BEIJING - Twelve-year-old Guo Yuanming has learned his lesson. "Li Hongzhi should hang himself too!" the Beijing schoolboy declared
Tuesday, in front of a gory photograph, larger than himself, that featured a corpse strung up from a tree.
As his mother nodded approvingly, Guo explained why he hates the Falun Gong founder: "Once people start believing in it, they sink deeper and deeper into it like a bog; you can't get out."
China claims followers of the mystical sect are responsible for over 1,600 deaths, including suicides by hanging, self-immolation, jumping from buildings, drowning in rivers, and the murder of innocent relatives. Their grisly ends are documented this week in video and photographs at China's largest ever anti-cult exhibition, "Oppose cults, uphold civilization."
Organizers deny that the imminent anniversary of the July 1999 ban against Falun Gong influenced the show's timing. State media boasts of daily crowds around 10,000, and claim tourists have swapped the regular sites for the exhibition to remind themselves of the power of "science over superstition."
But Guo and all other visitors actually come by invitation only. "It's not open to the public because we're worried that Falun Gong activists might come and make trouble," admitted Zhao Chongxin from the organizing committee.
Even after a bloody two-year assault on the sect, China's rulers cannot announce a complete victory in their nationwide war of attrition. Protests at Tiananmen Square have been greatly curtailed by the house-to-house campaign. But the gruesome footage of followers who burned themselves to death there in January highlights the extremes some Chinese feel driven to take to protest the ban.
"We should keep fighting against the cult which has stirred insecure elements," Vice Premier Li Lanqing warned.
Just two days after presiding over China's Olympic triumph in Moscow, Li, also the sports and culture czar, opened the new exhibition on Sunday.
"It is okay for people to have a belief, like communists who believe in communism, and Buddhists who believe in Buddhism," conceded 50 year-old Li.
"But this is a tumor on society, and affects people with a low education who are easily tricked."
Li accused Falun Gong of "jeopardizing people's lives, trampling on human rights, undermining the legal system, endangering society, betraying the motherland, fabricating rumors to mislead the public, and gaining fame by deceiving people."
Some critics accuse China's ruling Communist Party of similar crimes. On Sunday, overseas Falun Gong groups alleged that some of the 10,000 followers they estimate are being held in Chinese labor camps have been raped, while at least 250 have been killed.
A spokesman for Falun Gong in Hong Kong Tuesday called on Beijing to keep its Olympic pledge. "We hope the Chinese government will live up to its promise to improve human rights and not see it as a license to kill," said Kan Hung-Cheung. "We worry that after winning the bid, the Jiang Zemin regime will still persecute and torture Falun Gong members."
At the Beijing exhibition, one hall displays infamous mass suicides -- such as Waco, Texas, and Jonestown, Guyana -- to bolster the government argument that the Falun Gong is part of a global problem. The exhibition also includes displays on other groups the Chinese government considers cults, including the Unification Church, Scientology and the Jehovah's Witnesses.
BEIJING - China has signalled it will not be pressured into improving human rights following its comments that the Olympic win justified its tough crackdown on the Falungong spiritual movement, analysts said Tuesday.
Just three days after Beijing won the bid to host the 2008 Games, vice premier Li Lanqing vowed to continue the government's suppression of the group, which is outlawed in mainland China but nowhere else in the world.
"The winning of the 2008 Olympic bid is an example of the international recognition of China's social stability, economic progress and the healthy life of the Chinese people," Xinhua news agency quoted Li as saying.
"We should keep fighting against the cult which has stirred insecure elements."
China analysts said the comments were a statement by China that it would not succumb to pressure to make domestic political reforms over the next seven years despite being in the international spotlight.
"I think it's back to business, back to the reality of China," said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, director of the Hong Kong-based French Center for Research on Contemporary China.
Lau Siu-kai, a Hong Kong political analysts, said the message was aimed at telling Falungong members not to expect any let-up in the crackdown.
He said it was also meant to ensure people did not think that Beijing made political deals to win the bid.
