HONG KONG - Guam's legislature has called for the release of the leader of a spiritual sect that is banned in China from detention in the U.S.-administered Pacific island, a Hong Kong human rights group said on Sunday.
Zhang Hongbao, leader of the Zhong Gong sect, has been detained on Guam since he went there in January 2000 seeking political asylum.
The island's lawmakers passed a resolution on April 10 for Zhang's immediate and unconditional release, the Information Center for Human Rights & Democracy said in a statement.
It said copies of the resolution had been sent to U.S. officials including President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell.
"Mr Zhang Hongbao's confinement on Guam is inconsistent with the traditional Chamorro belief that freedom is fundamental to life itself, representing an embarrassment to the people of Guam since the injustice continues on our island," said the document, a copy of which was sent to Reuters by the information centre.
"The fundamental right to freedom of religious belief and worship is severely restricted in the People's Republic of China," it said.
Officials from the Guam legislature were not immediately available to comment.
In June, a U.S. Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS) court told Zhang that he would be given political asylum. But confirmation was delayed as INS authorities studied a Chinese embassy demand that he be denied asylum.
The information centre said Guam's federal court would make a ruling on Zhang's petition for "habeas corpus" on April 18.
Along with the better-known Falun Gong spiritual movement, Zhong Gong has been banned in China as an "evil cult," accused of "using feudal superstition to deceive the masses."
Beijing has accused Zhang of raping followers, charges which his group dismisses as fabrication.
Zhang went to Guam after six years' exile outside China. To date, the United States has given him only "protection status" but not political asylum.
BEIJING, China -- Three more followers of the Falun Gong spiritual movement -- detained during a crackdown by Chinese officials -- have died, according to the group.
This would bring the number of reported deaths attributed to the authorities to 115, the sect's members claim.
Local officials on Friday confirmed two of the deaths Friday but denied they were due to mistreatment while in the hands of police.
Wang Xiujun, 37, died on February 13 in eastern China's Shandong province after five months of detention and "prolonged torture," the group's U.S. followers said in a written statement.
She was held at a home for the elderly where the government rents rooms to hold Falun Gong members.
An employee at the home denied that Wang was beaten or tortured.
"The government always rents our rooms to educate Falun Gong practitioners. Wang Xiujun refused to eat or drink but kept practicing Falun Gong. Then she just died," said the staffer, who refused to give his name.
Another Falun Gong follower, Sun Hongyan of Liaozhong county in the northeast, was tortured for six months and died four days after she was released, the group said.
A Liaozhong county police officer, who gave only his surname, Huang, said Sun had died of lung disease on March 25, shortly after she was released from a Shenyang labor camp.
Other officials in Liaozhong declined to comment.
A third Falun Gong member, Zhang Zigen of Zhangjiakou city, died in police custody on February 25, the group said.
Meanwhile, a court in the northern city of Xi'an has sentenced six members of another sect banned by the government, Guanyin Famen, or "Way of the Goddess of Mercy," to prison terms of between three to eight years for "using an evil cult to break the law," a local government official said.
The six people were also accused of conspiring with overseas cult organizations, organizing cult activities, printing and distributing cult publications and fraud, said the official, who said his surname was Jiang.
WASHINGTON - A senior representative of China's official Protestant church applauded the ban on the Falun Gong on Wednesday as good for religious freedom because it drew a distinction between real religions and "cults."
The Rev. Deng Fucun, the general secretary of the China Christian Council, delivered an open letter from the movement's national committee at a news conference at the Chinese Embassy in Washington.
"We, the religious circles in China, strongly oppose the Falun Gong cult," read the letter, addressed to the "many overseas friends" of the government-sanctioned group and the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of Protestant Churches.
"The ban of the Falun Gong cult by the government does not affect the implementation of the religious freedom policy at all. On the contrary, there are more people in the society who support the policy of religious freedom because they have distinguished the difference between religions and cults."
The United States presented a resolution to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Geneva on Wednesday accusing China of abuses, including repressing Falun Gong, and calling on Beijing to permit greater freedom of religion.
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, combines meditation and exercise with a doctrine loosely rooted in Buddhist and Taoist teachings. It was banned in October 1999 after staging a 10,000-strong protest in April that year.
Although China's constitution provides for freedom of religion, the government restricts practice to sanctioned organizations and registered places of worship.
Asked about the resolution, Deng said: "There are some reports on the situation of religious freedom in China which really in my opinion is very contradictory to the facts as I know ... so I really doubt how reliable the reports can be."
The U.S. State Department in its September 2000 annual report on international religious freedom found that instead of increasing freedoms for other religions, the ban on Falun Gong had had a kind of "spillover effect," as several qi-gong groups, practicing movement and meditation, and other unregistered religious groups were swept up in the crackdown.
Deng was in the United States to promote links with churches here and visited Houston, Texas, and Orlando, Florida, where he received "a warm welcome," he said.
He was, however, asked where ever he went about his thoughts on the furor over a U.S. spy plane that collided with a Chinese fighter jet, and Beijing's insistence on an apology. He said he answered them with a Christian proverb:
"Do unto others as you would have others do unto you."
GENEVA - The United States presented a resolution Wednesday accusing China of abuses, including repressing its Tibetan minority and banned Falun Gong (news - web sites) spiritual movement, and calling on Beijing to permit freedom of religion.
The U.S. delegation submitted the text -- which also urged China to release all political prisoners and to eliminate its re-education through labor system -- to the United Nations (news - web sites) Commission on Human Rights.
It was released in Geneva as the White House announced an agreement had been reached with Beijing for China to release the 24-member crew of U.S. spy plane who have been held after making an emergency landing on Hainan Island on April 1.
