BEIJING (AP) - A Chinese army officer has been committed to a psychiatric hospital for refusing to renounce his belief in the banned Falun Gong sect, a rights group said Wednesday.
Lt. Col. Zhao Xinli was sent last month to an army psychiatric hospital in Beijing where at least five other Falun Gong adherents from the military are being held, the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said.
The group said Zhao took part in a New Year's protest by Falun Gong followers on Beijing's Tiananmen Square.
Thousands of Falun Gong followers have been detained in prisons, labor camps and, in some cases, psychiatric hospitals since the government banned the multimillion member Falun Gong group a year ago. Officials say Falun Gong is a public menace and threat to Communist Party authority.
Despite the crackdown, sect members have continued to stage public demonstrations of their practices, which combine slow-motion martial arts with traditional Buddhist and Taoist religious doctrines.
More than 1,200 members of the banned Falun Gong group are said to have been detained last week after security officials were mobilised to arrest defiant cult followers across eight provinces. A human rights group alleges many of those detained were tortured, with a university lecturer hospitalised.
The crackdown was ordered after a variety of provincial governments reported to central authorities that the group was organising rallies and demonstrations despite an earlier purge.
"A week-long massive arrest of Falun Gong practitioners took place from June 18 to 25 in provinces including Hebei, Heilongjiang, Liaoning, Jilin, Guangdong, Shandong, Sichuan and Hunan. Over 1,200 followers were detained," the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said.
Zhao Xin, 30, a lecturer at Beijing's Business Management University, was detained on June 19 while taking part in a group practice in a Beijing park, the information centre quoted Falun Gong sources as saying. She was locked up at a detention centre near the Haidian district in the capital. Several vertebrae in her back had been smashed.
The centre said more than 100 people were detained in Beijing's Tiananmen Square on Sunday, while Falun Gong sources said another 100 were detained in Harbin on Saturday after practising Falun Gong in a park. More than 300 had been picked up in a park in Guangzhou on June 18.
Chinese authorities outlawed the spiritual movement last July after labelling it an "evil cult". Beijing accuses Falun Gong - a meditative belief combining Buddhist and Taoist ideas with those of its founder, a former government grain clerk - of anti-scientific thinking and causing thousands of followers' deaths by suicide or refusal of medicine.
Tens of thousands of practitioners have been detained since last July and leaders jailed for up to 18 years. Human rights groups say at least 22 practitioners have been tortured to death.
Falun Gong teaches that a practitioner should not be obsessed with anything the world values, like money, fame or power.
Sue Jiang is obsessed with Falun Gong. When she graduated from MU in May, her first priority was not to look for a job, but to convey a message to the world: Falun Gong is good and should not be banned as an evil sect.
On May 13, minutes after she had unfurled a Falun Gong banner on Tiananmen Square, police hit her on her arms and hands and grabbed the banner.
"A middle finger was swollen for days," she said, displaying her finger after her return to the United States on Tuesday.
Two other groups who unfurled banners were also beaten and arrested, she said.
Jiang remembered being detained briefly at a police station near Tiananmen Square before being sent off to her home county of Shunping, Hebei Province. There she was imprisoned for 24 days in an 18-square-foot cell.
For four days she had to share a dark room with five other female prisoners, Jiang said. Her bed was a wooden plank until her parents brought her bedding. Male wardens stared at her and other prisoners through the windows that had no glass, which also let in mosquitoes, she said.
Reading or writing was out of the question. The inmates simply chatted their hours away, Jiang said.
She tried practicing Falun Gong, but was stopped by the wardens.
"We'll handcuff you if you go on," Jiang quoted one as saying.
Jiang said other prisoners warned her to stop. "They may even lock you up with male inmates," a cellmate warned. Jiang stopped.
She had no problem, however, sharing her faith with fellow detainees. "Some were interested, others afraid," she said.
There was no bath water, she said. For 24 days, Jiang did not take a single bath.
Jiang said drinking water was also lacking. Inmates filled up emptied cola bottles with unfiltered water from a faucet in the courtyard, she said. Back in their cell, they would then sip from the filled bottles to quench their thirsts.
Jiang had no complaints about the food, which included steamed buns, salted vegetables and vegetable soup. Served twice or three times a day, the inmates didn't starve. Jiang said each prisoner had to pay 10 yuan, a little more than $1 U.S., for a day's ration of food.
Inmates were not allowed meat, she said, even when friends and relatives brought it.
Two toilet breaks, each lasting no more than five minutes, were the prisoners' only time-out each day, Jiang said.
