("Reuters", November 4, 1999)
HONG KONG (Reuters) - At least six members of China's outlawed Falun Gong spiritual movement have died in detention since August, a Hong Kong human rights group said Friday.
One of them was beaten to death by police, four took their own lives to escape persecution and one died after four days of hunger strike, the Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China said in a statement.
Since China banned Falun Gong in July, police have taken in hundreds of followers, most of whom have since been released.
The crackdown intensified recently. Beijing declared Falun Gong an illegal cult last week and passed anti-cult legislation over the weekend that promises jail sentences for cult leaders.
by Jeremy Page ("Reuters", November 4, 1999)
BEIJING (Reuters) - Members of the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual movement resumed a campaign of civil disobedience in Tiananmen Square Wednesday as China prepared to welcome German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to Beijing.
The number of protesters appeared to have thinned compared to last week, when hundreds of Falun Gong members gathered silently in the square, some sitting in the lotus position, to protest at a government decision to declare the movement an illegal cult.
But police in the square detained at least six Falun Gong members just 100 yards from the Great Hall of the People where Schroeder is due to attend a welcoming ceremony Thursday.
As in most of last week's protests, the Falun Gong members sat quietly by a monument in the middle of the square. They admitted their allegiance when questioned by police and were led peacefully to a police minivan that whisked them away.
China banned Falun Gong in July, declared it an illegal cult last week and passed anti-cult legislation at the weekend that promises jail terms for its leaders.
Beijing denies persecuting Falun Gong and accuses the movement of brainwashing, threatening social stability and causing more than 1,400 deaths.
Falun Gong members said they would try to maintain protests Thursday, but they were being overwhelmed by police who have raided suburban hotels and safe houses, fined landlords housing Falung Gong members, and detained hundreds of adherents.
"We are not an organization so there is nothing planned, but some individuals may choose to go to the square," one Beijing-based member told Reuters. "We still want to make a formal complaint about being labeled a cult."
She said she was detained for five days last week for trying to deliver a letter of complaint to President Jiang Zemin at the appeals office of the State Council, or cabinet.
SCHROEDER HOPES FOR HUMAN RIGHTS PROGRESS
Schroeder, who arrived in Shanghai Tuesday night, was to hold meetings with the leadership in Beijing, including Jiang.
German officials said Schroeder would seek a "constructive dialogue" on human rights with hope of real progress. The issue is important for Schroeder's Social Democrat-led government.
But a German embassy official said he did not know whether Schroeder would specifically raise Falun Gong.
Police detained hundreds of Falun Gong protesters last week, in some cases kicking, punching and dragging them by the hair to police vans. It was not clear how long the protesters were held.
China has expanded its crackdown on spiritual movements like Falun Gong, arresting the leaders of two martial arts groups, according to a Hong Kong human rights group.
The two groups, Cibei Gong in the central city of Wuhan and Guo Gong in the southwestern province of Sichuan, were also declared cults, the Information Center for Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China said Tuesday.
Both were born of qigong -- a school of martial arts based on breathing exercises designed to harness inner energy and heal.
Falun Gong, which claims 100 million members, combines elements of qigong with Buddhism, Taoism and meditation.
The movement first stunned the Chinese leadership when more than 10,000 emerged without warning in April to sit in silent protest outside the leadership's Zhongnanhai compound in Beijing.
STATE MEDIA KEEPS UP THE HEAT
State media continued vilifying Falun Gong and its leaders.
The English-language China Daily carried a cartoon showing a Falun Gong leader stringing up a believer on the gallows and saying: "I'm leading you to a higher level."
"Under the pretext of religion, the cult persuaded its believers to depart from mainstream society. It is a kind of spiritual opium," the newspaper quoted a historian as saying.
Falun Gong denies it is a cult or and says it poses no threat to the 60 million-member Communist Party. Its adherents follow the teachings of U.S.-based leader Li Hongzhi, who preaches salvation from a world corrupted by science and technology.
by Erik Eckholm ("New York Times", November 4, 1999)
EIJING -- Has it come to this: that the Chinese Communist Party is terrified of retirees in tennis shoes who follow a spiritual master in Queens?
So it almost seemed here during recent days of bizarre scenes of arrests and flying invective against the Falun Gong movement.
As security forces worked frantically to round up believers who converged on Beijing to plead Falun Gong's case, the government left no doubt that it intends to wipe out all organized traces of the movement -- even if that requires jailing thousands of people who never saw themselves as enemies of the state.
