished with long jail sentences.

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