Alexander was among more than 40 foreigners arrested
An 18-year-old schoolboy is set to become the fifth Briton expelled from China amid protests at the authorities' crackdown on the Falun Gong spiritual movement.
Alexander Rostron, from Leeds, was arrested in Beijing at a Tiananmen Square protest in support of the movement on Thursday.
More than 40 foreigners were arrested and deported following the protest, in which they suddenly began unfurling yellow banners and shouting: "Falun Gong is good!" At least 30 of the protesters, most of them from the United States have since been deported.
Rosemary Katzen and Lee Hall were among four other Britons deported
Four other Britons who had planned to join the protest were detained by police in Beijing on Tuesday, and sent back to the UK after several hours of questioning.
A-level student Alexander Rostron had not been in touch with his family since the protest and his mother, Gaydor Kaye, had become increasingly concerned about him.
But the Foreign Office said on Friday that the Chinese authorities had confirmed they were holding Alexander, and would be deporting him over the next few days.
A spokeswoman added: "We have no reason to believe he is being mistreated."
It was the biggest Tiananmen Square protest yet by foreign Falun Gong followers, and the police round-up was described as bringing chaos to the square.
Western protesters have been detained on several occasions in recent months
Ms Kaye earlier told reporters she had not wanted her son to go to China, but he had insisted. He had travelled there alone on Monday, and had being staying in a youth hostel.
She added that the Leeds Grammar School pupil began practising the Falun Gong's spiritual health exercises about two years ago.
"I get cross, because Falun Gong takes up so much of his time... I'd rather he concentrated on his A-levels," she told the Telegraph.
Britons Rosemary Katzen, 42, Lee Hall, 21, Earl Rhodes, 39, and Robert Gibson, 70, were the four Britons detained and expelled.
They said they had not broken any laws, had been manhandled by police, and had had most of their possessions taken away.
The Falun Gong movement, which claims millions of followers around the world, teaches meditation and exercises loosely based on eastern philosophies such as Buddhism.
It first came to public notice in China in 1992, but after attracting millions of followers it alarmed the ruling Communist party, and was banned.
Since 1999 Chinese police have rounded up tens of thousands of practitioners. Many have been sent to prison without trial - a form of punishment known as "re-education through labour".
Falun Gong claims that more than 1,600 followers have died as a result of abuse in police custody or detention centres - a charge the government denies.
In turn, Beijing says Falun Gong has caused 1,900 deaths by suicide, refusal of medical treatment, or hunger strike in detention.
There have also been several incidents when Westerners have been expelled and deported after protesting in support of the group.
China said it expelled 53 foreign followers of the banned Falungong spiritual group today who had been arrested during a protest on Tiananmen Square yesterday, while six others were being held for further investigation.
The chaotic scenes on the central Beijing square yesterday put the spotlight on human rights and religious freedom just a week before US President George W Bush visits China.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said yesterday the president would be "concerned with any arrests for religious purposes in China".
advertisement China's state Xinhua news agency said: "A total of 59 foreign Falungong activists agitated for the evil cult and stirred up trouble on Tiananmen Square yesterday.
"Of these, 53 from 12 countries, whose nationalities and identities had been confirmed, had left China as ordered by 6 pm (2100 AEDT) today." The remaining six refused to reveal their nationalities or present any form of identification and were detained by police for investigation, Xinhua said.
Those deported today included 33 Americans and six Germans, according to US and German embassy officials.
They were among a group of Falungong practitioners from North America, Europe and elsewhere who were arrested when they unfurled banners and shouted Falungong slogans in protest at Beijing's suppression of the spiritual group.
Falungong's New York-based headquarters said in a statement that about 24 foreign practitioners were placed on a Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit, citing a phone call it received from a practitioner just before the plane took off at 12:10 pm (1410 AEDT).
"I'm on Northwest flight 88 to Detroit. The scene on the square was pretty brutal. Very few practitioners made it to the centre of the square before being taken down," Scott Chinn from New York City was quoted as saying.
"I have a bruise... My wife's pants are torn. A few of us have black eyes and that sort of thing," Chinn said.
A Germany embassy official said six German Falungong members were expelled from China today on a Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt.
Some of the demonstrators seized had been treated roughly and witnessed others being beaten by police, Falungong quoted expelled protesters as saying.
"I witnessed a lot of beating... Many practitioners were bleeding and they were denied food and water," the group quoted Gina Sanchez, from Los Angeles, saying. She also called the group before boarding the flight to Detroit.
Xinhua said the protesters had violated Chinese law on demonstrations, and regulations on "evil cults" -- a term it uses for Falungong.
"Falungong sent foreigners to China to cause trouble and preach about the evil cult, attempting to sabotage the auspicious and peaceful atmosphere of the Chinese people's joyful Spring Festival and disturb social security," Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said in a statement today.
Xinhua said those arrested "were given reprimand, admonition, education and humanitarian treatment".
Western diplomats said eight foreign Falungong followers -- four Britons, two Finns and two French -- had been expelled yesterday, just before the protest. Some had been accused of trying to demonstrate the day before.
One diplomat said 14 people had been rounded up by Chinese police in a sweep of different hotels ahead of yesterday's protest.
Falungong issued a list of 45 foreign practitioners believed to have been detained: 34 from the United States, four from Britain, two from Sweden, two from Poland, and one each from New Zealand, Canada and Brazil.
The protest was the largest by overseas Falungong practitioners to date and is a major embarrassment for Beijing, which is expected to face tough questions on religious freedom during the Bush visit.
Human rights groups estimate that hundreds of Falungong followers have been sentenced to jail terms and tens of thousands sent to labour camps under the ban.
The movement says as many as 300 followers have died from brutality in police detention.
BEIJING - In the largest such protest to date, more than 40 followers of the Falun Gong spiritual movement from at least 10 countries unfurled banners today in Tiananmen Square, which was packed with thousands of people celebrating the Chinese New Year holiday. The protesters were immediately carried off by police.