Behind closed doors in recent weeks many Chinese, from professors to cab drivers, have said the government has overreacted. Many say its blunt repression of a spiritual movement that attracted hordes of ordinary people seeking health and happiness will cause lasting social divisions and further erode faith in the party.
But many experts on Chinese politics say China's Communist leaders probably saw little choice.
Their first principle is preserving the rule of the party, which they equate with protecting social stability. And they have consistently tried to stamp out any competing loyalties. "Logically, they had to do this," said Suesheng Zhao, a Chinese-born political scientist at Colby College in Maine who is a visiting fellow at Stanford. "For the Communist Party, the greatest threat is a nationally organized force."
Since its founding in 1992, Falun Gong, a mix of cosmic healing theories, Buddhism and Taoism that promises salvation in a corrupt world, had gained millions of followers -- retirees, middle-aged women and even many officials and students, who gathered regularly in public parks to practice their mystical exercises.
"For the party this was a big problem," said Roderick MacFarquhar, a professor of Chinese politics and history at Harvard University. "The party cannot allow the existence of a rival mass organization with control over the hearts and souls of the ordinary people -- and exposing their own ideological vacuum."
Although the group was outlawed on July 22, unknown thousands of its believers have refused to fade away, creating an unexpected crisis and forcing the government to mobilize all its media and social organizations, even bosses in work places, to engage in ritual condemnations.
In the months since the ban, official vilification of the group and its elusive founder, Li Hongzhi, who moved to New York in 1998, has grown ever more shrill -- a sign that the eradication campaign has not gone smoothly.
On Saturday senior Communist legislators described Falun Gong as "unprecedented in the 50-year history of the People's Republic in terms of its size of organization, influence, number of illegal publications as well as the damages it brought to society," the New China News Agency reported.
These were strong words for a group that had received little high-level attention before it held an unauthorized vigil in Beijing on April 25, when some 10,000 members from several provinces quietly gathered around the leadership compound to protest published critiques of their movement and to demand official recognition.
By its very existence, this gathering was the most serious challenge to Communist Party authority since the student-led demonstrations of 1989.
When they outlawed Falun Gong, the authorities charged that Li and a small cabal of leaders had a secret political agenda to subvert the nation, though no evidence was offered.
Li, who keeps in touch with an expanding global following through the Internet, insists he has no political aims. He has never advocated the overthrow of Communist rule, or even a more liberal policy on religion. And his believers insist they just want to be left alone to focus on their inner "cultivation."
But the believers have also been quick to mobilize in defense of their movement, in hundreds of smaller protests before and since the giant demonstration in April in Beijing. In China such defiance of authority is inevitably considered deeply political.
Although it has retreated from many spheres of personal and social life, the Communist Party still demands the stated allegiance of every organization. But as is evident in their willingness to face arrest, the more fervent followers of Falun Gong give their supreme loyalty to Li and what they consider his life-transforming theories. When it banned Falun Gong, the government brought a variety of criminal charges against Li and arrested a number of top organizers. Thousands more who persisted in proclaiming their faith have since been detained or harassed in cities all around the country.
In Beijing over the last 10 days, more than 3,000 protesters were rounded up as soon as they were detected, officials said. Many were bused back to the authorities in their hometowns for "re-education," which may mean loss of jobs or time in labor camps.
But the police seem unable to mop up a core of believers, in Beijing and elsewhere, who say they are prepared to risk everything for their faith and have made smart use of e-mail, mobile phones and pagers to communicate with each other and with supporters abroad.
At the same time the effort to discredit and destroy Falun Gong, using the familiar scripts of Communist dictatorship, has shifted into high gear.
Last Thursday, in an effort to bolster the moral and legal case, the party's newspaper, People's Daily, featured a front-page commentary arguing that Falun Gong is an "evil cult" that any government would have to suppress.
The rank and file, it said, were mere dupes of Li's "sorcery." Small numbers of people continue to operate under Li's "remote control," it said, and are "unable to see the blood-soaked truth." Chinese authorities have blamed the group for at least 1,400 deaths of members who refused needed medical care.
On Wednesday another People's Daily editorial said, "Like all cults, Falun Gong is an antisocial, antihuman, antiscience and antigovernment malignant tumor."
The group does have some cult-like features, including fervent devotion to one man's off-beat doctrines, obsessive secrecy and often extreme reactions to criticism. Master Li, as followers refer to him, has been caught dissembling about aspects of his background, about his presence in Beijing just before the April demonstration and about some of his wilder claims of supernatural powers, among other things.
