BEIJING (AP) - Seeking to stifle meditation sects similar to the banned Falun Gong, China published rules Friday prohibiting exercise groups from preaching religion and strictly limited their size and activities.
Teachers of the traditional Chinese exercise qigong must register and be certified by sports officials, according to a copy of the rules that appeared in the state-owned China Sports Daily.
Groups have to be small, dispersed and locally organized, the rules say. Activities with more than 200 participants require police permission.
The rules come amid a 13-month-old crackdown on the multimillion-member Falun Gong, which draws on Buddhism, Taoism and qigong and uses meditative exercises. The government has rounded up its leaders and winnowed the group's numbers but failed to break its organization.
A commentary published with the rules accused ``unwholesome elements'' of seizing on the rising popularity of qigong to carry out fraud, spread superstition and endangered society.
``These problems have seriously affected the normal conduct of healthful qigong activities, harming the interests of the masses,'' said the preamble of the ``Healthful Qigong Management Regulations.''
In the most pointed reference to Falun Gong, the rules prohibit qigong groups from spreading ``ignorant superstition'' or the ``deification of individuals.'' Also banned are Buddhist worship practices associated with the banned group and others like it.
Distribution of unlicensed publications, recordings and computer materials are forbidden, along with the sale of trinkets that purport to bestow divine consciousness or supernatural powers.
China's officially atheist government labeled Falun Gong an evil cult and accused it of leading some 1,600 adherents to their deaths. At least one other meditation sect, Zhong Gong, has also been banned, its leaders arrested and property confiscated.
Falun Gong denies the government accusations, claiming it promotes health and morality through a system of meditation, slow-motion exercises and beliefs drawn from Buddhism, Taoism and the sometimes unorthodox teachings of its founder, a former government grain clerk.
A new anti-cult law passed last year has already added to the government's arsenal against unofficial religious groups.
Exercise groups will not be permitted to use religious language in their teaching, be named after individuals or have the words China, Asia, world and Universe in their titles, according to the rules.
They will not be permitted to organize in state-run companies, government offices, schools, military bases and other sensitive establishments.
NEW YORK, Sept 14 (Reuters) - After two weeks in an overcrowded Beijing jail where he said he was forced to squat with his hands behind his head during interrogations, Chinese poet Huang Beiling called on the country's intellectuals to follow the example of Falun Gong meditators by fighting government oppression through widespread civil disobedience.
``I respect them,'' Huang said of the practitioners of Falun Gong, who continue to defy a year-long crackdown by the Chinese government that has included mass arrests.
Falun Gong, which combines meditation and exercise with a doctrine rooted loosely in Buddhist and Taoist teachings, first rattled the ruling Communist Party with an unexpected 10,000-member protest in Beijing in April 1999.
``They have been doing this peacefully. When they're beaten, they don't hit back. The intellectual community should do the same thing,'' said Huang, who writes under the name Bei Ling and was jailed last month for distributing a literary journal called ``Tendency.''
The government has branded Falun Gong an ``evil cult'' responsible for the suicides of thousands of adherents, a charge that practitioners dismiss as propaganda.
Huang said the Chinese government seeks to suppress any organisation or publication not under direct control of the state. He vowed to continue publishing his journal out of Hong Kong or Taiwan.
Huang launched the journal, ``Tendency,'' in 1993 to showcase young underground writers. Police seized 2,000 copies of the publication when they arrested the 40-year-old writer, who is Chinese but holds a U.S. ``green card,'' which allows him to reside in the United States.
A nominal quarterly, the publication comes out about once a year due to funding problems, he said.
Huang was released from prison after a pressure campaign was organised by U.S. writer Susan Sontag and International PEN, a literary association that defends freedom of expression. The U.S. government had also lobbied for his release.
``I was preparing myself to spend at least a few years in jail. Then all of a sudden they told me I was to be released and sent to New York,'' he said.
Huang described prison cells so crowded that inmates had to sleep in shifts.
``When you get your turn, the floor space is so tight that you have to sleep on your side between the other prisoners. There's not enough room to turn onto your back,'' he said.
As China prepares to enter the World Trade Organisation, Huang said he hopes the country's media will gradually be opened, providing a foothold for others who are fighting censorship. He said he does not oppose the country's entry into the WTO.
Huang, who lives in Boston, spoke to Reuters this week in PEN's offices in the Soho district of Manhattan.
An eight-year holder of a green card, Huang said he expects to complete the process of becoming an American citizen within a year.
``If I were not the holder of a U.S. green card, the police said I would have been in jail for 10 years. I lost my motherland,'' he said, ``but freedom is more important.''