The demonstration took place a week before a scheduled visit here by President Bush, during which religious freedom and human rights are likely to be high on the agenda.
Shouting "Falun Gong is good!," the foreign protesters vowed to fight against a crackdown on their movement that the Chinese government has carried out over the last two years. Dozens of Chinese security personnel swiftly surrounded them, confiscated their yellow banners and bundled them into nearby vehicles. In separate raids on hotels in Beijing, police rounded up 14 other foreign Falun Gong activists before they could make it to the square.
Seven foreign reporters, who had been called to the square by Falun Gong representatives to witness the protest, were also taken to a police station and questioned before being released.
A Falun Gong spokeswoman in Hong Kong said at least nine Germans, six Canadians, five Britons, two Finns and representatives from Belgium, Switzerland, Sweden, Poland and France had come to Beijing to protest. A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy said it had asked Chinese authorities for information on possible American detainees.
The demonstration was the fourth and largest protest in Tiananmen Square by foreign followers of the group. In November, 35 Westerners were expelled from China after a protest.
Using foreigners to protest on its behalf constitutes a new and risky activity for Falun Gong in China. Many Chinese interviewed today seemed opposed to the idea of foreigners protesting government policies on Chinese soil.
On Monday, police detained an American and a Canadian protesting on behalf of Falun Gong on Tiananmen Square. Levi Browde, 29, a software expert from New York, was expelled from China two days later. He told reporters in New York on Wednesday that he had come to Beijing to "let people know about the persecution" of religion in China.
In a brief dispatch on today's detentions, the official New China News Agency said the 40 foreigners were "reprimanded" but treated humanely by authorities. It accused them of violating laws barring illegal assemblies and "evil cults," the term Beijing often uses for Falun Gong. The Beijing police said "the trouble caused by these Falun Gong members was intended to prevent the Chinese people from celebrating" the lunar new year.
China outlawed Falun Gong in July 1999, declaring it an "evil cult." Since then hundreds of Falun Gong followers have been killed and thousands have been detained. Independent accounts of China's crackdown have documented widespread torture and brainwashing techniques designed to persuade Falun Gong adherents to break with the movement.
As the crackdown began, many Chinese sympathized with Falun Gong followers.
Chinese authorities failed in attempts to demonize its leader, Li Hongzhi, who moved to the United States in 1995.
But Li made a series of tactical mistakes, Chinese observers and Western diplomats said. He continued to call on his followers to protest, despite clear signs that security services were regularly beating and killing protesters. Then during the lunar new year last year, five people identified by Chinese authorities as Falun Gong followers set themselves afire on Tiananmen Square, and two died.
While Falun Gong representatives denied the five were members, the event proved to be a turning point in China's crackdown. Since then, China's population seems to generally back the crackdown.
BEIJING - China denounced the Falun Gong spiritual movement Friday for "stirring up trouble" on Tiananmen Square and said some 40 Western group members detained for their chaotic protest a day earlier would be expelled soon.
Police detained the foreigners after they unfurled yellow banners and shouted "Falun Gong is Good!" in a protest on Thursday to highlight China's campaign against the movement ahead of next week's visit to Beijing by President Bush.
"Falun Gong sent foreigners to China to stir up trouble and preach about the evil cult, attempting to undermine the peaceful atmosphere of the Chinese people's joyful Spring Festival and disturb social security," Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said in a statement.
The square erupted briefly into chaos as hundreds of plainclothes police chased the protesters, tackled some to the ground, kicking and punching several in the face, and then wrestled them into police vans, witnesses said.
Chinese tourists, sightseeing on the square during the Lunar New Year holidays, looked on astonished.
A group spokeswoman in New York said the protesters aimed to "expose the truth about the persecution of Falun Gong in China."
China banned the group as an "evil cult" in 1999, and the Foreign Ministry's Kong said the incident exposed the group's "evil nature."
The detained would be handled according to law and China would deport them as soon as possible, he said but gave no breakdown of their nationalities.
Western embassy officials said seven German, five Canadian as well as U.S. and British nationals had been held for involvement in the protests.
Four British members of the movement were deported on Thursday, and officials at other embassies, still seeking access to their nationals, expected others would be expelled on Friday.
"They are still in detention. We think they will be deported later today," said one German diplomat.
It was the second demonstration this week by Western Falun Gong members in Tiananmen. Security on the square was unusually tight, with police checking foreigners' identity papers and searching bags.
China expelled a Canadian and an American follower of the movement Tuesday, a day after they protested in the square.
In November, China expelled 35 foreign Falun Gong members after they protested on the square and another Canadian woman for a Falun Gong protest there last month.
Once frequent protests by Chinese members of Falun Gong have all but dried up in the past year.
Their cause was dealt a blow on the eve of Lunar New Year last year, when five alleged Falun Gong members set themselves ablaze in the square. A 12-year-old girl and her mother died of their injuries.
Falun Gong has denied any involvement.
But the government used graphic footage of the incident in a nationwide media campaign to discredit the group. It has also jailed leaders for subversion and sent thousands to "re-education through labor" camps, according to Falun Gong and rights groups.
Falun Gong says more than 1,600 followers have died as a result of abuse in police custody or detention centers.
The government says only a handful have died and those were from suicide or natural causes. It blames Falun Gong for the deaths of at least 1,900 people through suicide or refusing medical treatment.
The Chinese-based Falun Gong movement came to prominence in China in 1992, and arrived in Britain in 1996 when founder Peter Jauhal read about it on the internet. Mr Jauhal, 39, who lives in Richmond in Surrey, estimates there are now two to three hundred practitioners in the UK.
He says Falun Gong is mainly spread through word-of-mouth, and is more appealing in several ways than other similar movements.
"It appealed to me because it was free, its teachings were written down - not hidden and gradually revealed by some teacher - and you could do it on your own," he told BBC News Online.
Teachings and exercises are available free on the web
"I'd practised other similar systems before, but a lot of them seemed a bit dodgy, with people making money," he said.
