In order to prove to the outside world that it was not persecuting Falun Gong practitioners, Beijing recently invited Western reporters -- as well as reporters from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau -- to visit the Masanjia "education-through-labor" camp in Liaoning Province and the Tuanhe camp in Beijing.
China has also said that accusations about its labor camps by overseas members of the Falun Gong are all fabrications. During the visit, reporters from Taiwan found no gloomy atmosphere at the labor camps. In fact, they they did not even look like labor camps. The South China Morning Post described the visits as "a spectacular show performed in a dreamlike prison." Reporters saw a humane scene, with soft music, fresh air and tame little deer strolling around in rose gardens and chickens and rabbits everywhere.
After journalists reported what they saw, we cannot help but feel concerned.
China has strictly limited news gathering by reporters. So what "truth" did China's labor camps reveal when they were opened to the media? Over the past two years, have reporters from China and overseas had the freedom to interview Falun Gong practitioners who were arrested, detained, imprisoned, beaten and cruelly persecuted? We can get an answer from the following examples.
During the Chinese New Year, China announced that seven Falun Gong practitioners had burned themselves to death. Officials used the announcement to launch an anti-Falun Gong movement nationwide. Beijing not only forbade the foreign media from interviewing the burned survivors or their families, but also forbade their families from visiting the injured. What kind of country is it that deprives people of their freedom of speech, their right to know, and even their most basic right to care for their families? Why did China restrict news coverage on the event? Were those people who burnt themselves really Falun Gong practitioners? What was the truth?
Falun Gong's international Web site has listed 222 practitioners tortured to death at police stations, detention centers, labor camps and prisons all over China. The website provides the names of those victims, as well as details about what happened to them. There were even pictures of livid, swollen or deformed body parts. These victims were beaten savagely, given electric shocks, forced to take drugs that damaged their brains, or subjected to other extreme cruelties.
If those kinds of things happened in a free society, it would immediately become headline news and shock the entire world. In China, however, the Falun Gong practitioners had to die behind layers and layers of concealment just because they believed in the teachings of Falun Gong: truthfulness, benevolence and forbearance. Even their families were not allowed to find out the truth. No lawyers dare file a petition on behalf of Falun Gong followers.
They have no channels whatsoever for petitions. The Chinese media will not and dare not report these.
Apart from the stage-managed visits, what other freedoms do reporters from the free world have in China?
Certainly, not all the truth has been concealed. Ian Johnson, a Wall Street Journal correspondent in Beijing, won this year's Pulitzer Prize for international affairs reporting for his in-depth coverage of the Falun Gong.
This series of reports was about how Chen Zixiu (¯?l¨q), a retired female employee of an auto parts company, was tortured to death by police. The reports were published on April 20, 2000.
Johnson also wrote a story about how a follower took risks to spread the Falun Gong teachings, and how Chen's daughter tried in vain for six months to persuade police to issue a death certificate for her mother. Chen's daughter was not a Falun Gong follower, according to recent reports, but after knowing what her mother had gone through, she too became a follower and was detained.
The Wall Street Journal's managing editor, Paul Steiger, commented that Johnson's reports were "a tremendous example of courage and determination to get a story in the face of strong police pressures against the reporting, combined with very sensitive and powerful writing." He also pointed out that in order to prevent police surveillance and harassment, Johnson often had to make detours around other cities, constantly change his cellphone numbers and live in common family homes.
Finally, he was able to tell the world a tearful, blood-stained story about how common people are tortured and oppressed by China's state machine. After completing the reports, Johnson left China, where he can never again be a correspondent.
If we observe the history of natural or man-made disasters in China, we can see a three-step method that Beijing has used to deal with them.
The first step is to conceal the truth from the public and impose a news blackout, or to allow only the Xinhua News Agency to report the "official version."
The second step is to accuse the media and critics of "conspiring to overthrow socialism." If that does not keep a lid on things, China will come up with accusations of "colluding with anti-Chinese forces overseas and pro-Taiwan independence forces." Then, all criticism will become as silent as a cicada in winter.
The last step is to pretend to pacify people or to show that the government has fulfilled its responsibility to take good care of the people. To clarify responsibility and pursue those responsible is something Beijing has never done.
We can see the same method in China's suppression of the Falun Gong movement over the past two years, as well as in its treatment of the Qiandao Lake robbery and mass murder case in 1994 and the explosion at the Fanglin elementary school in Jiangxi Province in March.
