Police have foiled an alleged religious cult attempt at the South Pacific Games in Suva.But those involved said that they are evangelists of the group.
Nancy Chen, Yan Liang and Ruowei Yang are in the country to introduce the faith of Falun Dafa.
Falun Gong, (pronounced fah-luhn goong), literally means "the Practice of the Wheel of the Dharma." Falun Gong refers to five sets of exercises, done to Chinese music and involving lotus postures and hand movements. Falun Dafa is the spiritual movement that practices Falun Gong. Increasingly, the movement itself is being called Falun Gong.
Police Games spokesman Mesake Koroi said their investigation was to determine the truth and otherwise of the allegations bearing in mind the all-important issue of national security.
This caused police to beef up security at the Games venues after the three women managed to enter as spectators and distribute pamphlets to young people at the Games.
Mr Koroi said police were investigating the women since they had entered the country from Australia last Friday.
Mr Koroi said police action followed after a section of the Chinese community living in Suva had filed a complaint.
A Chinese official last night said that the women were of a "dangerous group that could cause mass deaths."
The spokesman claimed the group had been involved in large unexplained deaths.
Ms Yan Liang alleged the Chinese Embassy in Suva were the cause of the investigations as her sister has been imprisoned because she was a follower of the faith.
Ms Liang claimed her sister is unable to walk properly as a result of the torture while imprisoned.
"We understand that the Chinese Embassy officials here wrote a letter of complaint to CID officials alleging we are cults ... this is not true and we believe the Chinese Government has been applying pressure on the Fiji Government defaming us and saying we are dangerous and our intentions are bad," she claimed.
Mr Koroi said the organisation was outlawed by the government of China towards the end of the last century following complaints that some members of the organisation were involved in mass suicides.
"As a result of the complaint, detectives moved into the hotel where the women stayed and seized several cartons of printed and reading materials, banners and phamplets about Falun Dafa," he said.
"At the same time the three women were taken in for questioning on Friday night and again on Saturday morning."
"Allegations were made that these women were distributing pamphlets with the view to establishing a branch of the religious cult in Fiji," he said.
"Our investigations also took into account whether the women had breached conditions of the visitors visa granted to them by actively and publicly campaigning for their faith".
A group of Falun Gong followers said Thursday that they were verbally and physically assaulted outside a Manhattan restaurant after a dinner party to honor the Chinese ambassador to the United Nations.
The confrontation Monday night involved at least six practitioners who were handing out fliers outside Yi Dong restaurant on East Broadway in Chinatown. The fliers were critical of the Chinese government's treatment of Falun Gong practitioners.
Falun Gong members said that after Ambassador Yingfan Wang and other diplomats left the dinner, the dinner's organizers proceeded to slap the fliers out of their hands and struck at least one practitioner, Jun Li, 48, of Flushing.
"They cursed at me and say, 'You Falun Gong, go die,'" Li said Thursday. "The people around me started beating me from the front and back."
Guan Liang, 42, of Manhattan, allegedly punched Li once in the eye, according to a police spokesman. He was charged with third-degree assault on Wednesday, police said.
At a news conference in Chinatown Thursday, Falun Gong members said the incident was triggered by Liang, whom they identified as chairman of the Unified Organization of Overseas Chinese Associations.
Liang did not answer calls to his cell phone Thursday and his voice mail did not accept messages.
At the Falun Gong news conference, several large photos of Liang were taped to the wall, showing him confronting Falun Gong members. The photos also included close-ups of Li, who suffered a black eye and several bruises on his chest and abdomen.
Before the dinner, practitioner Frank Lee, a computer consultant from East Brunswick, N.J., said he was confronted but was not attacked.
"They wanted to start a fight and I had no intention to fight anyone," Lee said. "I told them I'm not here to start trouble, I just wanted to raise awareness."
Falun Gong, created in 1992 by a Flushing man, was banned in 1999 by the Chinese government and labeled an "evil cult." Followers said they have millions of followers in 40 countries.
