More than 100 followers of Falun Gong protested in Tiananmen Square yesterday to mark the first anniversary of the Chinese authorities' ban on the sect-like network they describe as an "evil cult".
The police responded with the same methods that have been in force since the ban. Plainclothes and uniformed officers pounced on the devotees sitting in the lotus position or attempting to unfurl banners, and dragged them off to vans and detention in nearby cells.
On a baking day in the Chinese capital, when temperatures reached 36C, security forces closely watched all entry points to the square, and began patrolling the vast plaza in growing numbers. They questioned people walking around, checking identity cards. Whenever Falun Gongfollowers made a show of dissent, alone or in small groups, their protests were quickly smothered.
Tourists who took photographs of police manhandling suspects were forced to surrender their film.
The events at Tiananmen followed an established routine, one at which the Chinese authorities have had plenty of practice. Every year since the student demonstrations for democracy in 1989, dissidents have marked the 4 June massacre by the authorities with brave, brief protests, swiftly followed by arrests.
This June, the protest had dwindled to just one man, but the aggrieved followers of Falun Gong have more than made up for the shortfall; tens of thousands have been arrested over the past year.
For China's leaders, the Falun Gong campaign of civil disobedience is a problem that will just not go away. Police officers and security forces in every province face the threat of demotion if they do not control people from their province travelling to Peking. Yet still they come, mostly middle-aged and educated, quietly angry that the government has outlawed a belief they credit with rejuvenating their lives and curing ailments. The group still boasts of having millions of followers on the mainland, although the government claims adherents are now just 40,000.
Falun Gong represents just the kind of independent mass organisation the Communist Party most fears, especially in the business of hearts and minds where the party once held sway. "The cult has been growing for eight years, so it's very well organised," said Si Manan, an expert on Qigong, the self-healing art combining movement and meditation, and self-appointed crusader against bogus religious groups that just adopt the qigong breathing exercises.
"Li Hongzhi [founder of Falun Gong] has complete power over his followers. He encourages them to protest by saying it's their last chance, and their bravery will be rewarded."
Si, however, also criticises the government's methods. "They launched a massive political campaign that was like the Cultural Revolution, they used hours of television time, and they called Falun Gong "anti-government" - so it's won support outside China. You can't use Marxist terminology to talk to these people, many are mentally sick. You need humanity and science to point out their mistakes."
A Chinese film director in Peking said: "I don't believe in Falun Gong, but religious belief is a basic human right. The government response has been excessive, not strictly legal."
Despite the sensitivity of the subject matter, he intends making a documentary about the followers. "When I see them being dragged away, they are not frightened like most Chinese would be. It seems that their sacrifice is meant to show their dedication."
The Chinese media gave heavy coverage to the government's "decisive victories" over the past year against the "poisonous current". An editorial from the state-run news agency, Xinhua, dominated many papers this week. "The soil and the greenhouse for breeding Falun Gong are yet to be eliminated in China," Xinhua said, before resuming its attack on "foreign hostile, anti-China forces" that "have never stopped their efforts to westernize and disintegrate China".
The government-run China Daily added that Falun Gong "spreads lies and cheats people, and has resulted in more than 1,500 deaths". State media regularly display grisly pictures of people who cut open their stomachs to find the wheel of life (falun) that is central to the group's philosophy. Falun Gong practitioners and human rights groups counter that at least 24 followers have died in police custody.
BEIJING -- Police action against Falungong protesters turned more violent yesterday, the first anniversary of the Chinese government's ban on the cult.
Scores of followers braved the searing 36-deg-C heat to converge on Tiananmen Square, defying the heavy police presence.
There seemed to be design behind their action as small groups of adherents dispersed themselves at various points over the square. Sporadically, a group and then another would unfurl Falungong banners or sit in the lotus position.
Many of them, by their dress and accent, appear to be from outside Beijing.
As soon as the protesters revealed themselves, the police pounced on them, dragging them, screaming and kicking, to waiting buses.
Unlike in the past few days when the police attempted to shield their actions from public sight, the officers yesterday openly struck out at protesters who refused to be led away. The pockets of violence were witnessed by tourists milling about the square. Some tourists had film ripped out of their cameras.
Yesterday's demonstrations replayed what had taken place at Tiananmen Square daily over the past week, when sect members exploited the three-day state visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin and two Falungong anniversaries to showcase their defiance.
A year ago last Thursday, the government rounded up key cult leaders, and two days later, outlawed the sect.
According to reports, more than 100 followers have been arrested here each day last week. Sect members have staged protests here over the past year.
A Xinhua commentary, published in major newspapers here yesterday, said that in the last two months, the US-based Li Hongzhi, the sect's founder, had transmitted orders via the Internet, urging his followers to confront the government.
""Since the start of June, illegal activities organised by the Falungong in the Tiananmen area have increased.''
Still, the Chinese government claims a ""decisive victory over the cult'', saying that the year-long anti-Falungong campaign had thinned the sect's ranks from two million to 40,000 in China. ""So far, 98 per cent of practitioners have resumed their normal lives,'' said Xinhua.