International human rights organizations have time and again investigated and condemned China's suppression of the media and human rights.
According to a human rights report released by the US State Department this year, China's human rights record was one of the poorest among the 195 countries. For many years, China's President Jiang Zemin has been one of "the Worst Enemies of the Press" listed by the Committee to Protect Journalists. The committee said in a report that the Jiang regime used harsh prison sentences as a method to maintain its iron grip and that China had detained more reporters than any other country in the world.
In another development, at the UN Human Rights Committee meeting in Geneva this year, psychiatrists from the US and UK condemned China for using psychiatric hospitals for political persecution. Their study revealed that more than 1,000 healthy Falun Gong practitioners have been detained at psychiatric hospitals, where they are given drug injections or electric shocks aimed at forcing them to give up their beliefs. There have been reports of people being tortured to death.
Where is the truth about these people? Was what was seen during the stage-managed visits to the labor camps real or just a lie? Ultimately, the truth cannot be suppressed. Certainly, in the near future, more journalists with a sense of justice will reveal more to the world. We look forward to this.
Chang Ching-hsi is a professor of economics at National Taiwan University.
Chang Chin-hwa is an associate professor of journalism at the same university. Both are Falun Gong practitioners.
Supporters of a meditation group banned in China are blaming China's President for the increasing number of their supporters dying in Chinese jails.
Jiang Zemin ordered the crackdown against Falun Gong two years ago.
More than 240 Falun Gong practitioners have died while in police custody in China.
In most cases, police list the deaths as suicide or say they are a result of natural causes.
However, human rights groups say there is evidence to suggest Falun Gong detainees have been routinely mistreated and abused.
In the latest case, family members say many of the 15 women who died in a labour camp this week had been tortured to death.
A reporting ban is preventing any independent verification of the official version of events, which says the 15 committed suicide.
Spokeswoman Sophie Xiao says President Jiang Zemin should take responsibility for every death because he issued the order to eradicate the group.
Falun Gong supporters estimate 35 followers have died in custody in the past month.
Secretary for Justice Elsie Leung Oi-sie yesterday became the third senior official to support Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa's recent labelling of the Falun Gong as an evil cult.
She said Mr Tung had a duty to speak out on the religious sect, just as he had a duty to speak out on other social issues such as drugs or smoking.
She insisted during her speech at a Japan Society luncheon that the government ``cannot wait until actual damage is done before expressing any concern or exercising any monitoring over the actions of this cult in Hong Kong''.
Last month, during a Legislative Council question-and-answer session, Mr Tung said the Falun Gong was ``undoubtedly an evil cult'', although he added that the government did not have any plans to outlaw the group.
Since then his comments have been defended by Chief Secretary for Administration Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and Secretary for Security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee.
Mr Tsang told journalists at the Foreign Correspondents' Club two weeks ago that Mr Tung was expressing a personal opinion, although an official statement the next day claimed this was not what Mr Tsang had said, in that Mr Tung's comments were the official line.
And earlier this week, Mrs Ip reiterated Mr Tung's comments of the need to keep a close eye on the Falun Gong but added that there was no need to enact an anti-cult law now.
Yesterday, Ms Leung said: ``Mr Tung has a duty to speak on a matter of public concern and to warn people about the problematic behaviour of an organisation that has reportedly caused damage in the mainland when we find its presence in Hong Kong.
``He has the duty to warn such an organisation not to cause any social disorder in the territory, just as he has a duty to speak on drugs, rave parties, smoking, air pollution and any apparent deficiencies in our educational system and other social issues,'' Ms Leung said.
She added, in the absence of malice, it was absurd to suggest that the Chief Executive could be sued for defamation when he expressed such concerns. ``A statement is not defamatory if it is true or expresses an opinion which is a fair comment,'' she said.
``To accuse the Chief Executive of defamation instead of examining the substance of the problem is a disservice to our community.''
Ms Leung explained the government's stance on any legislation. She said if Hong Kong had moved legally against Falun Gong when the sect was banned on the mainland in 1999, it would have justified claims that Hong Kong was ``just another Chinese city''. And equally, if the SAR had followed France's lead when it passed an anti-cult law on May 30 ``you might say that Hong Kong has succumbed to pressure from the Central People's Government''. She said the government was displaying ``responsibility, prudence, rationality and a high degree of autonomy'' in the handling of the issue.