Falun Gong's aims are to improve mind, body and spirit through gentle exercises and meditation.
It also has a higher aim of spiritual enlightenment and, ultimately - through reincarnation - a kind of nirvana (heaven).
Mr Jauhal explained that the system bears similarities to eastern practices like tai chi, and more specifically yoga.
He said he noticed beneficial effects almost immediately he and his wife began practising.
"I had lots of energy, all my stress went. I'd been suffering severe acne for eight years - the doctors had been giving me stronger and stronger antibiotics, but it disappeared within a month.
Practitioners follow the teachings of leader Li Hongzhi
"I'm a management consultant and had a pretty stressful job, I had quite a lot of sleepless nights because if something went wrong it would cost the company a lot of money.
"It took all the stress away, I started sleeping better, and since then I've been promoted many times, so it's had a direct beneficial effect on my career."
Mr Jauhal says he tries to abide by another aspect of Falun Gong, which is to try to live according to the slogan "truthfulness, compassion and forbearance".
"I used to be very selfish, I would follow my own interests - that's quite stressful. Since I started following kindness, tolerance, all that stuff, I've been much more successful."
The exercises are gentle and comparatively simple
The third aspect of Falun Gong is to follow the teachings of Chinese leader Li Hongzhi - who now lives in the US - which are available in books or on the internet.
Mr Jauhal concedes that to the uninitiated, some of Mr Li's teachings could seem a little strange.
"I had a maths degree and I had a very logical mind. When I first read his teachings I believed about 80% of them.
"But after you've been practising a while they gradually start to make sense."
He added that Mr Li is not considered a deity, and is not worshipped - he is more akin to a conduit for ancient knowledge.
Mr Jauhal said the exercises are ideally performed on a daily basis. They do not demand high fitness levels - one UK practitioner uses a wheelchair.
Classes are held once a week at various "practice sites" across the UK - usually parks or rooms in buildings such as universities - and volunteers can usually be found to teach meditation and exercises to the newly converted.
Four Britons have reportedly been deported from China for supporting the banned Falun Gong religious movement.
Falun Gong sources said the four had been arrested in their Beijing hotel, taken away for several hours of questioning and then put on a plane back to Heathrow, where they would arrive later on Thursday.
Falun Gong in the UK named the four as Lee Hall, 21, a student; Earl Rhodes, 36, a cameraman; Rosemary Katzen, 42, a tutor; and Robert Gibson, 70, a retired osteopath.
Suspected Falun Gong members are often arrested
It said they were part of a group of 14 Westerners travelling peacefully in the country, who had been rounded up.
The Foreign Office said it was aware of the reports and was in contact with
the authorities in Beijing to clarify the situation.
On Thursday afternoon, a group of up to 40 Westerners were arrested in Tiananmen Square after unfurling a yellow banner and yelling "Falun Gong is good!"
Falun Gong's British spokesman Peter Jauhal told BBC News Online the four Britons had been travelling as tourists, had not been involved in any protests, and had not broken any laws.
He said about 50 police had burst into their hotel on Tuesday night, pulling them out of their rooms "with a certain amount of manhandling".
Several Westerners have been arrested and deported
He said the four, who had been travelling together, were taken to a hotel near the airport and questioned for about eight or nine hours before being put on the plane.
He suggested that police agents had suspected the four may have been planning to demonstrate, and arrested them as a preventative measure.
He did not know whether the four had in fact planned any kind of demonstration.
Falun Gong later added: "The practitioners have told us that the Chinese police have stolen walkmans, CDs, tapes, a fleece, books and even bus tickets from them."
Falun Gong, which claims millions of followers around the world, teaches meditation and exercises loosely based on Buddhism and Taoism.
It says it is a peaceful law-abiding group, whose goals are spiritual enlightenment and improved health.
The authorities in China, who banned the group in 1999, say it is an "evil cult" that is trying to overthrow the Communist Party.
Since the ban the police have rounded up tens of thousands of practitioners.
Many have been sent to prison without trial - a form of punishment known as "re-education through labour".
There have also been several incidents when Westerners have been expelled and deported after protesting in support of the group.
Falun Gong issued a series of statements last year accusing Chinese officials of torturing or killing dozens of practitioners in detention centres and labour camps.
BEIJING - Police detained about 40 Western members of the Falun Gong spiritual group Thursday after they briefly threw Tiananmen Square into chaos with scattered protests against a crackdown on their faith, state media and witnesses said.
Clusters of demonstrators unfurled yellow banners and shouted "Falun Gong is good!" in a bid to highlight China's campaign against the banned movement ahead of a visit to Beijing by President Bush in a week.
Several of the protesters, mostly young men and women, sprinted across the vast plaza waving banners and screaming slogans as hundreds of uniformed and plainclothes police officers chased after them.
Police tackled demonstrators to the ground, kicking and punching some of them in the face, before wrestling them into police vans, witnesses said.
Astonished Chinese tourists, sightseeing on the square in the heart of Beijing for the Chinese Lunar New Year holidays, crowded round to watch as almost every Westerner on the square was detained for protesting.
Altogether, the drama lasted about 15 minutes.
"Members of various countries decided to go there to expose the truth about the persecution of Falun Gong in China," said Gail Rachlin, a spokeswoman for Falun Gong in New York.
"There are innocent people being tortured and persecuted," she told Reuters. "We want President Bush to bring up this issue in his meeting with President Jiang Zemin ."
Turmoil in Beijing's heart
The official Xinhua news agency said police had detained more than 40 foreign Falun Gong followers "who agitated for the evil cult and produced uproars" on the square.
China banned Falun Gong as an "evil cult" in 1999.
"This turmoil at the center of the Chinese capital was aimed to undermine the happy atmosphere of the Spring Festival, the traditional family reunions for the Chinese," it said.
The detainees continued to shout slogans and practice Falun Gong -- a blend of meditation and traditional Chinese breathing exercises -- after they were taken to a local police station, witnesses said.