Practitioners said their teachings prohibit violence and promote use of "refining the body and mind through special exercises and meditation."
The Federal Government is advising Australians in China to avoid large public gatherings or demonstrations, particularly of a political nature.
The new travel advisory warns that Australians involved in Falun Gong activites or demonstrations are contravening Chinese laws.
The Department of Foreign Affairs says anyone taking part in Falun Gong action is likely to face legal action.
It says that action could include detention, deportation, arrest or imprisonment.
Three Falun Gong practitioners held a banner in front of Geneva City Hall Thursday, seeking help to rescue a California doctor being held in China.
"SOS: Urgent Rescue of U.S. Citizen Dr. Li Persecuted in China," read the banner held by Chen Hou and his wife, Sara Effner of Missouri, and Jiwu Wang, of Kentucky.
Li is from China but is a naturalized U.S. citizen. He returned to China to challenge the country's stand on Falun Gong and intended to tap into the state-run cable broadcast to prove his case. He was arrested Jan. 22 at Guangzhou airport and sentenced to three years in the Nanjin Prison.
Falun Gong, or Falun Dafa, is a meditative practice that the Chinese government says is a cult that disrupts the country's social order. Practitioners say the government crackdown is a violation of human rights.
"We want to raise awareness of Falun Gong and Dr. Li," Effner said. The three were part of several teams of supporters who stopped in Kane and McHenry county cities this week.
Falun Gong followers are known for meditative public exercises and dedication to nonviolence. The Chinese government, however, claimed that its followers immolated themselves at Tianamen Square and that is why the movement is dangerous.
Wang said Chinese Communists eventually rejected Falun Gong because they reject any spiritual belief.
Wang said Li had proof that the government fabricated the immolation and planned to tap into its cable system to present the counterpoint to Chinese citizens directly.
"From 1992 to 1999, the Chinese government promoted Falun Gong," Wang said. "They gave awards to it and encouraged people to do the exercises because 90 percent of the people who practiced would be cured of illness."
Effner, 26, was one of 70 practitioners from 13 countries who was arrested for performing the exercises publicly in Tianamen Square as a public protest of the government crackdown.
"I was detained a day. President Bush was going there and they did not want 70 people in jail with the president there," Effner said. The government gave her an airplane ticket home.
"We are not against the government or the Communist Party," Hou, 27, said. "We just want peaceful practice of Falun Gong."
Human rights groups acknowledge that Falun Gong followers have been tortured and killed in China. Supporters of Li say he has been beaten and tortured while in prison.
Li returned to China knowing that he might be arrested much the same way Martin Luther King Jr. went to jail in Birmingham, Ala., seeking civil rights for blacks.
"He is a very kind person to take such a chance," Effner said.
Hong Kong needs an anti-subversion law to safeguard against terrorism and separatist movements, the territory's security chief said in her latest defense of proposed legislation that democracy activists fear would threaten the territory's freedoms.
"The fact that we have not been so threatened ... does not mean these threats do not exist," Secretary for Security Regina Ip said in comments published Thursday in the English-language South China Morning Post. "Who says separatist threats are not to be taken seriously? What about other threats, like treason or subversion?"
Responding to critics who contend Hong Kong doesn't need proposed anti-subversion legislation, Ip said the terrorist attacks in New York and Bali, and the SARS outbreak, were reminders to "guard against threats that are unimaginable and unknown."
The comments were excerpts from a speech Ip gave to the Hong Kong Democratic Foundation, an independent pro-democracy group, on Monday.
Hong Kong has drafted a law that would ban subversion, sedition and other crimes against the state, required by the constitution set when this former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997. The local legislature, dominated by pro-government lawmakers, is expected to enact the law next month, at the government's request.
Pro-democracy groups argue that existing laws are adequate to handle security offenses.
"We should not give up our fundamental rights for the sake of guarding against terrorism," said Law Yuk-kai of the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor.
Opposition lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan expressed concern about a provision of the draft law that would allow Hong Kong to outlaw groups subordinate to mainland organizations banned on national security grounds.