An Atlanta engineer who traveled to China to pay last respects to a dying relative has run afoul of the law for carrying literature tied to a banned meditation movement.
Xiaohua Du, 29, and her husband, Shean Lin, were arrested at the Fuzhou City airport Friday after a customs check revealed several books and CDs on the Falun Gong faith in their possession. The couple were placed under house arrest while authorities decide on their next course of action.
Members of Atlanta's Falun Gong community fear the couple will face severe penalties in light of the Chinese government's recent pledge to intensify its crackdown on the movement's adherents.
"Xiaohua Du has been very active within the movement here, and the Chinese government knows that well," said Yuan Li, a fellow engineer and Falun Gong devotee. "Their case is being taken as a serious one, and sentences are very likely."
China considers Falun Gong --- a combination of yoga, meditation and traditional breathing exercises --- the most significant political threat to its national security since the 1989 student uprising at Tiananmen Square.
In recent months, Chinese officials have sent thousands of Falun Gong practitioners to labor camps and committed hundreds more to mental institutions for "re-education." At least 50 have died while in custody, according to human rights groups.
Du, who holds a Ph.D. in engineering from Georgia Tech and works for an electronics firm in Atlanta, was married less than four months when she and her husband --- a graduate student at the University of Alabama --- made the hastily arranged trip to China last week to visit his ailing father.
The couple, both long-term practitioners of the Falun Gong faith, took along their religious books. However, they weren't looking to convert anyone, said Judy Lin, a relative who traveled with them.
"But even after they explained that to custom officials over and over again, they wouldn't listen. They were immediately detained," Lin said.
Lin, who is an American citizen and has no association with the movement, was permitted to return to the States on Tuesday. But Du and her husband --- both Chinese citizens --- remain under government supervision in Fuzhou province in southern China.
"Their experience reveals the danger facing Falun Gong members in America who travel to China," said Gail Rachlin, a spokeswoman for the group in New York.
She pointed out that other U.S. residents who were found to be followers were held in the country for long periods and often tortured. In one case, a Denver woman had her stomach pumped with saltwater; in another, two San Francisco area residents were forced to work 13-hour days cleaning pigpens and piecing together hair brushes.
Earlier this week, the couple were allowed to attend the funeral of Du's father-in-law, who had died in the meantime. But authorities are expected to interrogate them again pending word from the central government, which is now looking at the case.
Repeated phone calls to the Chinese Embassy in Washington seeking information about the couple's status were not returned.
The couple's arrest came on the same day that a U.S. State Department report took China to task for its continued repression of religious organizations.
The report, part of an annual survey of religious freedoms worldwide, said the government's respect for Falun Gong has "deteriorated markedly" with the enactment of a recent law granting law enforcement officials broad authority in dealing with religious practices that aren't government-sanctioned.
On Wednesday, a spokesman for the Chinese government denounced the report as "rumors and lies" and said the Falun Gong crackdown was necessary to stop an "evil cult."
Supporters of UAB AIDs researcher Shean Lin have mounted a petition drive to persuade Chinese authorities to allow Lin and his wife to return from China to the United States.
Lin, a 30-year-old Ph.D. candidate in microbiology, and his wife, Xiaohua Du, a 28-year-old engineer, were temporarily detained by Chinese authorities last Friday after officials found Falun Gong materials in their possession. Falun Gong is a spiritual practice banned in China.
When they were detained, Lin and Xiaohua Du had just flown to Fuzhou, in southern China, to be with Lin's dying father. Both are Chinese citizens.
"I'm very anxious and I'm very worried," said Hong Zhou, Lin's brother-in-law, a software engineer who lives in Baltimore. Zhou said officials took possession of Lin and his wife's passports and airline tickets.
"Up to now, the information I get is they are treating it as a political issue," Zhou said. "The police department in the city is handling their case right now and I believe they are talking to some people in the central government. Up to what level, I don't know."
In Birmingham, friends and colleagues of Lin, who is a lab researcher for UAB's Center of AIDs Research, have started circulating petitions that they plan to send to the Chinese Embassy, to Alabama Sens. Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions and to U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus, whose 6th District includes much of Jefferson County. In Baltimore, Zhou said he has contacted his congressman, Republican Roscoe Bartlett.
"If we can get help from these VIPs, we probably can get Shean back because the Chinese government will feel pressure," said Mike Chen, a Ph.D. student in chemistry at UAB and a Falun Gong practitioner.
Lin has been in the United States about seven years. His wife, an engineer whom he married in February, works for Siemens Corp. in Atlanta.
Falun Gong, a system of meditation and exercise drawn from Buddhist and Taoist teachings, has been banned in China, where authorities consider it a cult and a threat to security. Practitioners say it is simply a way for people to improve their spiritual and physical health.