It was the second demonstration this week by Western Falun Gong members in Tiananmen and security on the square was unusually tight, with police officers checking foreigners' identity papers and searching their bags.
China expelled a Canadian and an American follower of the movement Tuesday, one day after they too protested in the square.
Rachlin said 14 more Western followers of Falun Gong were seized by police from their Beijing hotel rooms overnight and seven of those detained Thursday were from Germany.
All the protesters were Westerners and several were from Britain, she said.
There was no immediate comment from the British and German embassies or from the Chinese government.
China expelled 35 foreign Falun Gong members after they protested on the square in November and another Canadian woman for a Falun Gong protest there last month.
Chinesee protests die down
Once frequent protests by Chinese members of Falun Gong have all but dried up in the last year.
Their cause was dealt a harsh blow on the eve of Lunar New Year last year, when five alleged Falun Gong members, including a 12-year-old girl and her mother, set themselves ablaze in the square. The girl and her mother died of their injuries.
Falun Gong has denied any involvement.
But the government has used graphic footage of the incident and the perpetrators' horrific burns in a nationwide media campaign to discredit the group.
It has also jailed leaders for subversion and sent thousands more to "re-education through labor" camps, according to Falun Gong and rights groups.
Falun Gong says more than 1,600 followers have died as a result of abuse in police custody or detention centers.
The government says only a handful have died and those were from suicide or natural causes. It blames Falun Gong for the deaths of at least 1,900 people through suicide or refusing medical treatment.
BEIJING - A U.S. religious rights group has published what it says are top secret Chinese government documents detailing a crackdown on illegal religious groups including the underground Christian church and Falun Gong. The seven documents describe tactics used by security forces against such groups including interrogation, surveillance and infiltration by secret agents, said a statement on the Web site of the Washington-based human rights group Freedom House.
If genuine, the papers illustrate in rare detail the Chinese leadership's determination to crush all religious activity outside state-sanctioned bodies following persistent protests by members of the banned spiritual movement Falun Gong.
They also throw the spotlight again on religious freedom in China a week before a visit by President Bush.
Only four days ago, Beijing released a man sentenced to two years in jail for smuggling bibles to a banned Christian group.
"These documents provide irrefutable evidence that China remains determined to eradicate all religion it cannot control, using extreme tactics," the statement quoted Nina Shea, director of Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom, as saying.
"President Bush, who has repeatedly voiced concern for religious repression in China, must speak out forcefully and publicly in support of religious freedom during his state visit to China next week." The Chinese constitution enshrines freedom of religious belief but in practice the Communist Party restricts all worship to state-controlled religious bodies, whose leaders it appoints.
The documents, available on the Web site, described a systematic campaign against a variety of unofficial religious groups, including underground Catholics and Protestants and 14 groups labeled as "evil cults." One of the most revealing papers is a transcript of a speech by Sun Jianxin, vice director of public security in the eastern province of Anhui, in which he warns that foreign powers have infiltrated many of these groups.
"Hostile organizations both in our country and abroad have shifted their focus to the inside of our country and have hastened their infiltration through various methods, such as via foundations or academic delegations, and all kinds of media," he said.
He called for a fierce crackdown on Falun Gong -- banned in 1999 after members shocked the leadership by protesting outside their compound to demand official recognition of their faith.
"Find out the details about them and tighten control on them," Sun said. "Make sure to keep them to their local areas and prevent them from connecting and gathering, or going to Beijing to stir up trouble. Put them in classes by force and use forceful measures if necessary."
Destablising the nation
Sun accused the Vatican, whose authority is not recognized by the official Chinese catholic church, of plotting to destabilize the country.
"The Vatican is still waiting for any opportunity to intervene in the internal affairs of Catholic churches in our country," he said. "They will draw the patriotic religious believers up to them and incite them to rebel."
Even during recent talks between Beijing and the Vatican on opening diplomatic ties, his security forces "began to search, educate, convert, reconnoiter and control some key members of the underground Catholics," he said.
He urged his forces to use secret agents to infiltrate Falun Gong, underground Catholic groups, businesses, people with "complicated political backgrounds" and universities.
"Secret forces are the heart and soul in covert struggles and the crucial magic weapon in our battle against and victory over the enemy," he said.
Real God Rivals Falun Gong
Another document focused on a group called the Real God church, which it said rivaled Falun Gong in its reach and the threat it posed.
The group had also recruited members from the "inner circles" of the Communist Party, it said.
The documents, said to be classified speeches and memos issued between April 1999 and October 2001, were provided by the New York-based Committee for Investigation on Persecution of Religion in China, Freedom House said.
Neither organization was available for comment and there was no immediate reaction from the Chinese government.
BEIJING - The Chinese authorities have killed 129 people and arrested nearly 24,000 in a crackdown on Christian churches that operate outside government control, a group of Chinese campaigners for religious freedom has charged. In a report issued in New York on Monday, the Committee for Investigation on Persecution of Religion in China published what it said were official documents outlining a campaign to stamp out independent worship. The report accused senior Chinese leaders of approving the violence.
The accusations, from a committee irun by Chinese Christians living abroad, come at a sensitive time for China, a week before President George W. Bush makes his first official visit to Beijing. A Hong Kong businessman imprisoned for smuggling Bibles to a banned church was released last weekend after Bush expressed concern about him.
China allows only state-monitored worship. It is struggling to rein in new religious movements that have attracted millions of followers in recent years.
The most prominent target has been the Falun Gong spiritual movement, banned in 1999 as a threat to public safety and Communist rule. But other targeted groups span the spectrum from Roman Catholics to Buddhists to newer organizations with unorthodox views.
''The level of persecution aimed against unregistered Christians in China is high,'' said the report. ''The persecution against underground Christians has escalated and originates at the highest central levels of the Chinese government.'' Westerners still in detention.