"This provision is nothing to do with the violence that Ip mentioned," Lee said.
Some fear the law could be used to target the spiritual group Falun Gong - labeled an "evil cult" on the mainland but still legal in Hong Kong.
The territory's Western-style civil liberties were guaranteed under an autonomy arrangement set when it returned to Beijing. Ip and other officials have insisted that they do not intend to target any particular people or groups.
An elderly practitioner of the Falungong spiritual movement has returned to Hong Kong after being released early from a seven-year sentence in a Myanmar jail, a group spokeswoman said.
Hong Kong resident Chan Wing-yuen, 71, was arrested in Yangon in December 2001 for unfurling a Falungong banner during a visit by then Chinese president Jiang Zemin.
China has banned Falungong, calling it an "evil cult".
Chan, who had been in the Myanmar capital to see relatives, was sentenced to seven years in prison last January.
He was unexpectedly released this month after a year and half in jail, said Falungong spokeswoman Sophie Xiao Thursday.
"He is now resting after returning to Hong Kong last week," Xiao said.
Falungong practitioners worldwide launched campaign for Chan's release with letters, phone calls and faxes directed at the Myanmar government and the Chinese embassy in Yangon.
Falungong, which combines meditation with Buddhist-inspired teachings, was banned by mainland China in July 1999 but is legal in Hong Kong, which was granted a degree of autonomy from the mainland when Britain returned it to China in 1997.
Amnesty International cited slight legislative progress in Taiwan in its latest annual report while calling China to task for serious human-rights violations in the communist country. According to the 2002 report, which covered events from January to December of 2001, some efforts were made to curtail use of capital punishment in Taiwan.
The London-based rights group credited the island still left rooms to improve in some aspects, like granting asylum and the measures that police offices take in investigation cases.
The group recognized that the ROC government had undertaken legislative moves to formulate measures to limit the death penalty and therefore gradually eradicate it. Meanwhile, legislative changes had also been introduced to reduce the number of crimes under the Military Criminal Code that carry a mandatory death sentence.
The government was working on drafting a human rights basic law and establishing a "National Human Rights Commission," which the report saw as leading to the eventual abolition of capital punishment. The government was simultaneously conducting a review of domestic legislation to ensure that it is in line with international human-rights conventions. President Chen Shui-bian promised last year that the government would issue a report and a white paper on human-rights policies.
In China, the report found serious violations of human rights on the part of government authorities. Thousands of people remained arbitrarily detained or imprisoned across the country for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression, association or belief. A "strike hard" campaign against crime also led to a massive escalation in death sentences and executions.
The death penalty continues to be used extensively, arbitrarily and frequently as a result of political interference, according to the report. Furthermore, many criminal and political detainees were denied access to legal representation and other rights associated with fair trial.
In the autonomous regions of Xinjiang and Tibet, freedom of speech and religion continued to be severely restricted by the leaders in Beijing. Spiritual and religious groups, dissenters and human-rights activists continued to be repressed by the Chinese regime and arrests, torture and imprisonment continued. Around 200 Falun Gong practitioners are alleged to have died in Chinese custody as a result of torture.
Further restrictions were placed on the media and the use of the Internet in China, according to the report. Chinese authorities set up official Web sites to monitor public views, but continued to crack down on people using the Internet to disseminate information deemed to be sensitive.
Several North Carolina residents have gone on a hunger strike to support the immediate release of U.S. citizen Dr. Charles Li from a Chinese prison.
The strikers will continue their hunger strike in a rally outside the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., this weekend. Some area hunger-strikers will meet in front of the Duke International House at 9 a.m. today before leaving for the nations capital.
Li was arrested by ex-Chinese leader Jiang Zemin for practicing Falun Gong, a form of meditation that combines physical exercise with moral and spiritual beliefs. The practice became popular in China in 1992 and has since been banned in the country.
The strikers say Zemin has tortured and force-fed Li since his hunger strike started May 27.