But the government offered no convincing evidence for its comparisons of Falun Gong to the Jim Jones cult, which committed mass suicide, and the Branch Davidians, who died while under F.B.I. attack in Texas.
Chinese who sampled Falun Gong in recent years, usually to see if it would improve their health and spirits, say that beyond the purchase of books, they were never asked to hand over large sums of money to the group. While differing loyalties to Falun Gong sometimes caused bitter divisions within families, followers were not asked to cut all normal social bonds. Nor, in contrast to the more notorious cults, was it difficult to leave the group.
The reported deaths of believers who refused medical treatment pose a far more complex issue than the official victim counts would have it, especially in a country where many people believe that cosmic forces influence health and rely on traditional treatments not always supported by modern medicine.
On Saturday the national Parliament, laying one of the final planks for coming show trials, adopted a stringent anticult law that was tailored expressly for prosecution of Falun Gong leaders.
The next day, in a step being strangely touted as progress toward the "rule of law," prosecutors charged four reputed ringleaders with major crimes under that new law -- for actions supposedly taken months before it was adopted. Other indictments of lesser leaders around the country have also been reported.
In China's long history of authoritarian government, the danger to rulers from emerging national organizations has been repeatedly demonstrated, said Zhao, the political scientist from Colby.
The lesson was not lost on Mao Zedong, Zhao noted. During his Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976, for example, Mao sent in army troops to disperse the Red Guards he had created as soon as local groups began to coalesce into broader entities. And in the 1950's, religious sects and secret societies were brutally crushed by Communist authorities undoubtedly mindful of how mystical movements like the Taiping rebels and the Boxers disrupted the country in imperial times.
On Wednesday, with rising unemployment, anger over official corruption and a slowdown in economic growth, the government feels insecure and vulnerable, many experts say. The authorities also worry about the long-term effect of new communications technologies -- skillfully wielded by Falun Gong and democracy advocates -- on the party's ability to monopolize power and public discourse.
Party leaders are only beginning to hint in public about the possible extent of their Falun Gong problem. Until this week, official statements about the crackdown stressed that while a small number of top leaders would be harshly punished, other adherents would simply need education about how they had been duped.
But an article Monday in People's Daily described for the first time the likelihood of "long-term resistance." Beyond the top leaders, it said, "second and third tiers" of leaders have been created.
"In a few areas, illegal meetings are still being held," the article said, the only clue for Chinese readers of the continuing subterranean struggle.
by John Leicester ("Associated Press", November 4, 1999)
Police arrest Falun Gong member
BEIJING (AP) - China's top religious affairs official conceded today that rapid and, for some, disorientating changes brought about by the government's economic reforms have provided fertile ground for groups like Falun Gong.
In hindsight, the government should have acted earlier to crush the spiritual movement, Ye Xiaowen said.
The government said most people were attracted to Falun Gong because they thought its slow-motion meditation exercises would help them keep fit. But Ye said the group also drew people lost amid China's economic and social changes in 20 years of reform.
``There are people who haven't adapted to this fast developing society, who feel unbalanced, spiritually empty,'' he said. ``So some cults like Falun Gong have emerged to attract them.''
Praying after arrest
On giant video screens, officials played clips of speeches by Falun Gong's U.S.-based founder, Li Hongzhi, to press home their claim that he is a cult leader who tricked his followers and led 1,400 of them to their deaths by advising them to eschew medicine.
``In China, I am the only person who is taking people to higher levels,'' Li said in one clip that apparently was from one of his lectures.
In another, the cherubic, former government clerk said he had been reincarnated countless times. ``I am the oldest in the universe. I produced my own parents,'' he said, according to subtitles that ran with the footage.
Ye, who at times read from a laptop computer, appeared to concede that the government might have been slow to act against what he called ``a cult organization that has seriously endangered society.''
``If there are any lessons to learn on the part of the government, we should have outlawed it earlier,'' he said at the news conference at the Great Hall of the People, next to Tiananmen Square, where Falun Gong adherents have been protesting almost daily against new regulations targeting the group.
Police today took away two women who sat cross-legged doing slow-motion Falun Gong meditation exercises in the center of the vast square, a witness said.
Two English-speaking foreign women also were yelled at and driven away by police after one of them took a photo of the protesters being detained, the witness said.
Government agents began infiltrating and investigating the movement in earnest after at least 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners surrounded the Chinese leadership's compound in central Beijing in April. The silent, daylong protest sought legal recognition of the movement.