China kept a Canadian citizen, Jason Loftus, and an American, Levi Browde, both followers of the Falun Gong, in custody Tuesday, a day after they were arrested in Tiananmen Square for protesting against the government's crackdown on the spiritual movement.
BEIJING - An international campaign has begun on behalf of five leaders of a defiant evangelical Christian group who were given death sentences in December under China's 1999 anti-cult law.
Rights groups abroad cite the death sentences, the first under that law, as evidence of a harsh, continuing crackdown on unauthorized worship. They hope Mr. Bush will press the issue of religious freedom in his meetings here Feb. 21 and 22.
The five are leaders of the South China Church, an underground group that claims 50,000 followers in several provinces of central China. They were convicted in secret trials on what appeared to be dubious charges of rape, assault and sabotaging national security.
The government is also continuing its crackdown on the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement. The police detained two Western followers of the group on Monday after they staged a protest in Tiananmen Square in Beijing and expelled them today, saying their protest was aimed at "stirring up trouble."
The two, Jason Loftus, a Canadian, and Levi Browde, an American, were seized after they unfurled a yellow banner accusing Chinese authorities of staging self-immolations by those said to be followers of the group on the square a year earlier.
The government apparently made a move last weekend to try to avoid a confrontation with Mr. Bush on the subject when it released a man who had been convicted of smuggling annotated Bibles to a banned Christian sect. American officials had made it known that Mr. Bush was incensed by the case, in which Li Guangqiang, a Hong Kong businessman, had been sentenced to two years in prison.
In the case of the South China Church leaders, the founder, Gong Shengliang, was charged with rape, based on allegations of sexual contact with female followers.
But several of the women said to be victims have issued denials and say they were tortured into making the allegations by the police, who burned their bodies with electric prods. Charges of rape have frequently been used in China to prosecute religious leaders. Mr. Gong's case and those of his condemned colleagues are now on appeal.
"The South China Church is well organized and very evangelistic, very aggressive about sharing the `Good News,' " said Xiqiu Fu, executive director of the Committee for Investigation of Persecution of Religion in China, a rights monitoring group in the United States. "I think this is why the government feels so threatened by it."
In New York on Monday, Mr. Fu's group and others provided new evidence of the current crackdown, releasing a report with copies of what are described as secret Chinese government documents, provided by discontented security officials.
The documents, which scholars said appeared to be genuine, outline campaigns to crush 14 Christian or Buddhist groups that have been labeled cults since 1995, and they include exhortations to provincial and local officials to increase their efforts to infiltrate and destroy such organizations.
China formally allows freedom of worship, but only in regulated churches that join the Communist Party-sponsored "patriotic" associations. While between 13 million and 15 million Protestants have joined the legal Protestant body, tens of millions more Chinese have been attracted to so-called house churches - anything from a group of devout neighbors to large, fervent sects that meet illegally and refuse to pledge allegiance to the atheist Communist Party.
Use of cult-related charges has intensified since the banning of Falun Gong, which frightened authorities with its rapid growth and ability to mount large demonstrations.
"This is a new tactic of suppression, under the name of the `rule of law,' " said Mr. Fu, who fled China in 1997 and is a pastor in a Chinese church in Philadelphia and a doctoral student at Westminster Theological Seminary.
According to the report, the police have arrested at least 63 members of the South China Church since last May. Several have been sent to "re- education through labor" camps, others have received prison sentences of anywhere from one year to life and others are awaiting trial.
Mr. Gong, the pastor, and two other leaders, Xu Fuming and Hu Yong, have been sentenced to death, while two other activists, Li Ying, who is Pastor Gong's niece, and Gong Bangkun, have received suspended death sentences, which are often later reduced to life terms.
Among the reasons for designating his group a cult, according to one of the secret documents released today, was Mr. Gong's advocacy of "the evangelization of the whole nation and the Christianization of culture." He referred to the Communist government as "Satan's kingdom," officials complained.
The document accused him of deceiving members by collecting some $40,000 from them for a "Bank of Heaven." Church members say the authorities are misrepresenting the normal, voluntary collection of offerings at church services.
Illustrating the slippery nature of "heresy" and "cult" charges as wielded by the Chinese police, another convicted evangelical leader was accused of having betrayed Christian doctrine by claiming "Christ is I, and I am Christ."
But the leader was probably quoting well-known words of Paul in the Bible: "It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me," (Gal. 2:20), according to a statement, also released on Monday, from the Center for Religious Freedom in Washington. This is "a text which can be heard in any American church," the center notes.
As it has pursued the destruction of maverick evangelical groups, the government has provided hints that it may slightly loosen its grip on the legal churches and work to draw more unregistered worshipers into the official fold.
"We cannot use administrative force to eradicate religion," Mr. Jiang said at a conference in December about regulating religion. He called on officials to work toward "strengthening the unity of religious and nonreligious masses."
BEIJING - A religious rights group in the United States has published a set of internal Chinese government documents describing in remarkable detail the suppression of unauthorized religious groups, including efforts to crush underground Catholic churches, use of secret agents to infiltrate illegal Protestant congregations and orders for "forceful measures" against the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.
The eight documents, which include classified speeches and memos by security officials, were smuggled out of the country by Chinese Christians working with sympathetic local police officers and a former Chinese intelligence official, according to the group that released them, the Committee for Investigation on Persecution of Religion in China, which is based in New York.
The documents confirm the ruling Communist Party's determination to expand its crackdown on Falun Gong into a nationwide campaign against a wide range of unauthorized spiritual organizations, and they offer a rare glimpse into the workings of the vast, secretive security apparatus assigned to carry out the assault.
Robin Munro, a China specialist at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London who examined the documents, said they appeared to be authentic and could be among the most significant internal documents on religious persecution in China seen in the West.
"I've never seen anything like it in such quantity," he said. "These documents are from all around the country, all consistent, all quite draconian, and all expressing implacable hostility toward these groups and determination to eradicate them. The party sees these groups as a mortal threat, and it's really going into overdrive now."