WASHINGTON - Trials have begun in China for an American citizen and a permanent U.S. resident on charges they spied for Taiwan, the State Department said Thursday.
The two are among about 30 U.S. passport holders who have been detained by China over the past year, prompting calls by members of Congress for punitive action against Beijing.
But the trials come at a time when both the United States and China are talking publicly about an improvement in relations. Officials said Secretary of State Colin Powell will visit China at the end of the month.
President Bush discussed the issue of American citizens and legal residents detained in China during a 20-minute telephone conversation Thursday with Chinese President Jiang Zemin, said White House spokesman Sean McCormack.
``This administration continues to press for their fair treatment and release at every opportunity,'' the spokesman said.
There was speculation in official circles that the trials could lead to quick convictions of the two followed by their deportation.
The American citizen is Li Shaomin, who was formally charged in May. He is a business professor at City University of Hong Kong who was taken into custody on Feb. 25 after walking across the border into China to visit a friend.
The permanent U.S. resident is Gao Zhan, an American University professor who was detained on Feb. 11.
Gao's husband, Xue Donghua, who lives in Virginia with their 5-year old son, told an interviewer Thursday he had been hopeful that the trial may be a prelude to her early release. He said his mood darkened when there was no official word that China was planning such action.
``I'm just going to keep working, keep the pressure on and hope for the best,'' he said.
He said he was especially concerned about statements from the Chinese government that Gao had confessed to spying. He's worried that any confession, if one exists, was obtained through torture.
Xue said that Gao's lawyers in China and in the U.S. were unaware that the trial had begun until he called them on Thursday. This appeared to mean that Gao's trial has begun without the benefit of a defense attorney.
Xue has acknowledged that his wife did research on Taiwan but that her work was not ideologically based.
Boucher said the United States has called on China to resolve the two cases as soon as possible.
He said the U.S. Embassy in Beijing requested permission for a consular officer to attend Li's trial.
The news comes just eight days before the International Olympic Committee is to select a host city for the 2008 games. Beijing, which has campaigned hard to win, is competing against Paris, Toronto, Osaka, Japan, and Istanbul, Turkey.
A nonbinding resolution urging the IOC not to give Beijing the games on human rights grounds probably will not be voted on by the House because of opposition from Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, and others, Armey spokesman Greg Crist said Thursday.
Such resolutions are of questionable value, given that the House voted 379-0 for one on June 25 demanding that China free U.S. citizens and permanent residents detained there. It named Li and Gao, among others.
Meanwhile, 30 House members wrote IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch, urging that each prospective host country provide assurance that human rights of the country's nationals and visitors will be respected before and during the games. No country was named in the letter, authored by Reps. William Delahunt, D-Mass., Doug Bereuter, R-Neb. and George Nethercutt Jr., R-Wash.
On another subject, Boucher said the United States is ``deeply disturbed'' by reports that China has further intensified its harsh repression of the banned Falun Gong sect.
``The June 20 deaths of over a dozen Falun Gong practitioners in the Laogai labor camp in Harbin City, Heilongjiang Province in China was particularly troublesome,'' he said.
He said there are conflicting accounts of what actually occurred in the Laogai labor camp. He described as ``chilling'' reports of violence and torture against these Chinese Falun Gong practitioners at the hands of Chinese authorities.
BEIJING Tapping away at one of his computers in a cramped two- room apartment in western Beijing, Lloyd Zhao is engaged in an extraordinarily dangerous endeavor searching through the night for holes in the electronic wall that the government has built to keep Chinese from seeing Web sites of Falun Gong, the outlawed spiritual movement.
Periodically, firewall programs that Mr. Zhao has installed on his computer detect a signal from another computer in China that is trying to identify him. The string of numbers from the snooping computer that appear on Mr. Zhao's screen can invariably be traced to a branch of the Public Security Bureau.
"They look for anyone who tries to reach Falun Gong Web sites overseas," says the shaggy-haired Mr. Zhao, 33, a fervent Falun Gong follower and an advanced computer technician. When the surveillance becomes too intense, he switches Internet accounts, operating systems, even hard-disk drives and telephone lines to mask his online identity.
He says the threat of detection will not dissuade him from his self-appointed mission to keep open the lines of communication between the discipline's United States-based founder, Li Hongzhi, and followers here, where a government campaign to eradicate the movement has entered what Beijing hopes is the endgame.