The government banned the group three months later in July, rounding up dozens, if not hundreds, of its leaders and ordering all practitioners - said to number 70 million by one government estimate - to cut ties with the group. Li Bin, a cabinet information official who hosted the news conference, would not say how many practitioners were in custody. But he confirmed that authorities did round up practitioners who recently came to Beijing. Some were sent back in groups to their home provinces after receiving ``education,'' but others have refused to say where they are from, he said.
``We are still persuading them to tell their addresses so they can also be sent back,'' he said.
Ye said those who came to Beijing included a woman with a baby, a 10- or 11-year-old child and elderly women who ``are spiritually controlled by Falun Gong.''
While repeating government claims that most Falun Gong practitioners have recanted, he vowed that those who continue to resist will be punished.
``A few people are still trying to safeguard the Falun Gong and are willing to sacrifice for the founder,'' Ye said. ``It shows how heretical Falun Gong is, and it also shows Falun Gong is at its final stage, and the next step will be its disappearance.''
by Jim Mann ("Los Angeles Times", November 3, 1999)
WASHINGTON--Two years ago, more than half a million members of Promise Keepers, a Christian evangelical men's movement, thronged onto the Mall here for one of the largest rallies in U.S. history, attracting extraordinary press coverage in the process.
Since then, this organization has continued to exist, but it has faded from public view. Promise Keepers has become one of the many diverse groups that make up the panoply of American life--highly interesting to some, threatening to hardly anyone.
That is not what would have happened in China. There, a budding social movement like Promise Keepers would have been banned and officially condemned. Its adherents would have been kept out of the capital city. Its leaders would have been thrown into jail.
This has become evident in recent weeks as China's Communist Party leadership has done all this to the spiritual movement called Falun Gong.
And, largely as a result of the uncertainty over whether this repression can succeed, Falun Gong has become in China something Promise Keepers is not inAmerica: a threat to the country's top political leadership.
Falun Gong is a movement that blends elements of Buddhism and Taoism with traditional Chinese breathing exercises, called qigong. Its leader, Li Hongzhi, lives in exile in the United States. Members of the group seek to achieve enlightenment through yoga-like exercises and good deeds.
"I tend to equate Falun Gong with Promise Keepers in the United States," observes Bruce Dickson, a George Washington University professor who specializes in social movements in China. "Most of the people who are drawn to it take it at face value and don't always know what the leaders' political goals might be. People are in the movement for health, exercise and the social dimension.
"The attraction of the movement is based on the notion of a simpler life, a more honest life than what Chinese people see around them. It is a counter to the [Communist] party's inability or unwillingness to deal with the problem of corruption that people see all around them."
While Beijing has been at the center of the struggle over Falun Gong, the movement is active in many other parts of China too. Specialists say it is largely an urban movement that appeals to retirees, the unemployed and government workers--the sort of ordinary people who were once attracted to the Communist Party.
Why do China's President Jiang Zemin and his colleagues seem so spooked by Falun Gong?
"My sense is that the same two things that grabbed the leadership in 1989 [when China repressed the Tiananmen Square demonstrations] are grabbing them now," observes UCLA professor Richard Baum, a specialist in Chinese politics. "First, there seem to be converts from within the establishment.
And secondly, there is [a] question of controllability." Falun Gong seems to have a following in the police and the army. Indeed, Li, the movement's founder, worked for a time in China's security apparatus after he was demobilized from the People's Liberation Army. Moreover, Falun Gong has shown a knack for clandestine work--organizing safe houses for meetings with reporters, orchestrating surprise demonstrations, evading detection.
It almost seems as if China's Communist Party leaders, repelled as they are by Falun Gong, also have a curious identification with the movement, which operates the way the party did in its early days.
The People's Daily, the Communist Party organ, last week published a 3,800-word denunciation of Falun Gong in which it sought to define the characteristics of a "cult." Among the traits cited were the worship of a founding leader, mind control, heretical ideas, illegal monetary gains and a secret organization. All of these traits could have been applied to the Chinese Communist Party at one time or another.
Of course, today the Chinese Communist Party doesn't stand for much of anything in the way of ideas. And that is part of the problem: Falun Gong is merely a manifestation that many Chinese people are searching for something in which they can believe.
On the other hand, China's Communist Party does continue to insist on its right to rule the country, to the exclusion of all other organizations.
That's part of the problem too.