A urinal was provided for the night, but the lack of privacy made it virtually useless, she said.
"It was hard in the beginning, but I soon got used to it by keeping food and water to the minimum," Jiang said.The Chinese government accused her of trying to disturb social order, she said. Her famliy had a hard time with her actions in China, she said.
Jiang, however, felt resolved.
"Falun Gong is good for China because it calls for the return of moral values," Jiang said as she posed for a photograph with her husband Cuirong Ren and 7-year-old daughter Selena. "As a Chinese citizen, I have the duty to seek justice for Falun Gong. Truth will not be revealed when no one speaks up."
After 24 days in jail, she said her faith remains the same, even though she had to make an empty promise to renounce faith before she would be released.
But her concern for her family hastened her admission of guilt. Police had threatened that she would be sentenced to three years' imprisonment or education through labor if she refused to abandon her faith. In addition, her younger brother would be expelled from college.
Her heart was broken when she saw how much members of her family were suffering for her. "They came to persuade me almost every other day, crying, weeping and fuming. It was a grueling experience."
Jiang said she regrets the pledge she made to free herself and relieve her famiy from grief.
BEIJING (AP) - Falun Gong followers have stepped up public demonstrations of their banned sect's practices, drawing more than 1,200 arrests in one week, a rights group reported Monday.
On June 18, 300 followers practiced their slow-motion exercises in a park in the southeastern city of Guangzhou, and in the seven days following, Beijing and the northeastern provincial capital of Harbin each reported gatherings of 100 people, the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy reported.
Arrests were reported in nine Chinese provinces and cities, the center said. The center's report could not be independently verified.
Belief in Falun Gong, much less openly practicing it, has been outlawed since the communist government banned the group 11 months ago. The Chinese government considers the group a threat to public well-being and to the authority of the ruling Communist Party.
Tens of thousands of Falun Gong followers have been ordered to recant and thousands have been sent to labor camps. But group followers still stage periodic demonstrations.
One of those arrested during a Beijing demonstration Thursday, Beijing University of Industrial and Commercial Management professor Zhao Xin, has been hospitalized after an apparent beating by police, the Information Center said.
The government has denied that any Falun Gong practitioners have been mistreated, although the group estimates that more than 20 followers have died in custody.
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) -- She held the banner in Tiananmen Square.
The police beat at her hands -- bruising them -- and took it away.
Then they took her away.
``As a Chinese citizen, I feel I have a right to tell the government the truth,'' said recent University of Missouri graduate Sue Jiang. ``I went to Tiananmen Square to appeal.''
Jiang, who has lived in Columbia for the past five years with her husband Cuirong Ren and their 7-year-old daughter, last month went to China to visit her family and further research Falun Dafa, a meditative exercise she has been practicing for more than two years. The Chinese government banned the practice -- also known as Falun Gong -- last year as an ``evil'' cult. Reports of the arrests and torture of practitioners have been widespread since.
Jiang, 30, who came back to Columbia Wednesday, said she was not hurt during her detention. She describes her stay at the detention center as 24 days, during which she was given three meals daily, allowed to use the restroom twice daily and never permitted to bathe.
The official word from the Chinese government, as passed down through the Chinese ambassador in Washington, is that Jiang was detained for 15 days.
``At the beginning, the police in the detention center, they swear at me and they yell at me. But as a practitioner, no matter how bad they treat me, I do not treat them the same,'' she said sitting at her home on the University of Missouri campus. She said the verbal abuse eased up eventually.
Jiang went to China knowing she might be arrested. She said the combination of not seeing her family in five years and her desire to find Chinese Falun Dafa practitioners and to learn of their experiences inspired her trip.
A report compiled by practitioners suggests that 35,000 have been detained, with 5,000 of those being sent to labor camps. The report also claims that 100 have been put into mental institutions and severely abused.
``I really feel grateful for the practitioners in China; they are using their lives to show the government the truth,'' Jiang said.
Li Hongzhi founded Falun Dafa and began teaching it in 1992. Estimates suggest that 100,000 people worldwide practice Falun Dafa. About 20 are in Columbia.
``The police told my parents that they put me in jail for at least three years,'' Jiang said. ``My parents were so afraid.''
She signed a document that said she would not practice Falun Dafa in China and that she would not disrupt public order again. ``I did that totally for my parents,'' she said.
She loathed that she was forced to lie.
Cuirong sought U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof's help in trying to release his wife.
