BEIJING (AP) - China's leaders are settling in for a prolonged struggle against the banned Falun Gong sect, acknowledging in an official editorial that a year of arrests, harassment and political campaigns have failed to wipe out the group.
The statement followed a burst of protests Wednesday by scores of sect followers on the eve of the anniversary of a government crackdown on the Falun Gong - proving the group remains a force in China despite being targeted by one of the biggest political campaigns in years.
The group's resilience was grudgingly acknowledged in an editorial to be published Thursday in the Communist Party's flagship People's Daily. Excerpts were carried Wednesday on the official Xinhua News Agency.
``The cult will not voluntarily step down from the historical stage,'' Xinhua quoted the article as saying.
The fight against Falun Gong will be a ``long-lasting, complicated and acute struggle,'' it said, and pledged to crack down on members with a ``firm hand.''
In a reference to the group's founder, a former government clerk whose whereabouts are now unknown, Xinhua quoted the editorial as saying: ``Li Hongzhi and his followers, like any evil force, have never stopped doing illegal things.''
A media smear campaign, the jailings of thousands of members and pressure on followers to renounce ties to the group have thinned Falun Gong's ranks. But the group has continued to launch defiant protests, mounting the most sustained public challenge to the Communist Party in 51 years.
In Beijing on Wednesday, scores of Falun Gong followers raised banners in Tiananmen Square, prompting a frenzied response by police who swarmed on groups of protesters, wresting away banners and knocking them to the ground.
Police dragged protesters by the arms or clothes - middle-aged women and children among them. A uniformed officer locked his arms around a woman's neck, pulling her away.
More than 100 Falun Gong members were detained during the protest, a 10-minute explosion of seemingly coordinated action across the vast plaza.
That the protests happened - and in such numbers - was particularly impressive in the face of police alertness in the days before Thursday's anniversary on the crackdown on Falun Gong.
One year ago Thursday, security agents detained dozens of key Falun Gong organizers. Sect followers, tipped off by fellow members in the upper ranks of the communist government, responded with mass protests. Two days later, Chinese leaders outlawed Falun Gong, declaring it a public menace.
Police have picked up at least 200 practitioners from Tiananmen Square every day for the past week, according to a Communist Party official involved in security work.
Police in Beijing and other cities have watched airports and railroad and bus stations to prevent followers from reaching the capital, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Followers have been put under surveillance or detained, he said.
``Still some have slipped through our net,'' the official said.
The government has branded Falun Gong an unprecedented threat to communist rule and accused the group of cheating followers and causing 1,500 deaths, mostly of followers it maintains refused medical treatment in accordance with what it claims are the group's teachings.
Founded eight years ago, Falun Gong attracted millions of followers with its blend of slow-motion exercises, meditation and ideas drawn from Buddhism, Taoism and its founder.
Followers arrested in recent days have refused to tell officers their names or hometowns, making it difficult for city police to file the proper arrest forms, the party official said.
Instead, police have commandeered a stadium in western Beijing to hold those detained until their hometowns can be determined and they can be shipped off to local detention centers, the official said.
A human rights group based in Hong Kong, meanwhile, said it has confirmed the deaths of 24 Falun Gong followers over the past year due to mistreatment while in detention.
Although the government has not responded to each alleged death, it has denied Falun Gong followers are mistreated in custody.
The authorities are determined to crash the movement By the BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Beijing
Dozens of members of China's banned spiritual sect, Falun Gong, have attempted a daring protest in Tiananmen Square in the centre of Beijing.
Eyewitnesses say at least 100 members of the group were dragged away by police as they attempted to unfurl banners and shout slogans.
This latest protest by Falun Gong comes despite a massive police operation to try and prevent members of the banned group from entering Beijing.
Eyewitnesses say the protest appeared to be well organised. As if on cue, small groups of followers, dotted across the vast square, unfurled banners and began chanting slogans.
In a frenzied response, teams of police pounced on the protestors often knocking them to the ground before dragging them away.
The protest came shortly before visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin was due to tour the square.
It also comes just days before the first anniversary of the government order banning Falun Gong as an evil cult.
In the run-up to that anniversary, authorities have gone to great lengths to prevent any new protests.
Across the country police have been ordered to watch airports and stations and lists of known practitioners have been distributed to local police stations.
Despite such efforts large numbers of Falun Gong followers are still succeeding in making it to the capital.
Authorities will now be bracing themselves for possible further protests in the coming days.
A year ago, on July 20, Chinese government imposed a ban and crackdown on spiritual practitioners of Falun Gong, a practice adopted by tens of millions of people worldwide.
Despite tens of thousands of arrests, illegal detentions, torture and even the deaths of 24 people, peaceful appeal continues in China with the support of human rights organizations and political leaders of conscience.
