BEIJING (AP) - In an unusual display of support for a follower of the banned Falun Gong movement, hundreds of mourners attended the heavily policed funeral Wednesday of an adherent who died after suffering severe neck injuries allegedly inflicted by police.
Despite the official view that Falun Gong is an evil and socially menacing cult, hundreds of Zhao Xin's friends and relatives gathered at a cemetery in west Beijing, including five busloads of people from the university where she taught.
The 32-year-old lecturer died Monday, six months after she and 20 other Falun Gong followers were arrested for practicing their slow-motion exercises in a Beijing park - an act prohibited since the Chinese government banned the group in July 1999.
While no Falun Gong emblems or symbols were visible during the brief funeral ceremony, Zhao's body arrived in a van bedecked with traditional Buddhist saffron-yellow pennants - a color often favored for Falun Gong banners and uniforms.
As many as three dozen uniformed and plainclothes police kept watch inside and outside the cemetery but did not turn mourners away. Foreign reporters were ordered away and trailed by officers, apparently to deter mourners from granting interviews.
Aside from Zhao, at least 74 other Falun Gong followers have died in detention during the sustained 17-month government crackdown on the sect, according to a Hong Kong-based rights group that has kept a tally of the reported deaths. Falun Gong says the number is much higher.
The mourners' display of support for Zhao appeared to fly in the face of intense government efforts to discredit Falun Gong, which attracted tens of millions of adherents in the 1990s but worried Communist Party leaders with its size and organization.
Zhao, an assistant professor at the business college of Beijing's Industry and Commerce University, had practiced Falun Gong for two years and been repeatedly arrested during the crackdown for joining protests against the ban on the group, according to Falun Gong followers in the United States who reported her death.
After her last arrest on June 19, Zhao refused to tell police her name or where she worked and began a hunger strike, the U.S.-based adherents said in a statement.
On June 22, detention center guards sent Zhao to a hospital with three fractured neck vertebrae, minor head injuries and breathing problems, the statement said. After surgery and three months of hospital treatment, she was moved home because her family could no longer afford the medical fees. She died Monday evening, the U.S.-based adherents said.
They disputed police claims that Zhao fractured her neck by banging her head against a wall, saying her injuries could ``only be caused by a strong external force.''
Zhao was ``persecuted to death,'' they said.
The government has denied any mistreatment of detained Falun Gong members and claims it is protecting society by outlawing the group.
Authorities have detained tens of thousands of followers, sending as many as 5,000 to labor camps, according to rights groups.
In New York, 75 Falun Gong members protested at the Chinese Consulate over the sentencing of a sect member, Teng Chunyan, to three years in prison on Tuesday.
The girl's mother pleaded for her daughter's release at the demonstration. Seemingly impervious to the brutal Hudson River winds and bitter cold, the protesters stretched and flexed through a series of slow-motion, meditative exercises.
In a vitriolic campaign in the wholly state-run media, the government has claimed that Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi cheated followers and led 1,500 to their deaths, mainly by discouraging them to use medicine.
Followers believe Falun Gong's meditation and exercise routines promote health and they find moral guidance in the Buddhist- and Taoist-influenced teachings of founder Li, who now lives in the United States.
BEIJING Less than a month after China agreed to resume human rights talks with the United States, a senior U.S. diplomat criticized two new actions by Chinese authorities--the apparent destruction of scores of underground Christian churches in southern China just weeks before Christmas and the imprisoning today of a Chinese-born U.S. resident who had been investigating government repression of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.
The diplomat, briefing reporters at the U.S. Embassy here on condition he not be identified, said he remains hopeful that new human rights discussions promised by Chinese President Jiang Zemin during a meeting with President Clinton in Brunei last month might still bring changes in the way China treats its people.
But he said he was disturbed and disappointed by reports in Chinese newspapers of a renewed crackdown on religious activity in the southern province of Zhejiang and by a Beijing court's sentencing today of New York acupuncturist and Falun Gong adherent Teng Chunyan to three years in prison despite repeated protests by American diplomats.
"Razing churches before Christmas? I'm incredulous," the diplomat said. "It doesn't sound like a very good situation, and when we find out more facts we'll try to take the appropriate action. It's certainly disappointing."