Yet, the government said the fight was far from over. The China Daily yesterday said: ""Li Hongzhi, the cult's leader, and his... followers... have not ceased to encourage people to confront the Chinese government.''
Scores of Falun Gong members were arrested in Tiananmen Square yesterday as Chinese authorities mounted an operation to smother demonstrations marking the first anniversary of the sect's banning.
Police punched and kicked adherents of the spiritual movement who were trying to unfurl a banner in front of the giant portrait of Mao Tse-tung at the northern end of the vast Beijing square. The police onslaught clearly shocked foreign tourists in the square. Some of them had film removed from their cameras and exposed to the bright sunlight.
Trouble began in the early morning with a series of co-ordinated protests in which sect members displayed banners urging people to take up their mystic way. Later, sporadic demonstrations were quickly pounced on by hundreds of police.
In the year since the government banned the sect, tens of thousands of people have been detained. Founded eight years ago, Falun Gong has attracted millions of followers drawn by a cocktail of traditional Buddhist and Confucian beliefs and breathing and meditation exercises which its supporters, many of them elderly, claim lead to better mental and physical health.
The ruling Communist Party, however, sees Falun Gong as a threat and has branded it an "evil cult". The persistence of its followers has shocked the authorities, whose campaign against it is the biggest of its kind since the 1989 crackdown on the pro-democracy movement.
Hong Kong-based human-rights observers estimate that 10,000 practitioners have been sent to labour camps without trial, while another 400 have been jailed for up to 18 years. Two dozen Falun Gong adherents are said to have died in police custody.
The government maintains that the crackdown has broken Falun Gong's backbone. Officials say its leaders have been punished and 98 per cent of followers have been re-educated and now pursue a normal life. According to the government, the group's membership has dwindled to about 40,000 from two million - although Falun Gong says that it has tens of millions of followers worldwide.
Li Hongzhi, the sect's exiled leader, has been vilified as a murderer and extortionist who has conspired with foreign powers to destroy China. Beijing says that more than 2,000 people have died or gone mad after practising Falun Gong.
"It is an evil force which is anti-science, anti-humanity, anti-society and anarchic," said a commentary by the official Xinhua news agency yesterday. "It is also a trouble-making group that attempts to challenge the party and the government, and disturb social stability and national prosperity."
Xinhua also claimed that the group was secretly planning to subvert the state with the help of hostile foreign forces seeking to "Westernise" China
BEIJING, July 22 - Chinese police detained about 200 practitioners of the Falun Gong spiritual movement who launched a series of small protests in Tiananmen Square today to mark the first anniversary of the government decree outlawing the group.
Small groups of protesters, sometimes acting in unison, launched short-lived demonstrations throughout the day at different spots on the square's vast, open expanse. Some tried to unfurl banners praising Falun Gong, while others sat and performed the yoga-like movements associated with the group.
Police, both uniformed and plainclothes, were out in force in anticipation of demonstrations and pounced quickly whenever activity began. They herded protesters into waiting police vans, dragging, kicking and beating those who resisted. In the largest incident of the day, about two dozen protesters kept police at bay for several minutes and unfurled a bright yellow banner promoting the practice of Falun Gong.
Today's protests, along with the similar but smaller actions that have taken place almost daily over the past year, underscore the continuing and bitter struggle between China's Communist authorities and the banned spiritual movement.
Falun Gong claims to have tens of millions of practitioners in China, and the government has used its nationwide police apparatus to mount a no-holds-barred campaign against the group.
While there is little chance that Falun Gong could pose a direct challenge to the government's survival, the group's sheer persistence represents a stubborn challenge to Communist Party authority.
Unlike even the various pro-democracy activists and non-Chinese minority groups that have locked horns with the nation's Communist rulers, Falun Gong's hard-core followers have been unwilling to back down, go away or lie low.
In the year since the ban, China's government-run press has conducted a relentless vilification campaign against Falun Gong and its founder, the New York-based Li Hongzhi, and several times claimed "decisive victory" over the group. But in a commentary issued today, the official New China News Agency acknowledged the obstinacy of Falun Gong, and the unique nature of the challenge it poses.
Falun Gong "is an evil force opposed to science, humanity, society and the government, a troublemaker attempting to stand up to the party and government as an equal and interfere in social stability and state power and prosperity, and an out-and-out cult," the commentary said.
Authorities have been unnerved by Falun Gong since April of last year, when the group mustered 10,000 followers in the heart of Beijing and conducted a peaceful sit-in around the Zhongnanhai leadership compound.
Hong Kong firefighters forced their way into a Happy Valley flat late last night where three mainland Falun Gong practitioners were threatening to jump from the 10th floor after immigration officers tried to arrest them for overstaying.
The standoff began at 9.30am with police negotiating from outside. At 11.30pm Fire Services Department officers broke into the flat and along with immigration officials began negotiations with the practitioners inside.
Relatives of the three people were brought to the flat and promised to take them to the Immigration Department on Monday. The trio - two men and a woman aged between 28 and 31 - want their stay extended for three months.