The papers were published this week as part of a 141-page report outlining the results of an unusually extensive study on Christians in China. The committee said it identified more than 23,000 people arrested since 1983 for unauthorized religious activity and collected statements from 5,000 victims of torture and persecution in 22 provinces and 200 cities.
There was no immediate reaction from the Chinese government, which was closed for the week-long Spring Festival holiday. China allows religious activity, including Christianity, but only within the framework of state-authorized churches. Catholics attend Mass freely in the Beijing cathedral, for instance, but the officially sanctioned church takes orders from the government, not the Vatican. The report's release comes slightly more than a week before President Bush is scheduled to make his first state visit to Beijing. The Chinese government may be considering concessions on human rights to ensure the visit goes smoothly. A Hong Kong businessman imprisoned for smuggling Bibles into the country was released last weekend, for example, after Bush expressed concern about his case.
"We want to use this momentum to push further for religious freedom for the Chinese people," said Bob Fu, the committee's executive director and a former underground pastor in Beijing. He said the documents prove that the Chinese government is engaging in "dangerous double talk" by hinting at softer policies while issuing secret orders to crush illegal religious groups.
Li Shixiong, president of the committee, said half the documents were passed to him by Chinese Christians who obtained them from sympathetic provincial police officials. He said he received the others from a former Ministry of State Security official, who also used Christians to carry them out of the country and who has since gone into hiding. The documents describe the government's campaign against a wide range of churches, sects and cults flourishing across China, and they focus particularly on those with ties overseas.
"Hostile organizations both in our country and abroad have shifted their focus to the inside of our country and have hastened their infiltration through various methods, such as via foundations or academic delegations, and all kinds of media," warned Sun Jianxin, vice director of public security in Anhui province, in the longest of the documents. "Hostile Western powers headed by the U.S. have hastened to carry out their strategies of Westernizing, splitting and weakening our country."
He warned that the Vatican "is still waiting for any opportunity to intervene in the internal affairs of Catholic churches in our country," then said that even as Beijing and the Vatican were discussing diplomatic relations, his security forces "began to search, educate, convert, reconnoiter and control some key members of the underground Catholics."
He also urged an intense, methodical crackdown on members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement. "Find out the details about them and tighten control on them. Make sure to keep them to their local areas and prevent them from connecting and gathering, or going to Beijing to stir up trouble. Put them in classes by force and use forceful measures if necessary."
The government has declared Falun Gong "an evil cult." Its adherents, who practice a mix of spiritual exercises, say that more than 1,600 fellow believers have died as the result of police abuse in a three-year-old suppression campaign. Officials have attributed most of the deaths to suicide or refusal to accept medical care.
Several documents describe efforts to infiltrate religious groups using secret agents, as well as members who are "forced upon secret arrest to work for us." One refers to an order to establish "mobile reconnaissance teams"
throughout the country to conduct electronic surveillance of suspects.
"Secret forces are the heart and soul in covert struggles and the crucial magic weapon in our battle against and victory over the enemy," it says, urging security agents to focus on Falun Gong members, underground Catholics and private businessmen with complicated political backgrounds, as well as university professors and students.
Another document suggests that China's most senior leaders are involved in plotting strategy against unauthorized religious groups, some of which have hundreds of thousands of members. Hu Jintao, designated as successor to President Jiang Zemin, is quoted discussing a sect known as Eastern Lightning and instructing police to "be watchful of its movement, and then deal with it according to law in a timely manner." The minister of public security, Jia Chunwang, added, "We need to work more, talk less to smash the cult quietly."
BEIJING - China expelled a Canadian and an American follower of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement Tuesday, one day after they launched a Lunar New Year protest in the heart of capital Beijing.
"They have already exited the country," a Chinese Foreign Ministry official told Reuters, declining to give details of how or when they left China.
The pair were expelled as Chinese leaders prepare for the Feb. 21-22 visit of President Bush, whose administration has criticized China over its suppression of religious freedom.
Police detained Canadian Jason Loftus and American Levi Browde in Tiananmen Square Monday after they unfurled a yellow banner saying self-immolations a year ago by alleged followers of the group had been staged by the Chinese authorities.
Their protest was aimed at "stirring up trouble" and violated China's laws on "evil cults" and public gatherings, the Foreign Ministry official said.
"The relevant departments carried out a security alert and handled the matter of exit procedures within a limited period of time according to the law," she said, reading from a prepared statement.
A spokesman for the U.S. embassy confirmed Browde's expulsion but had no further details.
Witnesses said Loftus, 22, struggled and shouted "Falun Gong is good!" as he was wrestled into a police van. Browde, 29, was led peacefully on board shortly afterward, witnesses added.
Their banner read: "The self-immolations were a fraud. Falun Gong is good." On the eve of the Lunar New Year last year, five alleged Falun Gong members, including a 12-year-old girl and her mother, set themselves ablaze in the square. The girl and her mother died of their injuries.
Graphic footager of the self-immolations and the perpetrators' horrific burns have been at the core of a government media campaign against Falun Gong, which it outlawed in 1999 and has branded an "evil cult." Falun Gong has denied any involvement in the incident.
China expelled 35 foreign Falun Gong members for protests on Tiananmen square in November and another Canadian woman for a Falun Gong protest there last month.
It has jailed leaders for subversion and kept protests by the group, once common in Tiananmen Square, to a minimum in the past year.
Falun Gong says more than 1,600 followers have died as a result of abuse in police custody or detention centers while thousands more have been sent to "re-education through labor" camps.
The government says only a handful have died and those were from suicide or natural causes. It blames Falun Gong beliefs for the deaths of at least 1,900 people through suicide or refusing medical treatment.
An engineering student from Barrie has been detained by Chinese authorities for showing a video that claims an incident in which five people set themselves on fire in Tiananmen Square one year ago was staged by the Chinese government.
Falun Dafa practitioners Jason Loftus, 22, and Levi Browde, 29, from New York, took the video to China and held a secret press conference yesterday, the eve of Chinese New Year.