To mark the anniversary, American practitioners will hold a press briefing and premiere a new video "Falun Gong: The Real Story (Part 2)," and will include a press briefing with Falun Gong spokespersons and Mark Palmer, Vice Chairman of the Board of Freedom House, and Rabbi David Saperstein, Chairman of U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom
On the same day, several hundred Falun Gong practitioners will gather in front of the Chinese Embassy to deliver a letter calling for a peaceful dialogue to end brutal persecution. Candlelight vigil ceremonies will be held to commemorate those who were tortured to death for refusing to renounce their spiritual beliefs.
Police yesterday cleared Tiananmen Square of protesters from the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual movement ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit.
In a procedure that has become routine for law enforcers in Tiananmen, police vans circled the square collecting groups of Falun Gong members who had been rounded up and speedily took them away, witnesses said. At least three groups of people belonging to the Falun Gong or suspected of being group members were cleared from Tiananmen during an 80-minute period in the early morning.
Almost all of the people taken into custody, about 15, were middle-aged and most were women.
Tiananmen was crowded with uniformed and plain-clothes police, who threatened to arrest several groups of visitors squatting on the square if they did not disperse.
The square was cleared of visitors at 9am to prepare for Mr Putin's official welcoming ceremony. None of the Falun Gong members in Tiananmen appeared to be aiming to attract attention - instead they made a silent protest against the Government's treatment of the movement, which has now been banned for nearly a year.
One elderly women who did not get into the waiting police van fast enough was pushed and beaten by a uniformed police officer, one witness said.
At least 22 Falun Gong followers have died after police maltreatment or hunger strikes, according to the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy. Since the movement was banned, tens of thousands of practitioners have been detained and core leaders given jail terms of up to 18 years for protesting and refusing to give up their beliefs.
Falun Gong 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.
On Saturday, it will be one year since the Government banned the movement, and protests are expected to increase in the run-up to the anniversary.
BEIJING (AP) - Scores of Falun Gong followers raised banners in Tiananmen Square on Wednesday in a burst of protest that provoked a frenzied police response and proved the sect remains a force in China a year after being outlawed.
Police swarmed over groups of followers - middle-aged women and children among them - wresting away banners and knocking protesters to the ground. A uniformed officer locked his arms around a woman's neck, pulling her away. Others were dragged along the ground by their arms or clothes.
All told, police detained more than 100 group members in a 10-minute explosion of seemingly coordinated protests across the vast plaza in central Beijing. Police immediately cleared the square, slightly earlier than scheduled for a midmorning visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
That the protests happened, and in such numbers, showed the popular spiritual movement's resilience despite a year of persecution and a police force on alert for demonstrations this week - the anniversary of the crackdown against the group.
A year ago Thursday, security agents detained dozens of key organizers of the sect. Group members, tipped off by fellow believers in the upper ranks of the communist government, met the arrests with mass protests. Two days later Chinese leaders publicly banned Falun Gong as a public menace.
A smear campaign in state media, the jailings of thousands of members and pressure on followers to renounce ties to the group have thinned Falun Gong's ranks. But members have persisted in defiant protests, mounting the most sustained public challenge to the Communist Party in 51 years.
Followers have streamed into Beijing this month for protests, and police have picked up at least 200 practitioners from Tiananmen Square every day for the past week, said a Communist Party official involved in security work.
Chinese leaders have ordered police in Beijing and other cities to watch airports and railroad and bus stations to prevent followers from reaching the capital, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Name lists of practitioners have been distributed to local police stations, the official said. He added that followers who have renounced their ties have been put under surveillance while those who refused have been detained in police stations.
``Still some have slipped through our net,'' the official .
saidThe government has called Falun Gong an unprecedented threat to communist rule. It has accused Falun Gong of cheating followers and causing 1,500 deaths, mostly of followers who it said refused medical treatment according to what it claims are the group's teachings.
Founded eight years ago, Falun Gong attracted millions of followers with its blend of slow-motion exercises, meditation and ideas drawn from Buddhism, Taoism and its founder, an ex-government grain clerk. Followers believe practice unleashes energy from a spiritual orb, or Wheel of Law, in the stomach and promotes health, moral living and supernatural powers.
Tuesday's protest seemed triggered by eight followers who boisterously unfurled a yellow banner, its red Chinese characters partly reading ``The Wheel of Law forever turns.'' As police ran to detain the group, other banners emerged from among clumps of followers in other parts of the square.
The police clampdown in Beijing has been complicated by the commitment and discipline of Falun Gong followers. Four in five of those arrested in recent days have refused to tell officers their names or hometowns, making it difficult for city police to file the proper arrest forms, the party official said.