Since China set out to crush Falun Gong nearly two years ago, as many as 200 people have died, possibly thousands have been beaten or tortured, and millions have been cowed into renouncing their faith in Mr. Li's apocalyptic cosmology.
[On Wednesday, Chinese officials confirmed a human rights report of a mass suicide by Falun Gong followers in a labor camp, but Falun Gong adherents continued to insist that the inmates were tortured to death.]
But Mr. Zhao and hundreds like him continue to elude China's internal security forces, using temporary cell phone numbers, encryption programs and obscure Internet services based overseas to keep the remaining network of followers connected.
That makes Mr. Zhao one of the "most dangerous" of Falun Gong's remaining proponents, according to He Zuoxiu, a physicist and a Communist Party member who has played an integral role in having the movement banned. Mr. He says Falun Gong is an evil cult that, unchallenged, could threaten China's tenuous stability, should it galvanize the millions of people disenfranchised by the transition from a centrally planned to a market-driven economy.
Sitting in his apartment a few miles from Mr. Zhao's apartment, Mr. He said people like Mr. Zhao should be hunted down and locked up until they have recanted their beliefs.
The two men, separated not only by age but also by spiritual beliefs Mr. He, 74, is an avowed atheist, and Mr. Zhao believes in multiple gods are on opposite sides of a confrontation that has drawn considerable attention in the West, in part because it represents the most sustained challenge to Communist Party authority in more than a decade.
On one side is a group that believes that it is engaged in a battle with evil beings for control of the universe. On the other is a government that promotes atheism and feels so threatened by a relative handful of people that it has marshaled the full force of its police power to bend them to its will.
"The number of followers is getting smaller, and the crackdown is growing fiercer, but it's going to end with our victory soon," Mr. Zhao said at one of many recent interviews, almost always at restaurants or bars or shopping malls around the city, for which his lanky frame, clad in black, would suddenly emerge from the crowd at the appointed hour.
Mr. Zhao said he had decided to speak out because Master Li says followers should step forward to "validate" Falun Gong. Mr. Zhao said he believed that the authorities would find it difficult to identify him, because Zhao is a common surname in China. He asked that this article use his anglicized first name, which he uses with foreigners but which does not appear on any of his identity papers.
One meeting was in a private room on the second floor of a Thai-Indian restaurant where Mr. Zhao and two visitors were obliged to order too much food to buy some isolation. Yet he still chose his words carefully, stopping in midsentence whenever a waitress passed by outside or entered the room. No matter where he is, his eyes have a habit of looking out their corners as if he were listening for footfalls from behind.
He turns vague when asked how the end will come.
Under attack, Falun Gong has evolved from a well-regulated movement with a structure not unlike that of the Communist Party into a nonhierarchical mass movement whose structure mirrors that of the Internet, on which it depends.
There are no longer any national Falun Gong posts in China, only local volunteer "tutors" and "facilitators" like Mr. Zhao who look to Master Li for guidance. Although Mr. Zhao is an important node in that network, he is the first to concede that he and his friends are dispensable.
If they are caught, he said, other devotees will take their place. The Communist Party can punch large holes in the Falun Gong movement. But until the government "re-educates" or imprisons every last true believer, he explained, the network will endure.
Still, the destruction of the group's internal hierarchy has fragmented its members into loosely connected groups, some following charismatic tutors or even fake scriptures that are circulating in China.
Interpretations of Mr. Li's messages now vary widely among followers. One manifestation of the less cohesive dogma may have been the self-immolation of followers this year on Tiananmen Square, an act that senior followers in the United States say went against Mr. Li's teachings.
Inspiration: After Bar Binges, a Spiritual Quest
Mr. Zhao got his start on computers in the early 1980's. By the time he reached his 20's, he was among the first computer geeks in China, going days without sleep while he hacked away at his keyboard. His expertise later landed him a string of high-tech jobs. One was at a company that installed pinhole video cameras and other surveillance equipment in hotel rooms.
For years, he softened the edges of his spiritually arid life among computers with binges in Beijing's bars. With beer, cigarettes and sleep deprivation, his health deteriorated to the point that he began losing his teeth. He speaks today with a self- consciously stiff upper lip that hides a gap where his eyeteeth once were.
Many Falun Gong followers live in an industrial urban jumble of half- finished concrete shells, smokestacks and high-tension power lines where traditional religion has been replaced by official atheism.