He said U.S. officials will again take up Teng's case with the Chinese government, but he noted that the chances of success are limited because Chinese officials often say they cannot intervene after sentencing. "It doesn't look good," he said. "This isn't the result we were looking for."
On Monday, Chinese officials also confirmed that a court had rejected the appeal of Rebiya Kadeer, a prominent businesswoman from the restive Xinjiang region who is serving eight years in prison for mailing Chinese newspaper articles to her husband in the United States. Both the U.S. Senate and House had passed resolutions demanding her release.
The holiday season crackdown on religious activity centers on the coastal city of Wenzhou. Since early November, according to articles in local state-run newspapers, more than 1,000 temples, churches and ancestral halls in the area have been shut down, demolished or converted to recreation centers. Others have been forced to register with the government, the reports said.
One article said local officials destroyed a large church with explosive charges on Dec. 1. Another newspaper published a photo of workers taking a sledgehammer to one of 16 "illegal religious centers" in a nearby county.
China says it guarantees freedom of religion, but it restricts religious practice to "patriotic" government-sanctioned congregations and registered places of worship. The country is in the midst of a crackdown against a variety of unapproved sects, cults and underground religious groups that are prospering as Communist ideology loses its appeal in a society undergoing rapid change. The government has singled out Falun Gong for particularly harsh treatment.
BEIJING, Dec 12 (Reuters) - A Chinese court has sentenced a U.S.-based member of the banned Falun Gong to three years in jail for leaking secrets to foreigners, a senior U.S. diplomat on Tuesday quoted the woman's father as saying.
Teng Chunyan, 37, had been documenting the detention in a Beijing mental hospital of members of the spiritual movement, according to a Hong Kong-based human rights group.
Her jailing by a Beijing court would be an irritant to China-U.S. ties just as the two countries are preparing to reopen a human rights dialogue frozen since last year.
U.S. officials have protested repeatedly to Chinese authorities over the case of Teng, who has permanent residency rights in the United States through a "green card."
"We will be getting back to the Chinese on this," the diplomat, who asked not to be further identified, told reporters.
China is getting tougher on overseas Chinese who get in the way of a harsh crackdown on the movement.
It has previously expelled Falun Gong "green card" members, but this was the first time it has put one on trial. A Canadian member was sentenced to three years in a labour camp recently, the first overseas adherent to be jailed in China.
Teng, whose husband is a U.S. national, faced up to 10 years in jail on charges of "releasing national security information to foreigners." She was arrested in March.
The U.S. diplomat said Washington had hoped for "a benign outcome to the trial, and if not that then a speedy return of Teng to the United States."
Members of her family were not allowed to attend the trial. Court officials declined comment.
NEW HUMAN RIGHTS APPROACH
Falun Gong combines meditation and breathing exercises with a doctrine loosely rooted in Buddhist and Taoist teachings. Practitioners have said some 50,000 followers have been detained and many sent to labour camps without a trial.
The Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy described Teng as an acupuncturist who taught at the New York Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
It said she emailed pictures out of China as part of her investigation into reports that Beijing authorities had committed 50 Falun Gong members to a mental institute in January.
Chinese President Jiang Zemin agreed to reopen a human rights dialogue with the United States during a meeting with U.S. President Bill Clinton at a summit of Asia-Pacific leaders in Brunei last month.
The U.S. diplomat said a new American approach to human rights in China was being formulated that stressed dialogue as well as confrontation.
He said the current confrontational approach helped resolve particular cases of human rights abuses but "doesn't have a lot of merit" in changing Chinese behaviour.
"We hope for dialogue that brings about constructive change in China over the long term without abandoning attention to specific cases," he said.
The aim was to "gain the benefits of dialogue with the benefits of confrontation."
Jiang had set no date or conditions for a resumption of the human rights dialogue that was put on ice after U.S. warplanes on a NATO mission bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in May last year, the diplomat said.
But he added that Jiang's concession "has the potential to be a substantial breakthrough."
International human rights groups scorn a human rights dialogue that China has established with the European Union, saying it allows Beijing to give the appearance of progress without ending abuses.