In its annual report on international religious freedom, released last week, the State Department cited a Chinese government anti-cult law that has been applied to many Falun Gong practitioners. The law states that cult members "who 'disrupt public order' or distribute publications" can be punished by prison terms ranging from three to seven years, according to the report. "Under the law, cult leaders and recruiters can be sentenced to seven years or more in prison," the report also states.
Bachus' spokesman Jeff Emerson said the congressman's office had contacted the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in China about Lin and his wife and asked them "to do everything they can to make sure the people are well treated and ... allowed to return to the United States."
"The State Department told us the Chinese government routinely does this, holds people and then lets them go," Emerson said. "If they were U.S. citizens, obviously it would be a bit easier to get them out of there."
BEIJING (AP) - Defending its crackdown on the Falun Gong meditation group, Beijing on Wednesday denounced as ``rumors and lies'' a U.S. State Department report accusing China of stepping up repression of independent religious organizations.
A government spokesman insisted that China protects religious freedom and accused Washington of ``grossly interfering'' in Chinese affairs.
The Sept. 5 report, part of an annual survey of religious freedoms worldwide, came at a sensitive time as Congress considers granting permanent low tariffs for Chinese imports. The report said conditions for Falun Gong and Tibetan Buddhists had ``deteriorated markedly,'' while Roman Catholics and other religious groups also were harassed.
``Relying solely on rumors and lies to accuse other governments and interfere in internal affairs of other countries is a mistake repeatedly made by the U.S. State Department report. This bad habit should be addressed,'' an unidentified spokesman for the State Administration of Religious Affairs said in remarks carried by the official Xinhua News Agency.
China's 14-month-old Falun Gong crackdown appears to be part of a broader campaign meant to tighten government ideological control. Religious and human rights groups say Catholic clergy have been arrested, Tibetan monks and nuns required to attend political classes and independent-minded scholars dismissed from government posts.
The government spokesman said the Falun Gong crackdown was necessary to stop an ``evil cult.''
Thousands of Falun Gong followers have been detained since the multimillion-member group was banned as a threat to communist rule. The government has released many of them, saying low-level followers were misled by Falun Gong leaders.
Human rights groups and Falun Gong activists abroad have reported a handful of deaths among followers detained by police.
The Xinhua report did not respond to the State Department's account of numerous arrests of Tibetan monks and nuns, beatings of several monks and an ongoing campaign of indoctrination meant to increase Beijing's influence in monasteries.
The spokesman acknowledged that the Tsurphu Monastery - home of the Karmapa Lama - one of Tibetan Buddhism's highest leaders, had been closed temporarily. But he denied that it was linked to the departure of the Karmapa, who fled to India earlier this year. The spokesman said the monastery has reopened after repairing a dilapidated fresco.
The spokesman also denied accusations in the U.S. report of stepped-up persecution of the underground Roman Catholic church.
Communist leaders ordered Catholics to renounce loyalty to the pope in the 1950s. Religious and human rights groups have reported arrests of clergy who continue to worship outside the state-monitored official Catholic church.
Public Security officials have confiscated assets worth 300 million yuan (HK$282 million) from the banned Zhong Gong spiritual group in Shaanxi province, a
Hong Kong-based human rights group said.
The Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said the 123 bases police had taken over included job-skill training schools, travel agencies, health rehabilitation centres, fitness clubs and trading firms of the spiritual movement.
"All the operations shut by the public security officials were legally registered and had operation licences issued by relevant industry and commerce administration departments," a Zhong Gong source said.
"It is illegal to confiscate private enterprises and personal properties by force," the source said. Shaanxi officials confirmed the group's training centres had been closed and that disposal of all the confiscated properties in different provinces would be dealt with later pending a final decision by the central Government.
Zhong Gong sources said some of its properties would probably be auctioned. "A Zhong Gong sanatorium at Taibai Mountain worth 150 million yuan will probably be turned into Shaanxi province's largest prison," another Zhong Gong source said.
Authorities started cracking down on Zhong Gong last November after President Jiang Zemin called it a cult, which at its peak was said to have nearly 20 million mainland followers.
Police raided Zhong Gong's head office in Beijing and closed its 3,000 training centres and businesses in the country. The group said the crackdown had left
100,000 people jobless and 600 in detention.
Police have continued to arrest defiant Zhong Gong followers including Jin Song and Sun Guifang, both leaders of the group in Shenzhen.
The group's founder, Zhang Hongbao, fled in February to the US-administered island of Guam and is waiting for political asylum hearing in the US.
What Is Falun Gong? See "Falun Gong 101", by Massimo Introvigne
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