Mr. Li, a former clerk in a government grain bureau, was among dozens of self-styled "masters" who stepped in to fill that void in the early 90's with spiritual disciplines based on the practice of traditional Chinese breathing exercises that seek to channel qi, the body's vital energy, to improve health or obtain supernatural powers.
He wrapped his exercises in a complex cosmology that mixed traditional religious tenets with popular notions of extraterrestrials and U.F.O.'s to create a vivid belief system that struck a chord with many Chinese who were searching for moral and spiritual guidance.
In 1996, a friend sent Mr. Zhao an e-mail message that directed him to a Falun Gong Web site in the United States. He logged onto the site and spent the night reading an online edition of Zhuan Falun, Mr. Li's main text, which followers regard as their bible. Mr. Zhao bought a copy the next day. Three days later, he said, he stopped smoking and drinking and was immersed in the world that Mr. Li presents.
At its core, Mr. Li's message is a simple one be a better person and you will be saved. He cast his followers in the pivotal role of a cosmic morality play, the aspect that most attracted Mr. Zhao.
"Master Li has said that there is not much time left, and so all followers should grasp this chance to reached the highest spiritual level that they can before the day comes," Mr. Zhao said at another meeting, this time beneath the soaring escalators of a new shopping mall here. "My aspirations are different now. I'm pursuing the improvement of my inner self."
At the peak of the movement two years ago, thousands of Falun Gong "tutors" guided followers in exercise and study sessions in parks and plazas at dawn each day. The tutors were, in turn, grouped into "stations" and met regularly to discuss the development of the movement and the planning of periodic mass events.
Station "chiefs" communicated with the Falun Dafa Research Society in Beijing, which took orders from Mr. Li. Falun Dafa, or Great Law of the Dharma Wheel, is the formal name for Falun Gong, or Dharma Wheel Practice.
Mr. He, the physicist, was among the first prominent Chinese to speak out against the growing organization. According to Mr. He, one of his students became mentally unstable after practicing the discipline in the mid-90's, and the physicist faulted Falun Gong for the student's trouble in a televised interview in 1998.
In a magazine article a year later, Mr. He warned again of the movement's danger to youth. That article inspired a 10,000-strong Falun Gong demonstration outside the leadership compound here in April 1999, the event that precipitated the government's eradication campaign.
Falun Gong's formal structure in China broke down after the crackdown, as members of the hierarchy were rounded up, with the most active sentenced to lengthy jail terms. Those tutors not under detention are now under close surveillance by the neighborhood committees that are the lowest rung of the Communist Party's national surveillance system.
Nonetheless, many Falun Gong followers continue to meet daily, though it is impossible to tell how many remain active. Mr. Li says there are 70 million practitioners in China and 100 million followers worldwide, though he has never offered evidence to support that. Closer scrutiny suggests the movement in China never numbered more than several million, and China's anti- Falun Gong campaign has most certainly scared off many.
The government has had more than a year to measure the breadth and depth of what is left, and it apparently believes that it has identified the remaining core, 40,000 people, according to Mr. He. By dealing harshly with the most militant, a manageable number in the scope of the vast internal security apparatus, Beijing hopes to neutralize the rest.
"The detention centers are all full up!" Mr. He exclaimed, sitting in his study in black long johns and a gray hand-knit sweater one afternoon.
He said that at the beginning of the year the government switched from its strategy of sending followers arrested in the capital back to their home provinces and began collecting the detainees at centers here. As many as 6,000 of the most active followers are in detention, to be held until they have recanted their beliefs or are sent to reform-through-labor camps in the countryside, Mr. He said.
Mr. He has become one of Falun Gong's prime enemies, described in the group's literature as a demon in league with evil beings, including President Jiang Zemin, who are fighting Falun Gong for control of the universe. Mr. He smiles at the reference, his eyeglasses and thin gray hair askew, but he insists that such talk is far from harmless. He said it recalled the language of the Taiping, the mid-19th century spiritual movement that turned into full-scale armed rebellion, which took over a huge swath of the country, cost millions of lives and threatened to bring down the last imperial government before it was suppressed.
That assessment paints Mr. Zhao as a threat to China's social order, a role Mr. He knows well. "I did underground work," he said, recalling his early days as a Communist Party member before the party took power in 1949. "We went to demonstrate, but the core in the movement wouldn't go to the streets. Falun Gong is the same."