One of the strikers, Thai Ton, said citizens from the United States, Canada, Australia and other countries have filed a lawsuit against Zemin, saying he is violating Lis human rights to practice his own belief.
A top Beijing official said Hong Kong must outlaw subversion and other crimes against the state to truly be part of China, drawing fire from activists who charged Friday the central government wants to chip away at free speech here.
State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan, a former foreign minister who now leads Beijing's policy on Hong Kong, called the anti-subversion law a crucial step following Hong Kong's handover from Britain to China six years ago.
The law is expected to be enacted in coming weeks and will carry life prison sentences for many offenses, such as treason or inciting people to attack the government.
"How can we not do it?" Tang told reporters in Mongolia, in remarks that were widely publicized in Hong Kong. "Otherwise, what's the meaning of Hong Kong's return?"
Lawmaker Szeto Wah accused Tang of trying to intimidate Hong Kong's political opposition and pro-democracy campaigners who stage regular protests here.
"What Tang Jiaxuan said was threatening and reflected his usual bad attitude," said Szeto, from the opposition Democratic Party. "If we don't dare to voice our criticism now, no one will dare to do so after the law gets enacted."
Since Hong Kong was handed back to China on July 1, 1997, it has been required by its constitution to pass an anti-subversion law. The Hong Kong government calls it necessary to protect national security and began work on the controversial measure last year.
The founding chairman of the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, attorney Paul Harris, predicted officials will use the law to crack down on the Falun Gong meditation sect in Hong Kong.
Falun Gong is outlawed as an "evil cult" in the mainland but remains legal here, and carries out frequent demonstrations that officials find troublesome.
The anti-subversion law is "entirely likely to be abused once it's enacted," Harris said.
Hong Kong Secretary for Security Regina Ip has said the anti-subversion law is intended to stop people from violently overthrowing the government - and will not infringe on Hong Kong's constitutionally protected freedoms of speech, press and assembly.
Tang and Chinese President Hu Jintao weighed in Thursday during a trip to Mongolia, where reporters asked about the legislation. Hu said the law "would have beneficial effects on both national security and stability in Hong Kong."
The mainland leaders spoke one day after tens of thousands of Hong Kong people gathered for an annual candlelight vigil to commemorate the bloody crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy demonstrations on June 4, 1989.
Harris said Beijing may be trying to discourage such rallies.
"It must be something the mainland leaders hate to see - enormous numbers of people demonstrating for democracy and asking for the verdict on the Tiananmen Square massacre to be overturned," Harris said.
China viewed the student pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989 as an attempt to overthrow the government. Hundreds if not thousands of people were killed in a military crackdown.
China has detained 180 members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual group for spreading rumors and recruiting new followers amid the SARS epidemic, state radio said on Thursday.
The practitioners were all arrested in the northern province of Hebei, it reported. Police officials were not immediately available for comment.
"They spread doomsday theories in a bid to cause panic in society and claimed that the SARS outbreak in China was a warning to those who persecute and hate the Falun Dafa," it said, using another name for the group.
"They also spread falsehoods that people who practice Falun Gong will not contract SARS in order to try to spread the cult and recruit more followers," it said.
Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which emerged in southern China last November, has infected 5,329 people in China, killed 336 and caused several violent protests in the countryside.
Police have arrested a string of people for spreading rumors about the disease which has mysterious origins and no standard cure.
Human rights groups said the government was taking advantage of the SARS crisis to start a particularly brutal crackdown on political and Internet dissidents, hoping the international community was distracted by the epidemic.
China has driven followers of Falun Gong deep underground after 10,000 mostly elderly practitioners surrounded Beijing's leadership compound to demand recognition of their faith in 1999.
A local leader of the Falun Gong meditation sect is trying to sue Hong Kong immigration officials for barring entry to four Taiwanese practitioners, but a judge hasn't immediately decided whether to let him, a lawyer said Tuesday.