Afterward, they went to Tiananmen Square, unfurled a banner saying "Falun Dafa is Good," and tried to show the video on a lap-top computer.
Police wrestled Loftus, 22, a University of Toronto student, struggling and shouting "Falun Gong is good!" at the top of his voice, into a nearby police van.
Browde, 29, a software expert from New York, was led peacefully on board shortly afterward, the witnesses said.
The Chinese government calls Falun Dafa - also known as Falun Gong - an evil religious cult and banned it in 1999.
But its followers say it's a mixture of breathing exercises to promote health, traditional Chinese thinking and moral precepts.
Yesterday's protest was at least the third in Tiananmen Square by western followers of Falun Dafa.
Foreign Affairs in Ottawa is aware Loftus has been detained. But because of closed offices for Chinese New Year celebrations, it has been unable to confirm where he is being held, a spokesperson said.
Loftus' mother, Mary, found out what happened to her son through a 6 a.m. phone call yesterday from one of his friends.
"It's not something I wanted him to do but I understand the cause," she said yesterday.
Loftus has been a practitioner of Falun Dafa for three years after learning about it at a Barrie health show.
"I think it will help in the long run, I just didn't want it to be him. He is my son," she said.
Falun Dafa activists have long denied that the people who set themselves on fire in Tiananmen Square a year ago to protest the crackdown on Falun Dafa were actually practitioners of the spiritual movement.
They claim the incident was a propaganda campaign to vilify and discredit the group worldwide.
Chinese authorities blamed Falun Dafa for that Jan. 23, 2001, suicide attempt and made it the centre of a massive propaganda campaign against the spiritual group.
The 20-minute Falun Dafa video, A Staged Incident, is based on footage of the event shown on Chinese state television. It points out what it says are inconsistencies in the official account and questions details of the event.
According to authorities, two people died in the self-immolation - a woman and her 12-year-old daughter. Four people were sentenced to life in prison on charges of organizing it, including one man said to have set himself on fire.
The video includes a sequence in slow motion apparently showing someone hitting a woman in the group in the head while police put out the fire.
China banned Falun Dafa in July, 1999. Before then, the group, which combines exercises with traditional Chinese beliefs and the teachings of its founder, Li Hongzhi, had tens of millions of followers in the country.
Since 1999, many practitioners, both Chinese and foreign, have protested in the square and have been arrested.
"They go to Tiananmen Square to appeal to the hearts of the citizens," said Jillian Ye, a practitioner and friend of Loftus.
Last month, Connie Chipkar, 61, of Mississauga was interrogated and expelled after staging a lone protest.
Chinese police have detained one American and one Canadian citizen in Beijing for attempting to demonstrate in support of the banned Falun Gong movement.
Police quickly restrained the protesters
In a statement, the two identified themselves as Jason Loftus, a 21-year-old engineering student from Toronto, and Jonathan Browde, 29, who works for a software company in New York.
They said they wanted to protest against an official campaign against the group based on an incident last year when five alleged Falun Gong members set light to themselves in Tiananmen Sqaure.
The two men said the incident, in which the authorities say two people including a 12-year-old girl died, was staged managed to smear the group.
Falun Gong, a mystical movement with millions of adherents in China, is considered a dangerous cult by the communist party and was banned in 1999.
'Rapid deportation' tactics
The two detained men went to Tiananmen Square, began shouting slogans and unfurled a banner which read: "The Self-Immolation is a Hoax; Falun Gong is Good."
But within seconds police restrained them, took down the banner, forced them into waiting vehicles and drove them off the square.
On previous occasions when foreigners have demonstrated in support of Falun Gong they have been held by police and then rapidly deported, as China appears unwilling to allow such cases to complicate its diplomatic relations.
That may be especially true now as the US President, George W Bush, is due to visit China later this month.
For Chinese citizens the story is rather different.
Many tens of thousands of Falun Gong followers have been ostracised and punished for their beliefs.
Some have found themselves in labour camps, a few have died in custody.
From its headquarters in the United States, Falun Gong encourages its followers to perfect themselves spiritually through exercise and meditation, and draws heavily on Chinese folk religion.
The government campaign against the movement has lasted two-and-a-half years and has succeeded in all but erradicating it in China.
The widespread demonstrations by angry Falun Gong practitioners which used to take place all over China have largely tailed off over the last year.
BEIJING - An American Falun Gong follower was arrested Monday in Tiananmen Square after unfurling a banner and protesting China's treatment of the banned group on the eve of the lunar new year.
Chinese police arrested Levi Broude, 29, within seconds of the start of his protest. Last year, on the eve of Chinese new year, five people alleged to be Falun Gong practitioners set themselves on fire in Tiananmen. Two people, including a 12-year-old girl, died from their burns.
Broude, before the protest, said he worked for a Wall Street software firm and was in Beijing to denounce what he called the lies of the Chinese government about last year's fiery protests. China's state-run media used the incident to revitalize a campaign against the religious sect, but Falun Gong said the five were not members of the group.
China banned Falun Gong in 1999 as an "evil cult" and has since then carried out an ongoing crackdown against the group's followers. China claims the ban on Falun Gong is to protect the rights of the Chinese people and that the group is responsible for the deaths of nearly 1,600 people either by suicide or by refusing medical treatment in favor of meditation.
Human right's groups say tens of thousands of Falun Gong adherents have been jailed and more than 150 have died in detention due to mistreatment.
Nearly 1,000 members of Utah's Chinese community were celebrating the coming Year of the Horse when a fire alarm blared through the University of Utah's Union Building.
The revelers, including members of the Chinese Olympic delegation, evacuated the building only to be met by members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement passing out flyers.
The Chinese government has repressed Falun Gong practitioners, considering them dangerous dissidents. Utah members of the movement have been increasingly active in recent months, and many have been passing out literature on city streets as the 2002 Olympic Games grow near.