Instead, police have commandeered a stadium in western Beijing to hold those detained until their hometowns can be determined and they can be shipped off to local detention centers, the official said. He said police from surrounding provinces already have been ordered to Beijing to take back their followers.
BEIJING, July 19 (Reuters) - Two members of the Falun Gong spiritual group died in police custody this month, bringing to 24 the number of deaths from abuse since China outlawed the group last year, a Hong Kong human rights group said on Wednesday.
The reports came as Chinese police braced for Falun Gong agitation to mark the first anniversary on Saturday of the draconian ban Communist authorities slapped on the group.
The Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said it had confirmed with relatives or fellow adherents the July 7 beating death of 44-year-old Li Zaiji and the July 12 death by apparent suffocation of 68-year-old Wang Peisheng.
Both men ran afoul of the law when they cme to Beijing to petition against the ban on the group -- a fate they shared with hundreds if not thousands of other Falun Gong members.
Police told relatives of Li, who came from the northeastern province of Jilin, he had perished because of dysentry in a labour camp, but his body was covered with bruises, the centre said
Shandong resident Wang's death certificate said only ``sudden death,'' but fellow Falun Gong members in the eastern province surmised he suffocated in a densely packed cell in stifling heat, it said.
Falun Gong, which combines meditation with a doctrine rooted loosely in Buddhist and Daoist teachings, was banned in China in July and later declared an ``evil cult.''
Beijing says Falun Gong cheats its followers and blames it for 1,500 deaths by suicide or refusal to accept medical care.
But China moved to suppress the movement only after it shocked the atheist Communist party with a 10,000-member protest in Beijing on April 25, 1999.
China has claimed ``decisive victory'' over the group, but its continued nervousness is evident in a new vilification campaign launched in state media against Li Hongzhi, a Chinese former granary clerk who founded the movement and now lives in exile in New York.
The government, which claims the group had two million members at its peak, says membership has dwindled to roughly 40,000. Falun Gong says it has tens of millions of followers in China and 40 other countries.
Authorities have renewed the propaganda war against the banned Falun Gong sect ahead of the anniversary of the national crackdown in July last year as state media slammed the group's exiled leader as "a flunky of Western hostile forces".
Public security departments have learned the sect plans to organise mass demonstrations to mark the start of the crackdown on the spiritual movement which started on July 22 last year. Central and provincial governments have been urged to step up surveillance to head-off possible instability, Beijing sources said.
More plain-clothes police officers have been deployed in and around Tiananmen Square to tighten security ahead of the anniversary of the crackdown when 1,000 Falun Gong activists were arrested in various provinces.
There have been constant reports of police detaining mostly elderly Falun Gong devotees from distant provinces, who are risking arrest and possible beatings to plead for a reversal of the Government's ban. Police are convinced of a possible "showdown" by "hardcore" followers after the group's exiled leader, Li Hongzhi, recently called on practitioners to keep up their fight to "defend the practice" in a Web site message to them.
Mr Li likened persecution of the group to university entrance exams. He called on followers to be "sober-minded" and continue to practise "cultivation".
A Xinhua commentary yesterday attacked Mr Li for spreading rumours to incite followers into "fighting a death struggle". The article accused Mr Li of maliciously attacking the Communist Party leadership and the socialist system, saying his move had exposed the fact he was a "flunky of Western hostile forces".
"Li has been trapped in predicament and is fighting a death struggle," Xinhua said.
Despite the year-long arrests and heavy-handed propaganda, authorities still see no end to the defiant Falun Gong struggle.
The campaign has stopped the further growth of Falun Gong but it has led to the formation of a hard core of believers who are proving hard to deal with. Beijing is concerned that Western governments have criticised the crackdown as a human rights violation.
China has labelled Falun Gong an "evil cult" and blamed it for causing 1,500 deaths by suicide or refusal of medical care.
At least 5,000 members have been sent to labour camps or "psychiatric rehabilitation" centres without trial and others have been sentenced to up to 18 years in prison after show trials, according to the banned group.
Even though they could be barred from ever returning to their native China, a Tucson couple is spreading the word about a spiritual discipline that the Chinese government has not only banned, but deemed a cult.
Yan Liu, 31, a research scientist at the University of Arizona, estimates he has taught Falun Gong to about 100 Tucsonans since moving here in 1998.
His wife, HongMei Li, 28, a Tucson civil engineer, said that during a visit to Beijing in March, the Chinese police detained her for five days, repeatedly interrogating her about Falun Gong practitioners.
A U.S. citizen, Li said she was released and sent back home after her sister phoned the U.S. Embassy in China and reported her missing.
"This is not a religion,'' Li said firmly. "It is about how to become a better person - to assimilate to the supreme qualities of the universe.''
Falun Gong defines those supreme qualities as "Zhen Shan Ren'' - truthfulness, compassion and tolerance.