Kan Hung-cheung filed a lawsuit along with the Taiwanese in April, alleging Hong Kong violated international human rights standards when it refused to let the Taiwanese enter the territory for a Falun Gong conference in February.
The courts will allow the action by the Taiwanese to proceed, but it is unclear whether Kan, who serves as Falun Gong's spokesman here, can be a plaintiff, Kan's attorney John Clancey said.
Kan contends the Immigration Department violated his right to maintain ties with other religious organizations, which is constitutionally guaranteed in Hong Kong.
Justice Carlye Chu didn't immediately rule on Kan's request after hearing arguments Monday in the Court of First Instance, Clancey said.
Falun Gong has long charged Hong Kong has hindered its activities by denying entry to foreign practitioners.
Falun Gong is outlawed in mainland China as an "evil cult," but it remains free to practice in Hong Kong and holds frequent demonstrations here, though overseas followers have at times been refused entry.
The Immigration Department wouldn't comment on a legal matter that was pending, said spokeswoman Lisa Yip.
A U.S. human rights group charged Tuesday that a planned anti-subversion law will erode Hong Kong's freedoms and urged lawmakers to reject the bill.
"The clock is ticking on civil liberties in Hong Kong," said Brad Adams, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division. "The clear majority of Hong Kong people are opposed to this bill. We urge the Legislative Council to heed public opinion and firmly reject the legislation."
The anti-subversion measure has come under fierce attack from rights groups, pro-democracy lawmakers and others since officials began work on it last year.
But Hong Kong's government has solid support from pro-Beijing and pro-business allies in the Legislative Council so the bill appears headed for certain passage in the next few months.
Human Rights Watch said the bill as it's now written would "introduce Chinese legal standards through the back door and could forever erode the civil liberties" that distinguish Hong Kong from China.
Since Hong Kong's return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, it has been governed under a so-called "one country, two systems" arrangement that guarantees considerable local autonomy and civil liberties.
But Hong Kong also has been constitutionally required to outlaw subversion, sedition, treason, secession and other crimes against the state. The planned legislation has stirred up one of the territory's biggest political fights since the hand-over.
Human Rights Watch said similar subversion laws in mainland China are regularly used to convict and imprison journalists, labor activists, Internet entrepreneurs and academics.
Hong Kong's government says the law is needed to protect national security and officials have repeatedly disputed suggestions that Hong Kong's freedoms are under threat.
Connie Lam, a spokeswoman of the Security Bureau, had no immediate comments on the Human Rights Watch's allegations.
Concerns have been raised that the law will be used to target the Falun Gong meditation sect, which is outlawed as an "evil cult" in China but thus far remains legal in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong government has insisted it has no plans to go after Falun Gong.
A Chinese court has rejected an appeal by an American linked to the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement who was sentenced to three years in prison on charges of sabotage, the U.S. Embassy said Monday.
The charges against Charles Li appeared to be related to incidents in which Falun Gong activists broke into Chinese television signals to show videos protesting the government's 4-year-old ban on the group.
Li, of Menlo Park, Calif., was sentenced March 21 by the Yangzhou Intermediate People's Court in the eastern city of Yangzhou, which also ordered him deported. Yangzhou is 120 miles northwest of Shanghai.
The court turned down Li's appeal on May 9, said the embassy spokesman, who spoke on customary condition of anonymity.
It was not clear whether Li would be deported immediately or serve jail time in China.
An official at the Yangzhou court said Li was in a prison in the eastern city of Nanjing. A man who answered the telephone at the Nanjing prison refused to give any details.
Falun Gong was banned in 1999 as a threat to public safety and communist rule. It had attracted millions of followers with its mix of slow-motion exercises and doctrines drawn from Buddhism, Taoism and the ideas of its founder, a former Chinese government clerk.
Thousands of followers have been detained. Activists abroad say scores have died in police custody from beatings and abuse. Chinese authorities deny mistreating anyone but say some have died from hunger strikes or refusing medical attention.
Well over 1,000 supporters of Falun Gong, a practice banned in China for being a cult, took to the streets in Vancouver's historic Chinatown on Saturday.
