SYDNEY - Falungong practitioners staged a peaceful protest here Sunday against what they describe as the persecution of the sect by authorities in China. About 100 followers of the Buddhist-inspired spiritual group, banned in China, demonstrated their Tai Chi-like exercises near Sydney's Darling Harbour tourist centre. Spokesman Thomas Dobson told journalists Falungong, also known as Falun Dafa, was to China what yoga was to India and demonstrations were being staged to make Australia aware of Beijing's persecution of the movement. "Falun Dafa is non-political. It's not a religion," he said. "We don't ask for money and we don't ask people to sign up. "It's a practice of mind and body. You practice the five exercises in the parks or at home in the morning or at night. "You try to follow the three main words which are truth, compassion and forbearance." Beijing has banned the group as an "evil cult", and considers it the biggest threat to Communist party rule since the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square. Chinese President Jiang Zemin's visit to Hong Kong last week for a global forum was overshadowed by Falungong demonstrations while several Australian followers were refused entry to the territory. Canberra joined the United States and Britain in deamnding to know why its nationals were refused entry. There are an estimated 2,000 Falungong practitioners in Australia.
HONG KONG --Members of the spiritual sect Falun Gong celebrated the second World Falun Dafa Day Sunday on that portion of Chinese soil where the group pledges to thrive despite recent government pressure. Clutching flowers, balloons, and banners reading, "Celebrating World Falun Dafa Day," more than 300 members in Hong Kong cheered the introduction of Falun Gong by its U.S.-based founder, Li Hongzhi, and performed slow-motion exercises to mellow Chinese music. Afterward, they paraded from the promenade to a tourist hot-spot.
In Tokyo, about 200 followers paraded through downtown streets and held exhibitions of their meditation exercises in parks. Falun Gong in Japan has about 400 members, many of them Chinese.
The meditation sect, outlawed as an evil cult in mainland China but still legal in Hong Kong, has faced pressure recently by the government's decision to closely monitor its activities.
It claims that more than 100 of its overseas members were barred from entering Hong Kong during a recent global business forum.
"Our activities have become a symbol of the strength of freedom, human rights and the spirit of the rule of law in Hong Kong," said Kan Hung-cheung, a local Falun Gong leader. "We will be able to prosper amid greater public and overseas awareness."
Kan also said that Chinese President Jiang Zemin is responsible for the death of more than 200 Falun Gong practitioners during the often-brutal crackdown in mainland China. That is a claim that the mainland Chinese authorities have repetitively denied.
Pro-Beijing figures in Hong Kong have said Falun Gong disrupts public order with its high-profile protests and have accused it of receiving backing from "anti-China subversive forces" in the West.
Kan disputed the claim, and pledged that the group will continue to stage peaceful protests and exhibitions, and starting a weekly class to promote Falun Gong.
Critics see the Hong Kong government's tolerance of the meditation sect Falun Gong as a crucial test for the strength of its capitalist ways and Western-style freedoms, which were guaranteed when Hong Kong was returned to China from Britain in 1997.
HONG KONG - Followers of the Falun Gong rallied in Hong Kong on Sunday to mark the ninth anniversary of the founding of their spiritual movement and to protest against its harsh suppression in mainland China.
Some 300 adherents, clad in yellow t-shirts bearing the slogan "China, stop persecuting Falun Gong" performed ritual exercises and sat in the lotus position along a waterfront promenade.
Human rights groups which monitor Beijing's crackdown on the movement say some 50,000 people have been detained across China because of their connection with the movement and that more than 100 have died of abuse in police custody.
The Chinese government has branded the Falun Gong, which practises meditation exercises and bases its teachings loosely on Taoism and Buddhism, an "evil cult" and banned it outright on the mainland.
But the movement remains legal in the former British colony of Hong Kong, which was was promised a high degree of autonomy when it was handed back to China in mid-1997.
Members complained however that immigration officials denied entry to Hong Kong to almost 100 overseas Falun Gong followers who had hoped to take part in the demonstration.
Beijing's Tiananmen Square, the scene of protests by Falun Gong followers in the past, remained calm.
Anyone attempting to protest there since the the movement ws banned in July 1999 has been swiftly seized by police. A group of people said by authorities to be Falun Gong followers set fire to themselves in the square in January.