Lily Reed, program coordinator of the U.'s international academic programs, who organized the party last Friday at the Union Building, stopped short of blaming the Falun Gong for the false alarm, which disrupted the festivities for about 40 minutes.
"This is the United States, we have freedom of religion, but I want to know whoever did this," Reed said. "What happened that night would disgust people." For the Chinese, the Feb. 12 New Year is their most important holiday.
"After two months of planning, coordination and hard work, this made me angry," Weber State professor Tao Wen Le said. "We do not get together like this all the time." Fred Esplin, the U.'s director of public relations, said the school is not taking a position on the political quarrel.
"We are a place for all kinds of activities and that's in the best tradition of freedom and thoughts," he said.
China's three-year-old suppression of Falungong, a spiritual group based on exercises and meditation called qigong, has violated basic rights to belief and association, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW). Tens of thousands of Falungong followers have been detained for the peaceful expression of their beliefs, according to the report, while thousands have been sentenced by administrative tribunals to "re-education through labor" terms as long as three years, according to the report.
About 300 organizers have been prosecuted in the courts and sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to 18 years.
Many prisoners have been subjected to threats and other forms of psychological abuse to get them to recant their beliefs, while some have suffered severe beatings and torture which, in a few cases, have resulted in deaths in custody, according to the 117-page report, 'Dangerous Meditation.'
Recently, Beijing has suggested that Falungong, which it has denounced as an "evil cult," is also a terrorist group, a notion ridiculed by HRW's Asia director, Sidney Jones.
"China's efforts to equate the Falungong with terrorists are ludicrous," she said. "Most Falungong members are peaceful, law-abiding citizens, and there is no excuse for the human rights violations they have endured," she said.
The new report comes amid indications that China may be reassessing its suppression of independent religious groups like Falungong.
Writing in an influential newspaper last month, the head of the State Religious Affairs Bureau, Ye Xiaowen, denounced what he called "simple methods" in addressing "complicated religious problems." He suggested that suppression of evangelical religious groups may be counter-productive.
Founded by Li Hongzhi, who went into exile in the United States in 1998, Falungong first emerged in 1992 as part of a nationwide resurgence of qigong groups that followed the general liberalization of Chinese society during the 1980s.
While the authorities at first tolerated the movement, which flourished in the emerging middle class, they launched a campaign of suppression after a demonstration involving some 10,000 Falungong practitioners who gathered outside Zhongnanhai, the walled Beijing district which is home to many senior politicians, on April 25, 1999.
By most accounts, the protest caught the leadership--which was already concerned about rising unemployment and worker unrest resulting from far-reaching economic reforms--completely by surprise.
Less than three months later, Beijing officially banned the movement and took measures to prevent its members from meeting, exercising or protesting in public, and distributing information. The ban marked the beginning of the detentions and arrests.
The report cited one case, that of Zhang Kunlun, who left China last year for Canada after he was detained four times in a six-month period. Each time he was arrested, he was subjected to threats and other forms of psychological coercion until he renounced his faith in Falungong. After each release, however, he continued to practice, only to be rearrested. On one occasion, he was beaten and tortured with electric batons so severely that, in his words, he "lost his mind." Over the past three years, Falungong--which claims millions of members worldwide and has shown great sophistication in using Internet technology to spread its beliefs and publicize Chinese abuses--has been non-violent in its response.
Last January, however, seven alleged members set fire to themselves in Tiananmen Square to protest Beijing's repression. The incident apparently played into the government's hands by depicting Falungong as a dangerous sect, and the group's popularity in China, while difficult to gauge, appears to have declined.
Still, Beijing has pressed other governments, particularly in East Asia, to take action against Falungong and make it harder for members there to practice their faith or publicize China's efforts to stamp it out. The effort has met with some success in Japan and Thailand, according to HRW.
BEIJING - China Thursday blasted Human Rights Watch for issuing "irresponsible reports" after the New York-based group said the outlawed Falungong spiritual movement had been brutally crushed.
"With respect to Human Rights Watch, the organization often releases irresponsible reports, which bear no comment," foreign ministry spokesman Kong Quan told a media briefing.
The comment came after Human Rights Watch released a 117-page document saying China had used widespread torture, deaths in custody and a massive campaign of detention without trial to suppress the Falungong.
Kong said China was determined to crack down on the group, but rejected the allegations of excessive brutality.
"For adherents of the Falungong, we hope they can break away from this evil cult and return to society," he said. "There is no such thing as Chinese abuse of Falungong practitioners."
Falungong, which Human Rights Watch said once claimed 40 million adherents in China, was outlawed in July 1999.
By September 2001 it had mostly been driven "underground", said the report, entitled "Dangerous Meditation: China's Campaign Against Falungong."
"Substantial evidence" showed that tens of thousands of followers were detained and thousands put into labor camps without trial, with hundreds more convicted of crimes, according to the report.
"Serious human rights violations, including restrictions on freedom of thought, belief, and expression, wrongful detention, unfair trials, torture, and deaths in custody have accompanied the Chinese government response to Falungong," Human Rights Watch said.
Without disputing the government's claim that Falungong is a highly organized "sect", the report maintains that law-abiding citizens have a right to peacefully practise their beliefs.
Human Rights Watch said it had documented widespread police torture against incarcerated followers.
"There is evidence of a range of serious abuses against Falungong members in custody, including beatings, electric shock and other forms of torture, forced feeding and administration of psychotropic drugs, and extreme psychological pressure to recant," the report said.
As of June 27, 2001, exiled members of the Falungong claimed 234 practitioners had died in suspicious circumstances in custody or immediately following release, and that countless others were victims of torture and mistreatment.
"By altering laws and creating new laws with the expressed intention of dismantling Falungong, the Chinese leadership has succeeded only in undermining its claim that the judicial system is rooted in a 'rule of law' principle," Human Rights Watch said.
In many respects the government's tactics were strikingly similar to various extrajudicial campaigns previously waged against "imperialists", "counter-revolutionaries" and other suspect elements, it said.
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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