BEIJING (AP) - A U.S. resident who helped publicize China's harsh crackdown on the Falun Gong meditation sect has been sentenced to three years in prison for spying by a Beijing court, a U.S. diplomat said Tuesday.
Teng Chunyan, a sect member and Chinese citizen who is a U.S. permanent resident, was convicted of disclosing national security information to foreigners, the diplomat told reporters on condition of anonymity.
Teng was sentenced Tuesday and her father confirmed the sentence to an official at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, the diplomat said. Neither Teng nor her husband, a U.S. citizen whom the diplomat would not identify, have signed waivers allowing the release of personal information about them, he said.
Prosecutors and officials at Beijing's No. 1 Intermediate People's Court did not respond to telephone queries. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue would not confirm the sentence but said, ``The relevant parts of the Chinese government are handling the case according to law.''
A New York acupuncturist who joined Falun Gong in New Jersey last year, Teng entered China in early 2000 to gather information on the ban against Falun Gong.
Using the pseudonym Hannah Li, Teng tipped off foreign reporters in China about sect members' protests against the ban on the group and arranged interviews with them.
A purported copy of her indictment, released by a Hong Kong-based rights group, specifically accused Teng of giving a digital camera to an accomplice, who then sneaked into a center outside Beijing where Falun Gong members were being held. Teng then allegedly gave foreign news media the film.
Detained in May, Teng was indicted two months later and tried during a Nov. 23 hearing. Only her lawyers were allowed at the hearing.
The secrecy that shrouded her case is typical in trials involving the vague and partly unpublished laws against spying. The 16-month-old crackdown against Falun Gong is among China's most sensitive political issues.
Teng faced up to 10 years in prison. Her relatively light sentence followed protests by the U.S. government. A State Department spokesman last week called Teng's case ``deeply disturbing.''
The U.S. Embassy raised her case with the Chinese government several times, hoping she would be allowed to return to the United States, the diplomat said. He said the embassy would continue to lobby China on her behalf.
Falun Gong grew to millions of members during the 1990s, offering what it claims are a health-giving exercise regimen and morally uplifting philosophy derived from Taoism, Buddhism and the somewhat offbeat ideas of its founder, Li Hongzhi, an ex-government grain clerk now living in the United States.
Alarmed by the size and organizational prowess of the group, China banned it in July 1999 as a dangerous cult and has sent hundreds of members to prison and labor camps. State media accuses the sect of conspiring against the government, cheating adherents and causing 1,500 deaths.
HONG KONG, Dec 10 (Reuters) - More than 100 practitioners of the Falun Gong spiritual movement marked International Human Rights Day on Sunday with a rally in Hong Kong to demand that Beijing stops persecuting the movement's adherents.
The movement, banned in mainland China but legal in the highly autonomous Chinese special administrative region of Hong Kong, also splashed advertisements in major newspapers in the territory to make similar appeals.
Hong Kong television and radio reported that Chinese police on Sunday detained about two dozen Falun Gong followers who protested in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, China's political heart. Chinese officials were not available to comment on the reports.
Sharon Xu, a Falun Gong spokeswoman in Hong Kong, told Reuters: "We are appealing to the public and also the governments all over the world for their immediate attention to the human rights situation of mainland Chinese Falun Gong practitioners..."
Xu said the group was urging China "to free all the detained practitioners, to give them back the freedom of their person and the freedom of their belief, and stop the persecution."
The mainland government has accused Falun Gong of trying to overthrow the government and detained thousands of adherents.
Practitioners of the movement, which denies any political motive, have said some 50,000 followers have been detained and many are sent for "reform through labour," a punishment which does not require a trial.
Falun Gong followers also say Chinese authorities abuse and torture practitioners.
Xu said 95 practitioners were known to have been tortured to death on the mainland since July last year when the Communists began a crackdown on the movement.
Chinese authorities have said 150 prominent members have been jailed, mostly for "using a cult for obstructing justice" but has been silent on the numbers sent for "reform through labour."
Beijing has acknowledged several deaths in custody, but say most resulted from suicide or illnesses.