Two years ago 10,000 Falun Gong followers surrounded the compound housing China's communist leadership compound in Beijing to protest against vitriolic attacks on the group in state media.
SECT FORCED OUT OF SIGHT IN CHINA
Since then the group has been bludgeoned into submission on the mainland or driven deep underground, but according to adherents it is flourishing elsewhere.
"It's been nine years and it has spread to 40 countries and to over 100 million people. This is really a blessing," a spokeswoman for the Falun Gong in Hong Kong, Sophie Xiao, told Reuters.
There were nearly twice the number at the Hong Kong rally as atttended a similar event last year. After a three-hour meditation session, the participants marched to a park and then distributed leaflets around the city.
Last week, the group staged a protest to coincide with a visit to Hong Kong by Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who they blame for suppressing the movement.
In a separate case, a Hong Kong-based human rights group said a Chinese court had thrown out an appeal by an ethnic Chinese New York acupuncturist jailed in China for espionage.
Teng Chun-yian was sentenced to three years in prison last December for "supplying state intelligence to spies outside of the territory."
A Beijing court decided to uphold the original ruling on Friday, the Information Center for Human Rights & Democracy said in a statement.
The centre said Chinese authorities had arrested Teng in Beijing last May for gathering information and taking photographs of detained Falun Gong members being sent to psychiatric hospitals and rehabilitation centres.
BEIJING - A Chinese court upheld a three-year spying sentence against aChina-born U.S. resident who helped publicize Beijing's crackdown on the Falun Gong sect, a human rights group said Sunday.
Teng Chunyan, 38, was sentenced by a Beijing court on Dec. 12 for spying and leaking state secrets. Teng used the pseudonym Hannah Li when tipping off China-based foreign reporters to protests by Falun Gong adherents and arranging interviews with them.
On Friday, the Beijing Higher Peoples Court rejected Teng's appeal, and she was taken to an undisclosed prison to begin her sentence, the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights & Democracy said.
A Chinese citizen with U.S. permanent resident status - a green card - Teng is one of several U.S. residents or American citizens of Chinese descent who have been detained in China in the last year as part of a tightening of controls on critics of the communist regime.
Teng returned to China early last year to focus attention on the crackdown on Falun Gong, which the government banned in July 1999 as a social menace and threat to the Communist Party's monopoly on power.
She was detained in May 2000 and put on secret trial in November. Chinese authorities did not confirm that her trial had taken place until two days after her sentencing.
While she awaited her appeal, Teng underwent three months of ``thought reeducation,'' the human rights center said. An official at the court refused to comment.
Detentions of U.S.-linked academics, writers and business people prompted the U.S. State Department to issue a travel warning to Chinese-born Americans, particularly those who have criticized the Chinese government.
At least seven U.S. citizens and permanent residents have been detained, and most are still in custody. They include Gao Zhan, a researcher at American University in Washington seized Feb. 11 and later charged with espionage. Her 5-year-old son, an American citizen, was also briefly held.
China also stepped up arrests of its own citizens who use the Internet to criticize communist rule. One was Guo Qinghai, sentenced to four years on April 26 for posting essays that called for political reform.
Falun Gong has been the most obvious target of the crackdown. Beijing has rounded up tens of thousands of sect members, and human rights groups say more than 100 have died in police custody.
Beijing denies any mistreatment of those detained. It has outlawed Falun Gong and accused the sect of causing the death of more than 1,600 people, mostly by preaching against modern medicine.
Thumbing their noises at Beijing, Faun Gong members held a celebration of their movement and its founder Sunday in Hong Kong, where it remains legal.
With flowers, balloons, and banners, more than 300 members celebrated what they called ``World Falun Dafa Day'' with slow motion set to music and a march to a park.
``Our activities have become a symbol of the strength of freedom, human rights and the spirit of the rule of law in Hong Kong,'' said Kan Hung-cheung, a local Falun Gong leader. ``We will be able to prosper amid greater public and overseas awareness.''
Falun Gong has been under the scrutiny of authorities in relatively liberal Hong Kong. The sect claimed that more than 100 of its overseas members were barred from entering Hong Kong during a global business forum last week.
