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September 24, 2017

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Chunghwa Telecom opens satellite to Falun Gong

TAIPEI -- Taiwan's leading telecom firm said yesterday it will let a television station run by China's banned Falun Gong movement use its new satellite, reversing a controversial decision to end their contract.

"We've agreed that they can use the ST-2," said Chen Hui-yen, a spokeswoman for Chunghwa Telecom.

Chunghwa's announcement last month that there would not be enough bandwidth on the ST-2 satellite for the Falun Gong station to have a slot triggered anger not just from the movement itself, but also from media campaigners and U.S. lawmakers.

Teresa Chu, a Taiwan-based spokeswoman for the Falun Gong, confirmed that an agreement with Chunghwa has now been reached, but declined to provide details of the contract, saying they would be made public later this week.

Since August 2007, the TV company — New Tang Dynasty Asia Pacific — has broadcast programs to Taiwan and China via commercial satellite ST-1, jointly owned by Chunghwa Telecom and Singapore Telecommunications.

The firms launched ST-2 in May to replace the aging ST-1, and Chunghwa said limited bandwidth on the new satellite made it impossible to renew New Tang Dynasty's contract after it expires in August.

The spiritual movement said it suspected the company was bowing to pressure from China, an allegation denied by Chunghwa.

Chunghwa had offered to help New Tang Dynasty to find a new satellite, but the Falun Gong turned down the offer.

Media rights campaign group Reporters Without Borders expressed concern about the Chunghwa decision and questioned the reasons it gave.

U.S. legislators also sent letters to Taiwan authorities last week, one of them saying that "Chunghwa Telecom's decision could reflect poorly on the government of Taiwan."

China outlawed Falun Gong as an "evil cult" in 1999 and has since detained tens of thousands of members. The group says its members are tortured for refusing to give up their beliefs.

Ties between Taiwan and China have improved markedly since 2008 after President Ma Ying-jeou of the China-friendly Kuomintang came to power.

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