The Columbia Republican worked to meet with the Chinese ambassador and reached a Hong Kong businessman who he believed was working on humanitarian efforts in China. Jiang said she believes Hulshof's help weighed heavily in her release.
``This was really a unique situation,'' Hulshof said. He said although Jiang is not a citizen, she lives in his district, and he wanted to help. Chinese ``citizens on the mainland don't enjoy the blessings of freedom and liberty that we do,'' he said.
Jiang said she hopes the Chinese government will lift the ban and end the persecution of practitioners. She said she feels compelled to continue trying to get her point across. ``Maybe I will go back at any time if I am ready for such serious treatment,'' she said.
Hulshof said he would like to speak with Jiang personally and ``maybe encourage her -- in other positive ways -- to make a difference.''
A follower of the outlawed Falun Gong sect in Shandong province has died after receiving forced injections in a psychiatric hospital, the victim's father alleged yesterday.
Su Gang, 32, a computer engineer at Qilu Petrochemical Corporation in Zibo city, was taken to Changle Mental Hospital on May 23 by police posted in his company, said his father, Su De'an. He was kept in the hospital from May 23 to May 31 and was only released after his uncle, Su Lianxi - who was at the time in police custody for practising Falun Gong - staged a hunger strike. The uncle has since been released.
"We did not know Su Gang had been taken to a mental hospital until May 29. He was released after we protested," his father said. Su became slow, stiff and frail when he returned home although he was healthy when he was taken to the hospital, his father said.
Mr Su said his son had told him that he was given injections when he was at the hospital. "My son told me they gave him injections twice a day. He was given injections even on the day of his release. When he came home, he could not even recall what happened the day before and he had hallucinations."
Su's condition then deteriorated steadily. Before he died on June 10, he had difficulty moving, and speaking and could not eat, his father said.
Mr Su said he did not contact a doctor as he had thought his son would recover. "I thought the symptoms were only temporary. They told me my son was fine when they released him."
Mr Su said a doctor certified his son's death on June 10 but did not give the cause of death. He said Su had been held three times since January by police posted at his company. During these detentions he was allowed to report to work but could not go home.
On April 25, Su escaped from police custody and went to Beijing to protest in Tiananmen Square against an official ban on Falun Gong. A year ago, more than 10,000 Falun Gong members staged a demonstration in Beijing demanding official recognition of the sect - which preaches a combination of Buddhist philosophy and qi gong deep-breathing exercises.
His father believed the escape and protest in Beijing prompted police to send his son to the psychiatric hospital. After Su's death, his father and uncle went to the Qilu Petrochemical Corp to protest and were briefly detained. Mr Su said: "We just want to tell people there that they should not do such harmful things any more. Now we are helpless and we won't be able to hold anyone responsible for my son's death."
According to the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, at least 22 Falun Gong practitioners have died in custody since last July.
The official demons of China booked the banquet hall at the Congress Plaza Hotel for the weekend.
Nearly a year after the Chinese government turned the full weight of authoritarianism on their obscure spiritual movement, the followers of Falun Gong in this country had spread word on the Internet to convene in Chicago.
"You will see" said Warren Tai, a banker and Chicago-area practitioner of the movement that claims millions of adherents worldwide. "People feel more devotion than ever."
By 9 a.m. Saturday, their devotion was spread all over the sidewalk near the hotel on South Michigan Avenue--some 600 followers from Arkansas and Minnesota, Canada and Sweden, most performing their tai-chi-like exercises beside honking traffic.
It was a potent image not lost on the members of a movement that has grown increasingly bold and media-savvy over its first year in the international spotlight.
Since being branded a "cult" and banned last July by Chinese authorities, Falun Gong has waged a steady campaign for international acceptance. It has grown fiercer in its own defense, developed a robust community on-line and staged dozens of protests at Chinese government buildings around the world while cameras rolled.
As hundreds of followers showcased their exercises on the sidewalk this weekend, others erected a small sign and called a press conference a few feet away.
"[W]e call on all people of goodwill in the world to join us in asking the Chinese government to lift its ban," said John Nania, a technology consultant from Minnesota.
In an era of rapid change and government uneasiness, the crackdown on Falun Gong has become among China's broadest and most sustained campaigns since the suppression of the democracy movement in 1989. Thousands of people have been detained for defying the ban, many of them tortured, and many sent for re-education, Amnesty International says.
Although some practitioners continue to flout the ban in China, followers here suggest the publicity may have won them new supporters.
But Thomas Raffill, a Santa Cruz, Calif.-based researcher and co-author of a forthcoming book on Falun Gong, is less optimistic.