Falungong's Hong Kong spokesman Tuesday said he feared China would use the international recognition gained as a "license to kill" practitioners on the mainland.
"We are very worried that after winning the Olympic bid that (Chinese President) Jiang Zemin's regime will still persecute and torture Falungong practitioners," Kan Han Cheung said.
Supporters of Beijing's Olympic bid had hoped giving China a chance to host the Games would lead to the type of democratization seen in South Korea after Seoul won the bid to host the 1988 Games.
The South Korean military regime eventually relinquished power and agreed to allow democratic elections prior to the Games.
But many China watchers said China was a more complicated country and it was unlikely any significant political reform would come about as a result of the Olympics.
Change would more likely come about due to internal pressures, they said.
"In the next seven years, there will be efforts by the Chinese government to propagate a better image, but that will be just for show, such as releasing a few dissidents at the right time," Cabestan said.
China has arrested tens of thousands of Falungong members over the past two years and launched a major anti-crime campaign resulting in the execution of more than 1,800 people.
Critics of Beijing's bid said the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had given China a blank check in terms of repression by granting it the Games.
They argued that anyone trying to use the Olympic build-up to pressure Beijing would be criticised by the public for jeopardising the nation's ability to successfully host the Games and causing China to lose face.
The Olympics would then be the perfect argument for authorities to suppress dissent, analysts said.
Unless there was another massacre like the one on June 4th, 1989, which crushed pro-democracy protestors in Tiananmen Square, or an invasion of Taiwan, China would be unlikely to fall under any major pressure from the IOC, countries or athletes, analysts said.
The main impetus for change, Lau said, would be the results of economic opening and the leaders' realizing economic growth could only occur if reforms were carried out, such as wiping out corruption.
Domestic pressures, such as high unemployment, and the growing demand for public services and social guarantees, might also pressure the government to change.
HONG KONG (Reuters) - Members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, outlawed in mainland China, said on Tuesday they will boost their presence at Hong Kong's book fair this week to draw attention to Beijing's two-year crackdown on the group.
"We will not be doing our meditation exercises. We will do something very surprising and wonderful," said Peng Shi, a Falun Gong member close to the group's organizers at the book fair.
He said that unlike previous years, the group would not be selling its books and what its members intend to do when the fair opens on Wednesday remains a mystery.
Falun Gong, which mixes meditation and slow-paced exercises, is legal in Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China since July 1997.
The Hong Kong government has said it is keeping a close eye on the group and echoes Beijing in calling it an "evil cult" but it has said it has no plans at this time to outlaw it. The Falun Gong members, with Saint Bright Publications Co. Ltd., have booked nine booths at the six-day fair, which attracts 300,000 buyers and residents each year. They had two booths in 2000 and one in 1999.
The display is organized by Belinda Pang, leader of a Falun Gong faction that broke with Hong Kong's main group about two years ago.
The spokesman for the larger group, Kan Hung-cheung, called on Beijing on Tuesday to keep its promise to improve human rights ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
"We hope the Chinese government will live up to its promise to improve human rights and not see it as a license to kill. We worry that after winning the bid, the (Chinese President) Jiang Zemin regime will still persecute and torture Falun Gong members," he told a news conference.
Falun Gong estimates it has about 500 members in Hong Kong, against 1,000 before Beijing began its crackdown on the mainland.
The main Falun Gong group distanced itself from Pang and her followers last year after they carried out what were perceived as publicity stunts, including apparent suicide attempts sitting on window ledges and a hunger strike by a pregnant follower.
Their actions only triggered a public backlash.
Chinese jurists and scientists have proposed that China should draw up an anti-cult law to fight cults and their illegal activities more effectively.
More than 150 members of the China Anti-Cult Association and the China Law Society made the proposal at a recent forum.
Gao Mingxuan, vice-president of the China Law Society and professor at the University of Political Science and Law, said that situations in other countries show that the most commonly used and the most effective method to deal with the cult problem is by means of law.