"The regime has no mechanism to deal with social discontent. Falun Gong is an example of China's failure to deal with political reform. Today, it's Falun Gong, tomorrow it will be something else," says Bao Pu, the New York-based founder of the Web site www.futurechina.org, whose father, Bao Tong, was a senior Communist Party leader jailed for supporting political reform in 1989.
China's Communist Party has proved adept at enlisting, co-opting, buying off or intimidating the country's educated and technocratic elite. But there are many millions of ordinary people in China who can't be neutralized inthis fashion, because they have few skills to reward.
Cracking down on Falun Gong, then, is the way by which the top rungs of China's society, those benefiting from the Communist Party leadership, make sure that those in the lower rungs remain unorganized.
The People's Daily said that leaders of groups like Falun Gong are "mostly parvenus." How revealing! Once upon a time, the Communist Party represented those who were shut out from wealth and power in China. Those days are history.
by John Leicester ("Associated Press", November 3, 1999)
BEIJING (AP) - In an intensification of a three-month crackdown against the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, Chinese prosecutors have formally charged six members of the group with crimes, a human rights group and state media said today.
Police in Beijing also questioned at least five foreign reporters who attended a clandestinely held Falun Gong news conference last week. Police took away journalism and residence permits required for working in China. At least one reporter was threatened with unspecified consequences if he contacts Falun Gong members again.
Prosecutors Monday charged four Falun Gong members - Song Yuesheng, Jiang Shilong, Chen Yuan and Liang Yulin - with organizing a Falun Gong gathering in southern Hainan province in defiance of the government's ban, the China Women's News said.
Two others - Gu Zhiyi from southwestern Chongqing city and Cui Weirui from the eastern port of Qingdao - were charged in their hometowns, the Hong Kong-based Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China said. Gu faces charges of organizing demonstrations, and Cui is accused of getting Falun Gong members to travel to Beijing.
The Hong Kong-based human rights center also reported that China's top prosecutors agency issued nationwide orders Tuesday to quickly detain and charge ``backbone members'' of the group.
The indictments follow a vote by China's legislature on Saturday to tighten laws against Falun Gong and other groups the government views as cults.
Since banning Falun Gong on July 22 as a menace to society, Chinese authorities have detained leaders, ordered adherents to renounce the movement or risk punishment, and pursued a relentless campaign of vilification against the group's U.S.-based founder in state-run media.
In Hainan, an official at the prosecutors' office said Song and the other three people charged there could be tried within 10 days, but added that a trial date had yet to be announced.
Three other Falun Gong leaders from Hainan whose detentions had also been reported by state media have yet to be formally indicted, either for lack of evidence or because their cases are still being investigated, said the official, who gave only her surname, Lin.
Song and the three others charged allegedly organized an illegal gathering of 183 Falun Gong practitioners in a park on Aug. 8, more than two weeks after the government issued its ban, the Women's News reported.
Prosecutors accused Song of ``inciting, deceiving and organizing'' Falun Gong members into disrupting the implementation of state laws, ``with serious consequences,'' the newspaper said.
If the Haikou Intermediate People's Court accepts prosecutors' claims that Song's alleged crimes were particularly serious, he could be sentenced to a minimum of seven years in prison under Chinese law.
The newspaper said Song also faces an additional charge of attempting to escape following his September arrest. That carries a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment.
Jiang, Chen and Liang, meanwhile, were accused of being ``backbone members'' of Falun Gong who ``refused to mend their ways despite repeated admonitions,'' the newspaper said. They face a minimum of three years imprisonment if convicted, or more than seven years if their alleged crimes are judged to be extremely serious.
Falun Gong is a blend of Taoism, Buddhism and the theories of its founder, Li Hongzhi. The government says the group is politically motivated. It accuses Falun Gong of causing social instability and the deaths of 1,400 people by brainwashing them into shunning medical care.
Police detained several thousand group members in Beijing last week after many Falun Gong adherents flocked to the capital and held quiet protests in Tiananmen Square.
Before the ban, Falun Gong was popular throughout much of China. It had 70 million members by one official estimate, making it larger than the 61 million member Communist Party.
("Kyodo News Service", November 3, 1999)
BEIJING, Nov. 2 (Kyodo) - Four ''backbone'' members of the Falun Gong meditation group have been charged for failing to heed government orders to stop their banned activities, China's state-controlled media reported Wednesday.
The four organized a gathering of 183 fellow practitioners Aug. 8 in a public park in Haikou, capital of the island province of Hainan, after Falun Gong was banned July 22, the China Women's News reported.