The spiritual movement, also known as Falun Dafa, combines meditation and exercise with a doctrine loosely rooted in Buddhist and Taoist teachings.
It first rattled Beijing in April last year with a 10,000-strong protest around the country's leadership compound. The movement was banned later that year, and its practitioners have since staged daily protests in Tiananmen Square.
BEIJING (AP) - Police seized at least two dozen Falun Gong followers who unfurled banners and chanted slogans on China's Tiananmen Square on Sunday in the latest protest against a brutal crackdown on their sect.
Defying tight security in and around the sprawling plaza in central Beijing, protesters emerged in twos or threes from the crowds to shout ``Falun Gong is not a crime'' and hold up bright yellow banners reading ``Truth, Compassion, Tolerance'' - the group's stated principles.
Plainclothes and uniformed police quickly approached, ripping down banners and bundling protesters into vans, which sped away. Police refrained from the violence of previous protests, when they kicked and punched sect followers in view of tourists.
The protesters - mostly plainly dressed men and women in their 50s and 60s - did not resist arrest. The protests erupted sporadically for about 45 minutes but were too small to force the square's closure, as two larger demonstrations did two months ago.
In the biggest, on Oct. 1, China's National Day, at least 350 protesters were beaten and arrested and the square shut for more than 30 minutes on a day that commemorates 51 years of communist rule.
Smaller protests involving a handful of people have become almost daily events as Falun Gong tries to draw attention to the government's campaign to suppress it.
Sunday's demonstration marked the 52nd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a sweeping U.N. rights treaty. About 200 Falun Gong followers also marched in Hong Kong, a Chinese territory where the sect remains legal.
Beijing outlawed Falun Gong in July 1999 amid fears its millions of members could challenge the Communist Party's monopoly on power. Since then, police have rounded up tens of thousands of followers and sent as many as 5,000 to labor camps.
Human rights groups say at least 74 have died in custody; Falun Gong says the number is higher.
The government has confirmed some of the deaths but denied any mistreatment of detained sect members. It calls Falun Gong an ``evil cult'' and claims it is responsible for the deaths of more than 1,500 followers, mainly by telling them to refuse modern medicine.
Falun Gong insists that it is harmless and seeks only the freedom to practice its beliefs, an eclectic mix of Taoism, Buddhism and the ideas of its founder, former government clerk Li Hongzhi, now believed to be in the United States.
HONG KONG, Dec 10 (Reuters) - Chinese spiritual sect Zhong Gong said on Sunday its leader was suffering "inhumane treatment" in detention on the U.S.-administered island of Guam, and urged U.S. authorities to free him immediately.
In an open letter sent on International Human Rights Day to the U.N. Human Rights Commission, the group suggested that in its treatment of Zhang Hongbao the United States might be acting under pressure from China, which has outlawed his group.
"In China, the Communists persecute our group. In the United States, the Clinton govenrment treat the leader of our group so inhumanely," it said. "Why? Is there a 'partnership' in Zhang's case, too?
"People cannot help suspecting whether somebody in the U.S. and the Chinese Communist authorities have dirty dealings under the table," it said.
The group said Zhang was being held with three or four other prisoners in a cell of about eight square metres (86 square feet) and was not always allowed to consult doctors when he was sick.
He had to queue for up to two hours in strong sun to make a brief phone call and prison officers failed to give him his letters, according to Zhong Gong members.
Zhang had been beaten by guards when they saw him practising Zhong Gong and cut under the eye, the letter said.
Zhong Gong, a mystical and meditative sect, has like the better known Falun Gong spiritual movement been banned in communist China as an "evil cult" accused of "using feudal superstition to deceive the masses."
Beijing has accused Zhang of raping followers. His sect says China fabricated the charges in a ploy frequently used to punish and discredit political enemies without provoking criticisms over human rights.
After six years' exile outside China, Zhang went to Guam in late January to seek political asylum and the island's immigration authority has since kept him in detention, according to his group. The United States has given him "protection status" but not political asylum.
What Is Falun Gong? See "Falun Gong 101", by Massimo Introvigne
FALUN GONG UPDATES
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