China should learn from the successful experience of other countries and use the existing rules and civil, criminal and administrative laws to fight the cults more effectively, Gao said. The country should increase the strength of the judiciary and be strict in enforcing laws to deliver a heavier blow to the cult organizations and their activities, he said.
Zhuang Fenggan, president of the China Anti-Cult Association and a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said cult activities are extremely harmful to the society. An improved legal system and a system to guard against cults should be formed as soon as possible to combat their illegal activities at the outset, he said.
Experts said that education and punishment ought to work together.
Efforts should be made to educate and reform the majority of ordinary members of cult organizations, while the heads of cult organizations and a handful of diehards should be severely be punished, the participants said.
Meanwhile, the participants suggested, efforts should also be made to increase the public's awareness of the harm of cults and improve people's ability to fight cults by force of law.
At the two-day forum, experts and scholars discussed such issues as punishing Falun Gong organizations in accordance with the law, theoretical and practical issues in combating and preventing cult activities and related instances on how foreign governments have dealt with cult organizations. They also discussed ways to improve legislation, the judicial system, law enforcement in order to maintain social stability and a long-term peace and order.
BEIJING -- Falun Gong said police in an eastern Chinese city have gang-raped detained female followers of the group, but a police official on Monday denied the claim.
Falun Gong claimed the assaults in Xintai were officially authorized parts of the government campaign to destroy the spiritual group. A police officer at the Xintai Public Security bureau said the report was not true.
"It's impossible for such a thing to have happened. We've noticed that many rumors about torture on Falun Gong members were widely spread overseas, but they are all fabricated," said the officer, who would give only his surname, Li.
The Xintai city government and its judicial bureau refused to comment.
A statement faxed to reporters by Falun Gong said a special task force in Xintai stripped women, beat them with bamboo sticks and shocked them with electric batons. The group's statement didn't say when the assaults took place or how many women were involved.
"Many female practitioners' hands and feet were cuffed and raped by police in the vehicles," said the statement. "Afterwards, a local police even boasted about such an action during his casual conversation."
The group also said officials stripped 18 women and threw them into cells full of male prisoners at a labor camp in Shenyang, the capital of the northeastern province of Liaoning.
Falun Gong drew millions of members during the 1990s with its mix of Eastern philosophies and regime of meditation and light exercise.
Beijing banned the sect in 1999 as an "evil cult," worried that its size and organizational strength could challenge communist rule.
Thousands of followers have been sent to labor camps, where officials say they are given counseling to persuade them to leave the group.
Beijings selection as host of the 2008 Summer Olympics Friday stirred mixed emotions for Dakun Sun.
As a Chinese citizen, Sun said it is an honor.
"But on the other side, Im very worried about the Falun Gong practitioners," said Sun, a Dallas resident who has lived in the United States for six years.
Sun was one of eight Falun Gong practitioners who stopped in Baton Rouge on Saturday en route to Washington, D.C. The group, traveling from Houston, will be meeting other Falun Gong practitioners Friday in the nations capitol to raise awareness about alleged persecution. July 22 is the two-year anniversary of the Peoples Republic of Chinas ban on the spiritual .
groupFalun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, practices meditation and exercise and espouses the principals of truthfulness, compassion and forbearance. It was started in 1992 by Li Hongzhi.
"This practice was very popular in China and it grew too fast for the Chinese government," Sun said. The size of the group - 2 million members at one point by Chinas own count - is what led the government to ban it, Sun said.
Since the government ban in 1999, there have arrests, harassment and deportations to "reeducation" camps where Falun Gong members are beaten and killed, Sun said. The Chinese government has said any deaths have been the result of suicides and that the Falun Gong is a cult that endangers the welfare of the state and the general public.
"Falun Gong is a doomsday cult in China," said Chen Ligang, consul at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C. Ligang said the group has caused death, committed fraud and held illegal demonstrations. "Under the peoples demand, the government banned this group," he said.