"Certainly Falun Gong is worse off today than it was a year ago because the crackdown in China has hurt the main source of support," Raffill said. "My sense is that people have not taken it very seriously."
Practitioners of Falun Gong, also called Falun Dafa, maintain they have no interest in politics. Yet they have successfully mobilized congressional support in this country and maintained a drumbeat of opposition in China. In a modest gesture, they have established a permanent picket line outside the Chinese Embassy in Washington.
"Of course we are very annoyed," said Zhan Yuanyuan, an embassy spokesman. "They have become a politically driven force in opposing the Chinese government."
But politics was not the main topic in the Chicago banquet hall, where professors, students, laborers and retirees swapped self-cultivation tips and snatched up books and videos featuring their elusive master--a former grain clerk named Li Hongzhi, last known to be living in Queens, N.Y.
Li, or Master Li as he is lovingly called by followers, got his start in China by promising physical improvements at virtually no cost, a catchy formula in an era of rising unemployment and shrinking state health benefits.
Under pressure from Chinese authorities, Li came to the U.S. in 1997, and continued to spread his New Age-like system of self-realization through philosophy and exercise.
Then, after a Chicago lecture last summer, Li vanished from public view. Even Falun Gong's spokesmen in New York say they have no idea where he is.
But absence has hardly dampened Li's appeal.
Jerry Feng and his wife, Yang, took turns over the weekend excitedly photographing each other beside a grainy blown-up photograph of their master.
"Of course I hope I can see him," said Feng, a Chicago-based immigration consultant, before adding that, like many followers, he believes Li may have withdrawn from public view to protect himself.
After months of defending themselves against charges they are a cult, many followers are quick to volunteer how little they need their leader at all.
"He's not a deity," said Stephen Gregory, an administrator at the University of Chicago, who credits Falun Gong with clearing up his allergies and transforming his life. "He is deeply loved and we are obedient to his teachings, but he is not a god."
Without their teacher to lecture, and under scrutiny, the practitioners struck an odd mix for their conference: half self-help testimonials and half public-relations strategy.
Liam, a blond student from Minneapolis, stood in front of the crowd and confessed how he hated football practice as a kid and how Falun Gong had helped him triumph over feelings of inadequacy.
Wes, a teamaker and former pagan from Colorado, urged fellow followers to make sure they get Falun Gong books accepted at libraries.
Over two days of meetings and "experience sharing," they debated other issues, like the merits of wearing their signature yellow outfits when practicing in public. Likewise, they agreed, one should probably steer clear of discussing some of Li's less accessible lessons, like how to levitate or become invisible.
"They are a bit exotic, I know," said Nania.
Caught between a Chinese state that has pledged to extinguish them and an American mainstream that may not be prepared to embrace them, the Falun Gong can seem overwhelmed by obstacles.
But those will break down with time, Tai said, through steady and friendly promotion efforts.
"We are totally open," said Tai, standing surrounded by fellow practitioners moving through their routines.
"If people learn about us, they will be better off for it."
Yet, even as Tai touted Falun Gong's transparency, there were secrets to be kept.
Asked how he obtained a new statement from their reclusive master that was read before the group this weekend, conference organizer Sen Yang of Schaumburg shook his head.
"I can't tell you that," he said.
A human rights group has warned of a rising death toll from China's crackdown against the banned spiritual group Falun Gong.
Another custody-related death at the weekend has brought the known total to 22.
The Hong-Kong based Centre for Human Rights says Su Gang died as a result of treatment he was given in a psychiatric hospital earlier this month.
They claim the normally healthy Su had been forcibly injected twice a day with unknown drugs for seven days and died just over a week after being sent home.
Like dozens of other cases, the Chinese security authorities have suppressed much of the information around Su's case, but public reports claim the government has destroyed the group it considers an evil cult that brainwashes its followers.
Opponents have again called for international help to stop the deaths.
A member of the outlawed Falungong spiritual group died after being forced to take medication in an eastern Chinese mental hospital, becoming the 22nd known Falungong-related death due to maltreatment by police, a family member and rights group said Sunday.
Su Gang, a computer engineer and college graduate, died on June 10 after receiving twice daily injections for seven days at the Changle Mental Hospital in Changle city, Shandong province, his father, Su Dean, told AFP by phone.
"Every day he was injected twice, but I don't know what kind of medicine they were giving him," he said.
The Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said Su was placed in the mental hospital on May 23 by local police and his employer, the Qilu Petrochemcial Company, "without any mental problems whatsoever" and released from the hospital on May 31.