Another four Falun Gong members including a six-year-old girl, whose visitors' permits had expired, were arrested in the same building in Sing Woo Road yesterday morning.
All seven people - three males and four females aged between 6 and 47 - hold mainland passports.
The Immigration Department claimed the operation was not aimed at cracking down on the religious group but was a routine check on over-stayers.
One of the practitioners said a group of about 10 sect members arrived in the SAR to attend the Hong Kong Book Fair at the Convention Centre, which started on Wednesday.
A woman who claimed to be a Falun Gong practitioner said her fellow believers were reluctant to extend their stay earlier because they worried that their application would be rejected by the Immigration Department.
But Falun Gong's SAR branch spokesman, Kan Hung-cheung, said he did not know any of the sect members arrested yesterday.
BEIJING - State media yesterday accused followers of the Falun Gong meditation sect of violence and murder, and labeled its founder an agent of anti-China forces abroad.
The diatribe came on the eve of the first anniversary of China's outlawing of the sect and followed another day of protests in Beijing's sprawling Tiananmen Square.
As school groups on holiday thronged the plaza, one man stood shouting "Falun Gong is good." Police grabbed him, jerked his hair and shoved him inside a waiting van.
In another police van packed with mostly middle-aged followers, a woman shouted and officers closed the window blinds. From inside, a slapping sound could be heard. The crowd gathered outside winced at the sound and turned their heads. At least two dozen Falun Gong followers were carted out of the square.
In one of the most strident attacks on the meditation sect, the government's Xinhua news agency accused Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi of inspiring protests by promising salvation for those who "wholly embrace Buddhist law" and damnation for those who refuse.
The article listed instances of what it called cult-inspired violence, including the murder of his mother and father by 33-year-old follower Zhu Changjiu. Zhu, from northern China's Hebei province, pummeled his 73-year-old parents to death with a blunt object in a fit of rage after they burned his copy of the Falun Gong manual, Xinhua said.
Chinese leaders have declared the group a public menace and a threat to Communist Party rule.
BEIJING (AP) - Hustling peaceful protesters into vans, Chinese police cracked down Saturday on Falun Gong members who marked the first anniversary of the banning of their meditation group with banners and brief displays of civil disobedience.
One plainclothes policeman dragged away a woman by the ankles as an officer in a green uniform gripped a clump of her hair in crowded Tiananmen Square, one of China's most famous tourist sites and a popular venue for Falun Gong protests.
In past demonstrations, the group has been able to mobilize large numbers of protesters, and there was anticipation that the sect would orchestrate a big turnout Saturday to defiantly mark the one-year ban.
But most of the scattered protests Saturday involved individuals or small groups unfurling banners or sitting down in the square cross-legged in the lotus posture. About 100 people were rounded up during the morning, the most popular time for the group to protest.
The largest group involved about 25 people who successfully blocked police from immediately seizing their banner. Police eventually broke up the protesters.
Founded eight years ago, Falun Gong attracted millions of followers, drawn by its blend of slow-motion exercises and ideas drawn from Buddhism, Taoism and the group's exiled leader, Li Hongzhi, a former government grain clerk. Followers say practice promotes health, moral living and, in experts, supernatural powers.
But the 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.
Equipped with binoculars and walkie-talkies, legions of police patrolling Tiananmen Square often swoop down on protesters seconds after they whip out a banner or begin meditating. Within minutes, protesters are stuffed into police vans stationed on the margins of the square.
Blistering hot weather made the job difficult for the police Saturday because their views were obstructed by hundreds of visitors carrying umbrellas, which Chinese use to block the sun.
Still, they managed aggressively to nab the protesters and disperse crowds of tourists who stopped to gawk.
After plainclothes police grabbed one man who was sitting cross-legged, they took a camera away from a foreign tourist who was taking pictures in the area. They took the film out of the camera and exposed it to daylight, ruining the photos. The police then walked away, ignoring the tourist's protests.
On the northwest corner of the square, a pair of women held up a yellow banner with one of the sect's names, ``Falun Dafa,'' in red Chinese characters.
The banner was up for about 20 seconds - an eternity compared to most protests - before police grabbed the women by their arms and snatched away the banner.
One middle-aged woman walking by with her family spotted the banner and yelled ``Arrest them!''
Since the government banned the sect one year ago, police have been detaining members and state-run media have been denouncing the group in a fierce smear campaign.
Several newspapers on Saturday ran a commentary by the official Xinhua News Agency that said Falun Gong is a ``poisonous torrent'' that is ``anti-humanity'' and ``anarchistic.''
Xinhua said Li, the exiled leader, has encouraged followers to break the law and demonstrate, resulting in a recent increase in illegal gatherings at Tiananmen Square.
What Is Falun Gong? See "Falun Gong 101", by Massimo Introvigne
FALUN GONG UPDATES
[Home Page] [Cos'è il CESNUR] [Biblioteca del CESNUR] [Testi e documenti] [Libri] [Convegni]
[Home Page] [About CESNUR] [CESNUR Library] [Texts & Documents] [Book Reviews] [Conferences]