Ligang said the Falun Gong practitioners activities in the United States, including the Washington rally, are attempts "to fool the American public."
"The American people only know the second part of the story," Ligang said.
Sun and other practitioners, who met Saturday outside the State Capitol, werent surprised by the allegations.
"There are many lies over there that can easily be proven wrong," Sun said. Sometimes, he said, tapes are altered, confessions are faked and wrong information is released to the public. "All the state media is tightly controlled by the government," Sun said.
In fact, several practitioners on Saturday gave their accounts of persecution before coming to the United States.
Until 1999, Amy Lee was a wife, mother and fashion designer in China. However, after the Falun Gong ban, Lee said she was arrested several times for practicing her beliefs. After one of the arrests, Lee said she was sent to a camp, forced to work 15 hours a day, taken to a mental hospital several times, force fed (although she wasnt on a hunger strike) and repeatedly questioned and beaten.
"There were a lot of scars on her face and body and she asked for a medical check on her body and they said, Well just say youre choosing suicide," Lee said through Suns translation.
After she was released, Lee said she lost her job and her family. Yet, she refused to signed the papers renouncing her beliefs like others had.
"After theyre released, they feel bad because its against what they believe," Lee, who lives in New York, said through Suns translation.
In old China, people traveled from the provinces to the capital, Beijing, to present grievances to the emperor.
Now, three Orange County members of Falun Gong, a meditation and exercise philosophy, are driving to Washington, D.C., to publicize persecution in China, which has outlawed the group as an "evil cult."
The three Orange County residents aim to arrive in the U.S. capital before a rally on Thursday. Other Falun Gong members are walking from Boston and New York, bicycling from Orlando, Fla., and driving from Houston, San Francisco and Atlanta.
"I hope this will help in China," said Calvin Lou, 29, an Anaheim resident originally from Tianjin, China. "A lot of people we have met on the way don't know about the persecution in China."
Lou, a Falun Gong follower since 1995, is riding in a rented minivan with 10 other members from California and Arizona, including Linda Slupsky of Garden Grove and Mark Gardner of Brea.
"I never tried to be, like, an activist," said Gardner, 22, a soft-drink merchandiser, who was interviewed over the phone during a stop in Dallas. "But I feel strongly that people shouldn't be persecuted for their beliefs."
About 250 Falun Gong practitioners have died in prisons, labor camps and asylums since China outlawed the sect in July 1999, the group says. Independent monitors put the figure at about 150.
Before banning the group as a threat to social stability, China said more than 1,600 Falun Gong followers died of suicide or poor health care while following the teachings of founder Li Hongzhi, who is living in exile in New York.
Slupsky, 42, said her health has improved since she began practicing Falun Gong's deep-breathing exercises and meditation in 1998.
"I used to have chronic fatigue syndrome," she said. "Now I have more energy."
At least 30 people in Orange County practice Falun Gong, said Yan-bo Yang, a local spokesman for the group from Irvine. They gather weekend mornings for group sessions at parks in Irvine, Anaheim, Fullerton and Westminster. They deny the group is a cult.
On the road, the travelers share stories about conditions in China. One spent 124 days detained in a Chinese jail and witnessed the torture of fellow inmates, Lou said. Another passenger's mother is serving a three-year jail term for practicing Falun Gong.
The oldest traveler in the van is an 80-year-old great-grandmother. One woman who boarded in Tucson is three months pregnant.
The travelers said they took no time off for sightseeing and found few chances to exercise or meditate. Money for motel rooms, food and gas comes out of each person's pocket.
"The bottom line is I'm willing to sacrifice if I can save a life," said Lou, a computer scientist who was laid off in June. "This is not a vacation."
Updates on the Falun Gong trip to Washington are on the Internet at www.walktodc.org
When is the Chief Executive's view a personal opinion or an expression of government policy?
That was the question puzzling legislator Szeto Wah after the Chief Secretary for Administration's apparent confusion recently over Tung Chee-hwa's statement labelling Falun Gong an ``evil cult''.