HONG KONG - The fireworks were spectacular and international tycoons gushed at the prospect of making money in China. Goldman Sachs Group Chief Executive Henry Paulson called a keynote speech by Chinese President Jiang Zemin ``brilliant.''
But looking beyond the glitz of a global economic conference this week, critics say they saw disturbing new evidence that Hong Kong is becoming more like mainland China in many of the wrong ways.
Ever since Hong Kong reverted from British to Chinese sovereignty in July 1997, it has been governed under an arrangement dubbed ``one country, two systems'' that is intended to preserve Hong Kong's capitalist ways and Western-style freedoms.
Protests by the meditation sect Falun Gong - outlawed in mainland China but legal in Hong Kong - during Jiang's visit had been seen as a crucial test for the strength of those freedoms.
The authorities tolerated quite a few demonstrations outside the Fortune Global Forum that was wrapping up Thursday, but police tightly controlled the numbers of activists and kept them well away from dignitaries who also included former President Clinton.
More worrisome, critics say, were claims by the Falun Gong meditation sect that more than 100 of its followers from overseas were stopped at the airport after apparently being blacklisted.
``They've turned us into another Chinese city,'' said opposition lawmaker Cyd Ho.
Ho is well familiar with China's policies of exclusion. As a Hong Kong Chinese, she should be allowed to travel freely to the mainland but has been barred.
Hong Kong officials insisted none of the people kept away over the past few days, including American, British, Australian and Taiwanese citizens, were blocked over their affiliation with Falun Gong.
Hong Kong's No. 2 official Donald Tsang said the territory excludes ``certain undesirable elements.'' Pressed to explain, Tsang said he was referring to ``all sort of things. They are international criminals, they are terrorists. They are all kinds of people.''
Critics called his explanation implausible.
``Falun Gong is definitely not terrorists,'' Ho said. ``As long as they were not spotted with dangerous goods or ammunition, they should be let in.''
Falun Gong and human rights activists said Hong Kong's government, led by unpopular Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, was tilting too much toward China's hardline approach against Falun Gong. Tung was favored by Beijing to run Hong Kong after Britain left, and some observers suggest Jiang's presence this week indicated China wants Tung to seek a second term.
``Under Jiang's pressure, it is clear that the suppression methods used in mainland China have been extended to Hong Kong,'' Falun Gong spokesman Kan Hung-cheung said.
Taiwan attacked the detention of 46 Taiwanese at the airport, using language similar to that it trots out in frequent criticism of the lack of freedom and democracy in rival China. U.S., British and Australian officials sought an explanation for why their citizens were stopped by immigration officers.
``Hong Kong is not an independent city anymore,'' said Theresa Chu, one Taiwanese follower who made it through customs and got to demonstrate.
Hong Kong rolled out massive security while Jiang was here, deploying 3,000 police officers compared to the 2,000 that were on duty during the handover ceremony nearly four years ago.
It slowed traffic in this normally fast-paced financial hub - angering Hong Kong residents who are learning that any time ranking officials from Beijing are in town, security will be stepped up and cars and buses will be delayed.
Speaking to the Fortune forum, Jiang insisted Hong Kong remains free and the government system is working.
Although there may have been much to criticize the past few days, opposition leader Martin Lee of the Democratic Party said Hong Kong's response proved that citizens still enjoy rights that would be unheard of on the mainland.
Police may have been oversensitive, but the protests mostly went on, Lee said. ``People wouldn't have been allowed to do this in mainland China,'' Lee said.
Others remained worried.
``In order to please President Jiang, they suppress people's freedom to demonstrate,'' said Szeto Wah, a pro-democracy lawmaker and activist. ``The mask of 'one country, two systems' has been torn down.''
HONG KONG - Hong Kong deported up to 70 members of the Falun Gong movement yesterday during a massive security operation to ensure a protest-free visit by Jiang Zemin, the Chinese President.
More than 3,000 police swarmed the harbourside convention centre where an economic forum attended by the Chinese leader was held. Mr. Jiang was staying only 24 hours in Hong Kong, which was interpreted as a mark of dissatisfaction with the territory's hand-picked Chief Executive, Tung Chee-hwa, whose popularity has steadily fallen since July 1, 1997, when Britain handed back the former colony.