Demonstrators protested the Chinese ban and celebrated the city's third annual festival in support of the outlawed practice.
"It's a mental thing to upgrade your mental approach to society and your body too," said Holland-native Martin Voss at the rally, while Chinese music played in the background.
China banned Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, in 1999, labelling it an "evil cult," and a threat to public safety and communist rule.
In the U.S., the group has attracted millions of followers with a mix of slow-motion exercise and doctrines drawn from Buddhism and Taoism and the ideas of its founder, Li Hongzhi, a former government clerk.
Last December, four Falun Gong members were sentenced to up to 20 years in prison for breaking into cable television systems in western China in 2002 to broadcast videos promoting the group.
Falun Gong followers marked the 11th anniversary of the meditation sect's founding Tuesday with peaceful protests in Hong Kong against mainland China's efforts to stamp out the group.
About 200 Falun Gong followers wearing trademark yellow T-shirts gathered in a downtown park and formed the Chinese characters for the group's slogan, "Truth, compassion and forbearance," said local Falun Gong spokesman Kan Hung-cheung.
About 40 Falun Gong practitioners protested later outside the mainland Chinese government's liaison office. They meditated peacefully behind the building, well away from a spot directly in front where others were previously arrested and convicted of obstruction.
The group said in a statement that former Chinese President Jiang Zemin "committed a heinous crime" by ordering a crackdown that Falun Gong alleges has led to the deaths of almost 700 followers in the mainland.
Falun Gong remains legal in this former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997 and still enjoys Western-style civil liberties, and the group frequently demonstrates here.
The group says the date marks the birthday of Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi and the day he began the group in 1992. Chinese officials say records show that Li was actually born on July 7, 1952.
The exiled leader of an outlawed Chinese spiritual movement has been charged with beating and kidnapping his housekeeper.
If convicted, Hongbao Zhang, also known as Zhang Hongbao, could face deportation, and that could mean a death sentence in his native country, according to experts on his movement.
"He'd meet with an alarming end," said John Kusumi, head of the Connecticut-based, China Support Network, which supports the Chinese democracy movement.
Kusumi said he was not aware of the current charges.
Zhang, 49, is charged with four felonies, including kidnapping and assault with a deadly weapon, in connection with the alleged March 15 beating of his housekeeper Nan Fang He.
Zhang was arrested the same day as the alleged beating, and booked for kidnapping at Los Angeles County Jail, according to Janet Pope, a spokeswoman for the Pasadena Police Department.
Zhang is free on $100,000 bond and has a preliminary hearing scheduled for May 13.
Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said Zhang could be deported to China if convicted of a felony.
The 49-year-old housekeeper, also a Chinese immigrant, has filed a civil lawsuit against Zhang.
Zhang was granted asylum in the United States in April 2001, after a lengthy immigration trial. Politicians including then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., were among those who lobbied on his behalf.
Zhang founded the Zhong Gong movement in 1987. Millions practice its exercises, which are similar to the traditional Chinese health practice known as qigong.
Chinese authorities began cracking down on Zhang's group shortly after a ban was imposed in 1999 on a similar and better-known sect, Falun Gong.
The government of the People's Republic of China has regarded Zhang as a potential challenger to its regime, according to Kusumi.
Police said the alleged assault took place at Zhang's gated Pasadena estate in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.
According to the police report, the housekeeper told officers that after bashing her head against a chair, Zhang told her: "If you tell the police, I will kill your whole family. If you tell your daughter, I will have her killed first."
After the incident, Zhang, along with two of his students, locked He in a room, according to the police report. Eventually, the housekeeper escaped, running to the street where she wandered bloody and dazed for hours before flagging down a taxi, the report said.
The housekeeper's lawyer in the civil case, Steve Scandura, said that since his client reported the attack, she has feared for her life.
Scandura filed a restraining order against Zhang on Friday, alleging Zhang had hit He previously after she discovered he had made sexual advances toward her 20-year-old daughter and had refused to allow her daughter near him.