Practice: As Pressure Grows, a Movement Adapts
In Mr. Zhao's crowded apartment, a diptych that shows the Falun Gong founder both seated and standing sits atop a white enameled bookshelf beside Mr. Zhao's bed. The apartment's only other decoration is a round pillow with a large yellow swastika, a Buddhist symbol of good will, surrounded by smaller swastikas and yin-yang symbols, associated with Taoism, the other ancient philosophical strain that has contributed to Master Li's teachings. This is where Mr. Zhao sits to perform his exercises each day.
The pillow's emblem represents the Falun, or Dharma Wheel, and is described by Mr. Li as a miniature of the cosmos that he says he installs telekinetically in the abdomens of all his followers, where it rotates in alternating directions, throwing off bad karma and gathering qi. Many Falun Gong adherents say they can feel the wheel turning in their bellies.
The rest of Mr. Zhao's Falun Gong paraphernalia books, tapes and photographs of Mr. Li are stored elsewhere in case his apartment is raided. Mr. Zhao and others like him download and disseminate inspirational Falun Gong videos, Falun Gong propaganda fliers and even Mr. Li's books formatted for desktop printers, all with the intent of keeping the movement in China alive.
Mr. Zhao has distributed hundreds of compact disks containing a complete Falun Gong kit, including links to secure Internet servers overseas and dozens of Falun Gong Web sites, as well as photographs of U.F.O.'s and videos of the corpses of some of the followers reportedly tortured to death by the police.
"When Master Li issues a new message, 99 percent of the followers in Beijing will have it within three days," Mr. Zhao said.
China recently issued a new legal interpretation of the antisubversion laws that allows it to hand down lengthy prison terms to followers like Mr. Zhao who distribute leaflets or disseminate Mr. Li's messages, which have grown increasingly apocalyptic.
"It is in fact time to let go of your last attachments," Mr. Li wrote to followers in August, adding that believers should "let go of all worldly attachments (including the attachment to the human body)."
On Jan. 1, Mr. Li told his disciples: "The present performance of the evil shows that they are already utterly inhuman and completely without righteous thoughts. So such evil's persecution of the Fa can no longer be tolerated."
That set off a debate among Falun Gong followers in China about what Mr. Li's message meant. Senior followers in the United States were quick to issue an appeal that followers keep calm. A week later, a similarly cautionary note was posted on the Web site by followers in China, who wrote that "certain disciples had some extreme interpretations" of the message.
Mr. Li never clarified his remarks, and three weeks after he made them, five followers ignited themselves on Tiananmen Square.
The Chinese government seized on the self-immolations as proof of its contentions that Falun Gong is dangerous. Some Falun Gong followers insisted that Mr. Li prohibits the taking of life, even one's own, and that the five could therefore not have been Falun Gong followers.
But contrary to the Falun Gong public relations campaign, which is organized in the United States, Mr. Zhao said he believed that at least some of the people who set themselves on fire were indeed followers. "What they did was wrong," he said. "But it was very brave."
Mr. Zhao said his job was to keep Mr. Li's message pure and to prevent additional followers from going astray. With a few keystrokes in the darkness, he circumvents the government's electronic barriers and up pops Mr. Li's image on the screen, along with a message that reads, "Removing the evil beings that manipulate people to damage humankind is also protecting humankind."
While other kids his age were at family cookouts or chillin' with friends, Hao Wang, 16, was striding along Boston Avenue in Bridgeport on Wednesday, protesting persecution in China.
His 20-mile Independence Day walk through the region came just hours after Chinese authorities claimed that as many as 16 Falun Gong members had committed mass suicide in a prison camp in June. Supporters of the banned sect, however, claim they were tortured and beaten to death.
Wang, of Boston, was one of
a half-dozen supporters of the movement who marched from Orange to Fairfield as part of a 24-day protest walk from Boston to Washington, D.C.
The trip protests what they say is China's maltreatment of practitioners of Falun Gong, a group of five meditative exercises similar to tai chi that the Communist government considers a dangerous religious cult.
We're very concerned about the persecution in China, Wang said. The Chinese government is trying to stop people from speaking out.
The 450-mile walk began June 26 in Watertown, Mass., and the group entered Connecticut on Saturday, getting as far as Mystic that day.
China considers those who practice Falun Gong -- also known as Falun Dafa -- a dangerous cult and has banned it for the past two years.
Falun Gong members say the Chinese government feels threatened by the spiritual practice because it has become more popular than the Communist Party.