But in his speech to the Fortune Global Forum, attended by a host of international figures, including former U.S. president Bill Clinton, Mr. Jiang praised the "wisdom" of Mr. Tung and promised to protect Hong Kong's autonomy.
Officials were concerned anti-globalization protesters would try to disrupt the meeting. Six activists displayed a large paper model of the Chinese President's head emblazoned with the words "Oppose Capitalist Cronyism."
The police operation seemed designed to ensure Mr. Jiang would not be able to see or hear demonstrators. Rights groups said more than 70 members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement were detained on arrival at Hong Kong airport from as far away as Britain and Australia, then rapidly deported. Officers cited "security" concerns for the deportations, though Falun Gong remains legal in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong's leaders -- mindful of their territory's international image -- have resisted heavy hints from pro-Beijing figures that they ban the Falun Gong movement, which the mainland treats as an evil cult.
Mr. Tung has also dragged his feet on drafting a subversion law, as required by the handover treaty, aware that it would be a highly controversial measure.
If Mr. Jiang, a famously touchy man, had seen protests, it would have represented a public challenge that risked destroying that delicate balancing act.
Hundreds of domestic Falun Gong members were permitted to hold a series of protests against the mainland ban on their movement, at which they accused Mr. Jiang of personal responsibility for a campaign of repression, which has left more than 200 members dead in police custody.
On the mainland, such protests would be broken up swiftly, and participants would face long terms in labour camp or jail. In Hong Kong, they attracted barely a second glance.
Yesterday's Falun Gong demonstrations were held in parks and public spaces well away from the forum. Police dispersed a few dozen followers when they tried to hand out leaflets near the convention centre. Officers gave no reason for it, followers said, but the followers' bright yellow T-shirts could -- just barely -- be seen from the convention centre.
HONG KONG - President Jiang Zemin of China hailed the freedom in Hong Kong today, as protesters from the Falun Gong spiritual movement rallied throughout the city, accusing Mr. Jiang of imprisoning and torturing their members on the Chinese mainland.
Mr. Jiang was the main attraction at a business conference here held by AOL Time Warner, the media and publishing conglomerate. Time Warner's executives spent part of the gala dinner at which Mr. Jiang spoke trying to figure out among themselves how to persuade China to lift a ban on the company's flagship magazine, Time.
It was an awkward day for this former British colony and the American corporation, both of which have deep, complicated ties to China.
Hong Kong struggled to balance its commitment to civil liberties with its desire not to offend Mr. Jiang, who has led the campaign against Falun Gong. AOL Time Warner juggled its desire to cultivate Mr. Jiang and the Chinese government with its need to defend one of its most prominent magazines.
Only the Chinese president, who jauntily greeted a parade of well- wishers, seemed not to notice the conflicts.
"Hong Kong residents have enjoyed full freedom and more democratic rights than ever before," he declared, referring to the semiautonomous status Beijing granted Hong Kong after China resumed sovereignty here in 1997. "The Chinese government will never waver in or change this policy, come what may."
As Mr. Jiang spoke, adherents of Falun Gong tested his claim, mounting the first major protest against the president on Chinese soil since before the sect was banned on the mainland in July 1999. It is still permitted to operate here.
The police did not interfere in the protests, though Falun Gong members complained that they were kept far from where Mr. Jiang spoke. The group also said that nearly 100 members who had traveled to Hong Kong for the rallies were turned back at the airport yesterday and today.
The American Consulate here said American citizens had been among those refused entry. A spokeswoman, Barbara A. Zigli, said the consulate had sought an explanation from the Hong Kong government.
The editors of Time have been concerned about issues of freedom since early March, when the magazine stopped being available on newsstands in mainland China (it continues to be sold here). The ban came 10 days after Time published an article about the activities of Falun Gong in Hong Kong.
"We regret it appears Time's distribution in China has been restricted," said Walter Isaacson, the editorial director of Time Inc. and the former managing editor of Time. "We're making inquiries, but either way, Time's journalists in China will continue to do their jobs vigorously."
A delegation from the company met with Mr. Jiang this afternoon, but Time's status was not broached. As executives mingled with Chinese officials this evening, their understanding of the situation became murkier rather than clearer. Some officials told them that Time had not been formally banned.