During his immigration process, Zhang's lawyer, Robert L. Shapiro, said his client had been falsely accused by the Chinese government of raping 20 women, forgery and illegal boundary crossing.
"The Chinese government outlawed his group as a cult and trumped up false criminal charges against him," Shapiro said, adding that Zhang would be executed if returned to China.
A woman who answered a phone call from The Associated Press to Zhang's Pasadena home said Zhang would not be available for several days.
Several hundred demonstrators peacefully protested in Times Square and elsewhere in the city Saturday to attract attention to China's ban on the Falun Gong meditation movement.
The protesters listened to music and speeches and passed out literature to people passing by in Chinatown and midtown Manhattan.
Beijing in July 1999 banned Falun Gong after the movement attracted millions in the 1990s with its mix of traditional Chinese religion and health exercises.
Hundreds of the group's followers have been thrown in jail. Others have been tortured or sent to labor camps.
China says the movement is an evil cult, accusing it of killing some 1,600 followers by driving them insane or telling them to reject medical help.
But Betty Hunter-Beatty, a Brooklyn woman who demonstrated in Times Square Saturday, said the meditation "helps us to become a better person by ridding ourselves of our everyday attachments."
"We build tolerance for our fellow man," she said.
She said the rallies were meant to draw attention to basic human rights being denied in China.
The Falun Gong organization in Taiwan is suing the Hong Kong government for punitive damages over mistreatment of some of its members when a group of 80 Taiwanese Falun Gong followers were denied entry into Hong Kong earlier this year.
Four members from Taiwan and the organization's spokesperson in Hong Kong have hired Hong Kong human rights lawyer Paul Harris to file a complaint against the government of Hong Kong with a Hong Kong court.
The complaint is said to prove a woman was injured during the incident and that immigration officers handled the situation inappropriately.
The organization demands that the Hong Kong government publicly declare that the administrative decision to refuse entry and the violence used in the incident were violations of the law, and that it pay punitive damages to the four members for being illegally detained.
Two Hong Kong Falun Gong practititoners were sentenced to jail terms by a Shenzhen court last month, the Hong Kong Society for Falun Gong revealed yesterday.
Cheung Yu-chong, a 58-year-old security guard, was jailed for three years, while 46-year-old businessman Suen Chung-man was sentenced to four years behind bars.
Their sentences were delivered on March 26, 10 months after their arrests, the group said.
The spiritual movement has been outlawed on the mainland since July 1999.
Both men were arrested in May last year at the Lowu border. Cheung was arrested carrying flyers and VCDs about the Falun Gong through customs.
Suen was detained over a list of addresses which mainland authorities believed would be used for mailing Falun Gong materials, his family claimed.
"It was as if the mainland government had a blacklist of Falun Gong members," said Wong Am, Suen's wife.
On March 18 officers searched Suen's Shenzhen home and seized more than 1,400 VCDs about the Falun Gong.
The families of the two men complained that they had not received sufficient support from the Hong Kong government during the men's trial at Shenzhen Longgang District Court, and said they were angry about the sentences.
Cheung's sister Miu-ching said she had gone for help from the Immigration Department's Assistance to Hong Kong Residents Unit after her brother's arrest but did not receive much help.
"An officer said the Falun Gong was a sensitive issue, and told me there was probably nothing the unit could do apart from filling in the relevant paper work," she said.
"After that they rang me every now and then to check how my brother was doing in the mainland. I think they are rather like wooden puppets."
Miss Wong said she had received a similar response from officials.
"They told me we should act according to the mainland's laws and follow their procedures. It seems the special administrative region [SAR] government is not willing to stand up for its people."
The Security Bureau issued a statement yesterday saying it would not comment on individual cases. It said that under the "one country, two systems" principle, the SAR government would not interfere with the mainland's judiciary but the Immigration Department would provide "practical assistance" when it was needed.