Wang said banning Falun Gong is absurd, because it's a legitimate way of attaining physical and spiritual health. It's similar to jogging in the morning, Wang said. No one wants to give up jogging, because there's nothing bad about it.
The government also vigorously clamps down on Falun Gong demonstrators, and has reportedly imprisoned hundreds.
On June 20, up to 16 Falun Gong followers died in a north China labor camp. China claims the victims, mostly women, committed suicide by making ropes from sheets and hanging themselves from bunk beds.
Officials said camp guards stopped another 11 prisoners from committing suicide.
I don't think anyone believes that, said Tracey Zhu of Bethany. I don't think they committed suicide.
Falun Gong followers maintain that some 220 other practitioners have died in police custody since the July 1999 ban. Independent sources say more than 100 have died.
The ban came seven years after the group began operating in China.
Wang has relatives in China, including an aunt he said is being spied on by the Chinese government. We call her on the phone and we can hear her being very nervous, Wang said.
Wednesday, the group of five protesters walked along Route 1 through Orange, Milford, Stratford, Bridgeport and Fairfield, distributing information about Falun Gong and carrying a sign that read Stop the Killing in China.
Susie Truong of Boston said the march was kept small for safety reasons. We didn't want it getting out of hand, she said.
Truong said she heard about the walk through friends and wanted to participate. I knew I should come and support and get the message out about persecution in China, she said.
The walkers will leave Connecticut on Friday and are expected to arrive in Washington July 18.
Wednesday's group also included Benjamin Zgodny of Hamden, who drove a support van alongside the group, handing out bottles of water.
Zgodny said he wanted to help the protesters in some way because he practices Falun Gong himself and thinks the movement has merit.
It's a very good cause, he said.
Further information on the walk can be obtained at www. walktodc.org. General information on Falun Gong can be obtained at www.falundafa.org
BEIJING - China said on Thursday three followers of the banned Falun Gong spiritual group died and eight were saved in a mass suicide attempt at a labour camp.
The statement by Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue followed a report from a Hong Kong-based rights group on Tuesday that 16 people attempted suicide at the Wanjia Labour Camp on June 20 and 10 of them may have died.
Falun Gong followers based overseas denied on Wednesday there had been a mass suicide and said more than 15 female followers were tortured to death around June 20 at the camp in Harbin, capital of the northeastern province of Heilongjiang.
Zhang told a news conference the 11 women, detained for "disrupting social order," tried to hang themselves with ripped sheets.
"Eleven female Falun Gong practitioners at a women's dormitory in Harbin's Wanjia Labour Camp attempted suicide in the early hours of June 21," she said.
"Camp guards on duty immediately rushed the women to hospital for treatment, where three of them died and the rest were revived and declared safe," Zhang said.
In January, five people identified by Chinese officials as Falun Gong followers set fire to themselves on Tiananmen Square in an apparent mass suicide attempt. A mother and her 12-year-old daughter died.
Falun Gong followers denied the five were adherents.
The Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights & Democracy said the Falun Gong adherents at Wanjia tried to hang themselves after their sentences were extended for staging a hunger strike.
But the Falun Dafa Information Centre said they were beaten and tortured, and could not have committed suicide as they were under 24-hour surveillance.
Falun Gong says it does not sanction killing of any sort, including suicide.
China says the group is an "evil cult" responsible for the deaths of 1,660 people by suicide or refusing medical treatment. It says a handful of Falun Gong followers have committed suicide or died from illnesses while in police custody.
"This again shows that Falun Gong is an evil cult that destroy lives," Zhang said of the labour camp incident.
"The legal rights of inmates at labour camps are consistently protected by Chinese laws and there were no such things as persecuting and abuse against them as rumours had it," she said.
Followers outside China say more than 200 Falun Gong adherents have died in Chinese police custody since Beijing banned the movement in July 1999.
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, combines meditation and exercise with Buddhist and Taoist teachings. The group has disavowed any any political aims.
What Is Falun Gong? See "Falun Gong 101", by Massimo Introvigne
"Falun Gong 101. Introduzione al Falun Gong e alla sua presenza in Italia" (in italiano), di Massimo Introvigne
FALUN GONG UPDATES
Anti-Cult Law in France - Index Page
[Home Page] [Cos'è il CESNUR] [Biblioteca del CESNUR] [Testi e documenti] [Libri] [Convegni]
[Home Page] [About CESNUR] [CESNUR Library] [Texts & Documents] [Book Reviews] [Conferences]