But nobody was in the mood to play sleuth at what was supposed to be a conference about the opportunities for American business in China.
In his remarks, Mr. Levin described Mr. Jiang as a "man of honor" and called him "my good friend." He used the same phrase two years ago, when Time Warner held this conference, the Fortune Global Forum, in Shanghai.
HONG KONG - China has sent a Falun Gong member, who featured in a Pulitzer Prize winner's article, to three years in a labour camp, a Hong Kong-based human rights group said on Wednesday.
Zhang Xueling, who had told of her mother being beaten to death by Chinese police to Ian Johnson of the Wall Street Journal, was sentenced on April 24, the Information Centre for Human Rights & Democracy in China said in a statement.
The human rights group said it was not clear whether Zhang's sentencing was related to the Pulitzer Prize award to Johnson. Zhang, 33, had repeatedly asked the Chinese authorities to investigate her mother's death, angering Chinese police.
The sentencing came a week after Johnson had been jointly awarded the Pulitzer Prize international reporting award for his stories about the Chinese crackdown on the outlawed spiritual movement, the information centre said.
Johnson shared the award with Paul Salopek of the Chicago Tribune who reported on political strife and disease in Africa.
The Falun Gong movement, which practices a mixture of Taoism and Buddhism as well as traditional Chinese physical exercises, has been outlawed in China where it has been branded an evil cult and accused of trying to overthrow the government.
HONG KONG - The spiritual sect Falun Gong lashed out Wednesday at ``totalitarian'' Chinese President Jiang Zemin, and officials hoping a global finance conference will lure more business to Hong Kong found themselves defending security that critics called heavy-handed.
Falun Gong, outlawed as an ``evil sect'' in mainland China but legal in Hong Kong, has complained that more than 100 overseas practitioners were barred from entering Hong Kong over the past few days to join protests against Jiang.
Some of the world's top chief executives were pondering the profits they might make in Hong Kong and the mainland Chinese market that is gradually opening. But the three-day Fortune Global Forum, which ends Thursday, has been overshadowed by demonstrations.
Former President Clinton, who is attending the conference as a paid speaker, crossed the Hong Kong harbor Wednesday morning to visit Jiang. The meeting was characterized as a chance for them to privately reflect on the work they did together when Clinton was in the White House and the two nations sought closer ties.
Deputy Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, a former Chinese ambassador to the United States, described the meeting as ``a friendly chat.'' Clinton did not bring any formal message for Jiang and met with him in a private capacity, said Clinton's spokesman, P.J. Crowley.
Despite criticism of the intense security surrounding the conference, Hong Kong's No. 2 government official, Chief Secretary for Administration Donald Tsang, insisted that Hong Kong remains one of the most open societies in the world. But he avoided questions about why so many Falun Gong people had been kept away.
``We hardly have any visa restrictions, but we do keep certain undesirable elements out,'' Tsang said. ``We have about 50 people denied entry every day on average. If you look at that figure, it's much less than most other countries or most other entry points.''
Tsang was asked whether ``undesirable elements'' referred to Falun Gong.
``No, no, no,'' Tsang said. ``They are all sort of things. They are international criminals, they are terrorists. They are all kinds of people.''
During separate demonstrations by pro-democracy protesters, police scuffled with activists and arrested four people Tuesday night. Demonstrators later marched to a police station, waved a big papier-mache Jiang head on a stick and demanded their colleagues be freed.
Falun Gong says the followers who were barred from Hong Kong included citizens from the United States, Britain and Australia who should be allowed to enter without visas.
The U.S. and British consulates said they have sought an explanation about why their citizens were kept out.
``I am quite sure that we will explain our position very clearly to them, to their satisfaction, over time,'' Tsang said.
Falun Gong says Hong Kong officials appeared to be doing Beijing's bidding - and the group took aim again Wednesday at Jiang, whom Falun Gong blames personally for the crackdown in China.
``Jiang is a totalitarian who won't respect human rights,'' Falun Gong spokeswoman Hui Yee-han said.
Falun Gong accuses Jiang of a crackdown that has killed 202 followers in mainland custody - a charge China says is false.
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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