Cheung has appealed against his three-year sentence. But his sister, who is also a Falun Gong member, said she had not met her brother since his arrest because her requests to meet him were all turned down. She was also worried about her brother's health, after being told Cheung had lost a lot of weight during detention.
Ms Wong said she was "shocked and angered" by the four-year jail term her husband had received but she would not appeal because she had lost all her confidence in the mainland's judicial system. "They just do their sentencing according to instructions from the top."
The two men are not the first Hong Kong Falun Gong members jailed in the mainland. Chu O-ming, 45, was jailed in Tianjin after being arrested in 2000.
An exhibit displaying the works of a painter who is a Falun Gong member had to be relocated after a theater closed the show at the request of the Chinese embassy, the organizer said.
Two embassy officials disrupted the March 31 opening of the exhibit of paintings by Chinese-born Zhang Cui Ying, telling visitors they were taking part in an illegal event. The theater then shut down the exhibit, said organizer Adrian Sturdza, who is also a Falun Gong member.
"Last month, some Chinese embassy official told me that they would not allow this exhibit to take place in Romania," Sturdza said Saturday. "I laughed at him, telling them that Romania is not China."
Sturdza said the organization is legal in Romania as a cultural association. He said the exhibit would reopen Tuesday in the lobby of Bucharest's Intercontinental Hotel.
Zhao Deyong, a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Bucharest, confirmed that the embassy had asked the theater to cancel the exhibit and that two diplomats had gone to observe it on opening day.
"The exhibit organizers were Falun Gong members ... they were spreading materials offensive to China and the diplomats had to stop it," he said by telephone.
The embassy faxed a statement to The Associated Press saying that "Falun Gong's spread in Romania would physically and morally harm the Romanian people."
Falun Gong has attracted millions of followers with a mix of traditional Chinese calisthenics and doctrines drawn from Buddhism, Taoism and the ideas of its founder, Li Hongzhi, a former government clerk. It was banned in China in 1999 as a threat to public safety and communist rule.
Since 1999, thousands of Falun Gong followers have been detained in China, and scores are reported to have died in police custody from beatings or mistreatment. Police deny mistreating anyone, though they say some have died from hunger strikes or from refusing medical help.
The US State Department has voiced concern over what it perceives as pressure on Hong Kong from the mainland to restrict Falun Gong criticism of Beijing's policies on the banned spiritual group.
The report, issued on Monday, said a series of developments in 2001 sparked worries about pressures on the special administrative region (SAR) to suppress the group's freedom of expression, despite its legal existence in Hong Kong.
Of particular concern were statements by Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa in May and June, 2001, that the group was "no doubt an evil cult" and that the government would not let the Falun Gong "abuse Hong Kong's freedoms and tolerance to affect public peace and order".
The report said other incidents illustrating the situation included the barring of about 100 overseas-based Falun Gong practitioners from entering Hong Kong during President Jiang Zemin's visit in May, 2001, and more than 90 foreign practitioners being denied entry upon arrival at the Hong Kong International Airport last June.
Despite regular coverage of sensitive subjects in the local media, the report quoted the Hong Kong Journalists Association as saying media self-censorship was on the rise, including coverage of topics of particular sensitivity to China, leadership dynamics and Taiwanese and Tibetan independence.
The report noted that the South China Morning Post dismissed its Beijing bureau chief, Jasper Becker, who said that his dismissal was due to the paper's intention to avoid carrying reports on controversial mainland stories. But the report noted the Post said the reason for his dismissal was because he did not follow instructions from the paper's China editor.
The paper continued to cover a number of sensitive political issues involving the mainland and SAR governments, the report added.
It also said the government's move to implement Article 23 of the Basic Law had triggered intense public debate.
It noted that a draft of the legislation was not provided for the public. Although the report recognised the SAR government's general respect for the rights of its residents and said "the law and judiciary generally provided effective means of dealing with individual instances of abuse", it pointed out Hong Kong's failure to establish a broad human rights institution.
The report also expressed concern about the government's failure to enact legislation against racial discrimination. And it said violence and discrimination against women remained a problem.
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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