Mr Szeto put the question to Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, who yesterday confirmed that views expressed by the Chief Executive during a Legislative Council question-and-answer session were, in fact, government policy.
The question from Mr Szeto of the Democratic Party was an apparent reference to comments Mr Tsang made at the Foreign Correspondents' Club last month, playing down Mr Tung's statement in Legco a week earlier.
During the June 14 question-and-answer session, Mr Tung had, for the first time, said the controversial sect was ``undoubtedly an evil cult''. However, at the lunch with journalists on June 21, the Chief Secretary intimated that Mr Tung's remarks had been a personal opinion and not government policy.
``You have your own definition [of an evil cult], Mr Tung has his own definition, the Buddhists have one, the Catholics have another ... it is natural for people to have different views on what a cult is and what an evil cult is,'' Mr Tsang said. The government issued a statement the next day saying Mr Tung's comments were the official line. Yesterday, in response to Mr Szeto's question, Mr Tsang underscored this point.
``As the head of the Hong Kong SAR government, the views that the Chief Executive expresses in reply to questions raised by Legislative Council members during the question-and-answer sessions in the council represent the stance of the government,'' he said.
Pressed to confirm that the government regarded Falun Gong as an evil cult, Mr Tsang skirted the question, referring legislators back to the minutes of the question-and-answer session.
``The remarks that Mr Tung made have been kept on the record; legislators can know what he said by referring back to it,'' he said.
Asked what justification Mr Tung had to categorise the Falun Gong as a evil cult when there was no cult law in Hong Kong, the Chief Secretary did not answer directly, again referring lawmakers back to the minutes ``so you can know what he had based [his statement on] saying Falun Gong is a cult''. Mr Tsang said that because there was no law defining ``evil cult'' in Hong Kong, groups, religions and individuals - as well as the government - could have their own interpretation of it.
BEIJING - The Falun Gong said at least 10 of its followers were beaten to death at a labor camp in northeastern China - the same province where other members of the spiritual group died in a labor camp under disputed circumstances earlier this month.
Chinese officials denied the report Thursday by Falun Gong.
``Nothing of the sort ever happened. It is a complete fabrication,'' said an official for the information office of China's cabinet. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.
Falun Gong said in a statement issued in New York that its members were killed at a labor camp in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang. The statement did not say when the deaths were supposed to have taken place or give names or other information about the victims, who were all men.
Officials at the Changlinzi Labor Camp and labor camp supervisors in the Heilongjiang provincial capital, Harbin, denied the report.
``No Falun Gong followers have died in custody at the camp,'' said Wang Shouyi, a spokesman for the provincial department of labor camps which oversees Changlinzi.
Earlier this month, authorities said three Falun Gong practitioners hanged themselves in a mass suicide in June in another labor camp in Heilongjiang. However, another Chinese official said 14 died in that incident, while independent monitors said 10 hanged themselves.
Falun Gong said its followers would never kill themselves and insisted that 15 inmates were beaten to death in the camp.
During its two-year crackdown on Falun Gong, the government has sent thousands of followers to labor camps, where officials say they are given counseling to persuade them to leave the group.
Falun Gong and rights groups say followers are denied sleep, sexually abused, beaten, shocked with electric batons and exposed to extreme cold by guards under pressure to make them renounce the group.
Chinese officials have said the abuses do not occur. They have said that Falun Gong followers who die take their own lives in a quest for spiritual perfection according to the teachings of sect founder Li Hongzhi.
Falun Gong drew millions of members during the 1990s with its mix of Eastern philosophies and regime of meditation and light exercise.
Worried that the group's size and organizational strength could challenge communist rule, China banned it as an ``evil cult'' and accused it of leading more than 1,600 followers to their deaths through suicide and by encouraging practitioners to shun medical help.
Falun Gong denies urging followers to harm themselves and claims it promotes health and morality. The group says 250 followers have been killed by authorities during the crackdown. Independent monitors put the figure at about 150.
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
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