According to the Chinese Embassy in Washington, the practice is banned "because it is an unregistered and illegal organization with characteristics similar to a cult,'' and it has disrupted public order.
"The only reason we think the government is afraid is that a large number of people are practicing it," Li countered. "They are afraid of the power of such a big group.''
UA physics professor Fang Lizhi, a Chinese dissident, agreed. "There is a fear that if people follow the leader of the Falun Gong they will not follow the Communist Party."
Liu is in Washington, D.C., this week for a meeting with other Falun Gong practitioners. They plan to hold a candlelight vigil in front of the Chinese Embassy on Thursday and Friday.
In Tucson, Li and Liu host two-hour Falun Gong sessions on the UA mall every Sunday morning.
On most weekday mornings, the couple can be seen doing Falun Gong on a patch of grass outside the Reid Park Zoo, eyes shut, moving their arms in the slow, flowing motion of the meditation, often holding poses for minutes at a time. A cornerstone of Falun Gong is that its practitioners gather outdoors, usually in public parks, and do not screen members or charge money.
Eager to teach more non-Chinese practitioners, the two have been holding informal Falun Gong workshops for the past month in Tucson, Douglas, Sierra Vista and Bisbee.
The UA mall sessions are often followed by group study of a book called "China Falun Gong'' by Li Hongzhi. Hongzhi, who now lives in New York City, introduced Falun Gong to the public in 1992. China has issued a warrant for his arrest for spreading "heretical ideas'' with a hidden agenda.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International allege that Falun Gong practitioners in China have been tortured and killed.
And the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate passed resolutions last year criticizing the Chinese crackdown on Falun Gong.
Li said Falun Gong caught on quickly in China with a younger generation that learned from the atheist Communist Party that there is neither a God nor a Buddha.
The meditation translates as "The Law of the Wheel Breathing Exercise.'' Li and her husband both credit the exercise with improved physical and mental health.
Falun Gong includes four series of standing poses and one set of poses completed while sitting. The poses begin with arm movements that are supposed to channel energy, and end with gestures believed to strengthen one's "supernormal" powers, which according to Falun Gong literature can include the opening of Tianmu (third eye) and telepathy.
Suchin Pan, 48, a software engineer for IBM in Tucson, has been practicing Falun Gong seven days per week since September. A native of Taiwan, Pan is a Buddhist who classifies the exercise as a blend of Taoism and Buddhism.
Pan says the practice helped her overcome physical and emotional weakness after a hysterectomy.
"The point is that if you are in good health you will be a better person and lead a better life."
BEIJING (AP) - Anticipating protests by the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, China renewed attacks on the group Monday, calling its founder ``a running dog'' of foreign powers who was inciting followers to resist the government.
A commentary in the ruling Communist Party's People's Daily newspaper carried some of the harshest invective in recent months in a year-old smear campaign against Falun Gong. Its publication comes just before Thursday's anniversary of the government's crackdown and ban on the sect.
Last July 20, police arrested dozens of sect followers who they identified as key Falun Gong organizers. Two days later, the government banned the group as a menace to public order. Since then, tens of thousands of followers have been detained for short periods of time, thousands sent to labor camps and nearly a hundred leading members jailed.
Followers responded with large protests, and are expected to do the same on the anniversaries. In recent weeks, Falun Gong members have begun streaming into the capital.
People's Daily lashed out at U.S.-based founder Li Hongzhi, for ``inciting 'Falun Gong' practitioners to 'come forward' to continue resistance to the government.''
The newspaper took issue with recent comments by Li, an apparent reference to statements posted last month on Falun Gong Web sites.
In the comments - Li's first since dropping from public view shortly after July's crackdown - the founder encouraged followers to persevere through what he called ``evil-wrought tests.''
``Using extremely poisonous words to attack the Communist Party leadership and our country's socialist institutions has totally exposed his ugly face as a running dog of Western enemy forces,'' People's Daily said.
The commentary ran through a list of the government's accusations against the group: it said Falun Gong caused 1,500 deaths, cheated followers of money and harbored political ambitions. The newspaper also accused Li Hongzhi of living in a lavish new home.
Falun Gong preaches a blend of slow-motion exercises, meditation and self-improvement that practitioners say promote health, moral living and, at advanced levels, supernatural powers. After founding the group in 1992, Li, an ex-government grain clerk, built up a multi-million-member following.
People's Daily said the crackdown and public education campaign caused most practitioners to abandon Falun Gong. Li was now trying to stir up a dwindling group of hard-core followers ``to achieve his political goals of disturbing the social order and undermining social stability.''
At different points, the commentary likened Falun Gong to a ``rat crossing the road'' and Li to a ``dog baying for his lost home.''
What Is Falun Gong? See "Falun Gong 101", by Massimo Introvigne
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