The charges were laid against Song Yuesheng, Jiang Shilong, Chen Yuan and Liang Yulin on Monday at the Haikou Intermediate People's Court, the report said.
Prosecutors accuse Yuesheng, who was also charged with escaping from police custody, of deception and with instigating and organizing Falun Gong practitioners' violation of national laws, the report said.
Chinese authorities Sunday heralded an intensified crackdown on the group, which claims a global membership of 100 million, with the issuance of an explanation of laws banning and punishing cults.
Falun Gong, based on founder Li Hongzhi's mixed espousal of traditional Chinese breathing exercises and Buddhist and Taoist philosophy, was officially branded last week as a ''dangerous cult.''
Trials of those singled out as Falun Gong leaders are likely to intensify during the next few weeks following an order issued by the National People's Congress at the weekend for regional authorities to crackdown on the banned movement.
Authorities say that Falun Gong ''plotters and culprits'' are being targeted in the crackdown, rather than ''deceived practitioners'' who are encouraged to voluntarily give up their beliefs and daily exercises.
("Kyodo News Service", November 3, 1999)
WASHINGTON, Nov. 3 (Kyodo) - By: Paul Flatin A U.S. congressman is planning to introduce a resolution in Congress this week that calls for an end to China's persecution of the quasi-religious meditation group Falun Gong, which Beijing banned in July.
The resolution drafted by Rep. Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican, is expected to be introduced on the floor of the House of Representatives by the end of the week, sources told Kyodo News on Tuesday.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican, is considering making it a joint resolution by introducing matching legislation in the U.S. Senate, the sources said.
''It is the sense of the Congress that the People's Republic of China (PRC) should stop persecuting Falun Gong practitioners and other religious believers,'' the resolution states.
The resolution also urges the administration of President Bill Clinton to press Beijing for the release of Falun Gong practitioners being detained by authorities and to put an immediate end to the torture and other cruel or inhuman treatments used against them.
It also says the administration must urge China to permit Falun Gong practitioners to freely pursue their religious beliefs and honor the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Beijing has signed.
While the resolution would not be binding on the Clinton administration, it is a clear indicator of rising support in Washington for Falun Gong.
Senior Falun Gong members from New York City have been in Washington for more than a week lobbying Congress and the Clinton administration for support as the authorities in Beijing turn more to force and the law to clamp down on the banned meditation movement.
Falun Gong combines Buddhist and Taoist beliefs with traditional Chinese qigong breathing exercises following the instructions of Li Hongzhi, venerated as the ''Master'' by his believers and denigrated as a public enemy by Beijing.
Practitioners' daily sessions include reading passages from Li's book urging them to achieve greater physical and spiritual development.
The quiet resistance of many believers is providing authorities with a serious challenge because of the believers' sheer numbers, a determined conviction in their beliefs and, perhaps most potently, their nonaggression. The Chinese government followed its banning of the movement with a huge propaganda campaign accusing Falun Gong of brainwashing people and destabilizing society.
Chinese Embassy spokesman Yu Shuning said Tuesday that Beijing holds Li responsible for the deaths of 1,404 followers who did not seek medical attention because he instructed them against using such help.
''This is a cult which endangers the health and mental fitness of the practitioners and disrupts social order and stability, so that's why the government has taken measures against it,'' he said at an embassy press conference to discuss Falun Gong.
But according to Erping Zhang, a close associate of Li, such public denunciations abroad and increased crackdowns in China are backfiring on Beijing because they give Falun Gong greater name recognition and support in Washington.
In early October, the U.S. State Department accused China of persecuting religious believers and of being intolerant of unregistered religious activity, placing it on the same list as international pariahs such as Afghanistan, Myanmar, Iran, Iraq, Serbia and Sudan.
''If the world community and the media respond promptly (to the increased persecution), it sends a message to Beijing that the international community will not tolerate this,'' Li's associate told Kyodo News in an interview.
China has unsuccessfully sought the extradition of Li, who resides in the New Jersey suburbs of New York City.
''We are still waiting for a positive response from the U.S. side,'' Yu told reporters.
What Is Falun Gong? See "Falun Gong 101", by Massimo Introvigne
FALUN GONG UPDATES
CESNUR reproduces or quotes documents from the media and different sources on a number of religious issues. Unless otherwise indicated, the opinions expressed are those of the document's author(s), not of CESNUR or its directors.
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