"Because the official lock on information has made investigations difficult, the Center believes that the number of (Falungong-related) deaths in police custody is far more than 22," the rights group said.
"China has laws, if Su Gang broke the law then the public security department should prosecute, but when the public security department persecutes normal people by putting them in a mental institute it completely violates the law and justice," Su Dean said.
Following Su Gang's release his father said Su could not remember clearly what had happened to him in the hospital and that he could not eat and had difficulty moving his arms and legs. After several days he stopped speaking, the elder Su added.
Su Dean said his son's employers had signed the papers that committed Su Gang to the mental hospital.
Su Gang was strongly opposed to the nationwide ban on the Falungong group and had protested several times in Tiananmen Square in central Beijing.
Due to his persistent support for the outlawed group, Su Gang in mid-February was placed in detention by the police precinct tied to Qilu Petrochemical, a huge state-owned company in neighboring Zibo, Shandong province, but was allowed to continue to work, his father said.
However, on April 25, Su escaped from detention and went to Tiananmen Square in Beijing to commemorate the first anniversary of the initial Falungong protest when 10,000 members surrounded the communist party's headquarters.
Su Dean, who also said he was a member of the banned group, said that since February he had been allowed to visit his son once a week, but on May 27 he learned his son had been sent to the mental hospital
Following his son's death the elder Su said he filed a letter of complaint to the company calling for an explanation and demanding that such incidents never again happen in the future.
Since the Falungong was banned last year several cases have emerged of the Chinese government placing those members who refused to give up their support in mental institutions, according to human rights groups.
"Since suppression of the Falungong began last July, at least 22 followers of Falungong have died because of maltreatment in prison, including Mei Yulan, Wang Xiuying and Tian Shiqiang who all died in custody in Beijing over the last month," the Information Center added.
Falungong is a traditional Chinese mystic belief based on the teachings of exiled master Li Hongzhi, who advocates Confucian and Buddhist moral values and group breathing and meditation exercises.
The Chinese government has viewed the group an "evil cult" and the biggest threat to one party communist rule since the 1989 Tiananmen democracy protests.
HONG KONG, June 18 (Reuters) - A follower of the Falun Gong spiritual movement died after being repeatedly injected with drugs at a mental hospital in China, a Hong Kong human rights group said on Sunday.
The incident brought to at least 22 the number of Falun Gong adherents who have died as a result of abuse by Chinese authorities since a crackdown began last July, the Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said.
The Falun Gong, which Beijing considers an ``evil cult, was banned in China in July. Beijing says Falun Gong is anti-science and cheats its followers, blaming it for 1,500 deaths by suicide or refusal to accept medical care.
Su Gang, a 32-year-old computer engineer in Zibo city in eastern Shandong province, was arrested after petitioning in Beijing this year on behalf of the movement.
Police took Su to the hospital on May 23 though he showed no signs of mental disorder and he was given daily shots of a drug that attacks the central nervous system, the Information Centre said in a statement.
Su was released on May 31 after his family staged a protest hunger strike, the statement said.
Su was healthy when he was taken away, but on his return was stiff, slow, weak and refused to eat, the group quoted his father Su De'an as saying. He died on June 10.
Authorities in Zibo were not immediately available for comment on the report.
China has acknowledged several deaths among the Falun Gong adherents while in police custody but said they were caused by suicide or natural causes.
BEIJING (AP) - A follower of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement diedafter his release from detention in a psychiatric hospital, where he was injected with nerve-destroying drugs, a human rights group said Sunday.
Su Gang, a 32-year-old computer engineer, was in fine health before he was sent to the hospital on May 23 but was weak, slow, stiff-limbed and unable to eat when he was released eight days later, the Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said, quoting Su's father, Su De'an.
Su died of heart failure on June 10, less than two weeks after his release, the Hong Kong-based Information Center said. While detained in the hospital, Su was forcibly given daily injections of nerve-damaging medicines, it said.
An employee at the petrochemical company in eastern Shandong province where the Information Center said Su worked confirmed he died about a week ago.
But the employee, who in a telephone interview gave only his surname, Zhang, said that the company suppressed news of Su's death and that he had no detailed information.
An official at the psychiatric hospital where Su was held said he was discharged earlier this month in good health. She refused to give her name.
The Information Center said at least 22 Falun Gong practitioners have died of mistreatment and other reasons since the Chinese government banned the group last July as a threat to public well-being and to the authority of the ruling Communist Party.
What Is Falun Gong? See "Falun Gong 101", by Massimo Introvigne
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