The 53-member state U.N. rights body, holding its annual six-week session in Geneva to examine violations worldwide, is scheduled to vote on a host of country resolutions on April 18.
European Union (news - web sites) member states support the resolution, but have not co-sponsored it officially, EU diplomats said. However, China enjoys wide support among Asian and other developing countries, who traditionally back it in the talks.
But many Western diplomats and U.N. sources doubt the U.S. resolution would even be debated, as China is expected to present its own motion calling for ``no action'' on the U.S. text.
China's delegation, by using this controversial procedural maneuver, has successfully avoided examination of its record every year since the June 1989 killing of student protesters in and around Beijing's Tiananmen Square.
The U.S. resolution expresses concern at continuing reports of China's ``failure to protect internationally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms.''
In particular, it cites ``severe restrictions on the rights of citizens to the freedoms of assembly, association, expression, conscience and religion, and to due legal process and a fair trial as well as at reports of harsh sentences for some seeking to exercise their rights.''
The three-page U.S. text expresses concern at ``increased restrictions on the exercise of cultural, linguistic, religious and other fundamental freedoms of Tibetans and others.''
It also notes the ``continuing arrests and harsh sentencing during the past year of members of the China Democracy Party.''
The U.S. resolution criticizes China's ``severe measures'' to restrict the peaceful activities of Buddhists, Muslims, Christians and others who try to exercise their rights to freedom of conscience, belief and peaceful assembly.
It also expresses concern at China's ``increasingly severe measures taken against adherents of movements such as Falun Gong who, in pursuing non-violent activities, sought to exercise their internationally recognized rights of freedom of conscience, belief and peaceful assembly.''
The U.S. text welcomes China's efforts in some areas, but calls on Beijing to ``accelerate efforts to reform, with a view to rapid elimination, (of) the re-education through labor system and forced labor.''
It also calls for releasing ``political prisoners, including persons imprisoned for the non-violent expression of their political, religious or social views.''
The U.S. resolution welcomes China's efforts to increase the transparency of the judicial system and its expressed intention to ratify a major U.N. rights instrument, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
GENEVA - China's mission in Geneva Monday demanded that the U.N. Correspondents' Association cancel a meeting it organized for its members with representatives of the Falun Gong spiritual movement.
But the meeting went ahead as scheduled in the Association's library -- which is treated by officials of the world body as having extra-territorial status -- rather than at the U.N.'s Palais des Nations European headquarters.
Falun Gong, which combines meditation and exercise with a doctrine loosely rooted in Buddhist and Taoist teachings, has been denounced by Chinese authorities as an "evil cult." It first shocked Beijing with a 10,000-person protest in April 1999 and was banned in China later that year.
A letter to the Association's acting president Tomasz Surdel, also sent to the U.N. Information Division, said the meeting "will deeply hurt the feelings of the Chinese people and relations between China and the U.N."
The letter, handed to Surdel by a Chinese diplomat, added: "We strongly demand that such a meeting be canceled."
It described Falun Gong as "an evil cult," and said the organization "fabricates heretical fallacies, practices cult leader-worship, exercises mind control, violates fundamental human rights and creates social disturbance in China."
Surdel, a Polish citizen who works for the Warsaw Gazeta Wyborcza, said representatives from the mission or from anti-Falun Gong groups at the current session of the U.N. Human Rights Commission, would be welcome if they asked for a similar meeting.
The United Nations has always supported the Association's right to hold such meetings with non-governmental organizations from many countries and representing a wide range of views, Surdel said.
Earlier in the day, members of the Falun Gong from around Europe demonstrated against what they say is official oppression of the movement in China on a square outside the Palais des Nations.
Since the six-week Human Rights Commission began last month, Chinese officials have distributed to reporters hundreds of publications and videos attacking the Falun Gong, which has legal recognition in Switzerland.
BEIJING - China issued a report Monday praising what it said were its human rights accomplishments last year, citing higher living standards and gold medals won at the Sydney Olympics.
The report described the often-brutal crackdown on the Falun Gong spiritual group as a sign of the communist government ``safeguarding social stability and the people's lives and property.''
The White Paper on Human Rights, released by China's Cabinet and reported by the official Xinhua News Agency, concluded that human rights in China ``maintained positive forward momentum.''
The bulk of the report focused on rising economic standards. It said China put ``people's rights to subsistence and development on the top of its agenda.''
China's leaders have responded to reports of the jailing of labor activists, torture by police and other official abuses by arguing that adopting international human rights standards would interfere with economic development.
The report said China had made great strides in improving political rights by allowing village-level elections and trying to strengthen its court system.
The white paper conflicts with mounting reports by human rights groups of abuses by Chinese authorities. In February, London-based Amnesty International said that police beatings and torture of detainees was rampant.
China is under intense scrutiny for its treatment of Falun Gong and other dissidents and its detention of foreign scholars on spying charges.
Chinese authorities argue that Falun Gong, banned in July, 1999, is a dangerous cult whose believes have led to the deaths of followers. Human rights activists say 112 people picked up in attempts to stamp out the group have died in custody.
A Hong Kong-based human rights group said Monday that a Chinese scholar who has taught at the University of Chicago and Stanford has been detained on suspicion of divulging state secrets.
Tan Guangguang, who has been in business in Beijing since 1994, was picked up by security agents in December, according to the Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy.
He is the fourth intellectual whose detention in China has become known in the past three weeks, and the third with U.S. connections.
China is trying to fend off criticism ahead of a July vote to pick the site of the 2008 Olympic Games. Beijing is one of six finalists.
In the report, the government repeated its insistence that its human rights record should not be held to universal standards.
``Politicizing the issue of human rights and attaching human rights conditions to economic aid are themselves violations of human rights conditions,'' it said.
But the authors added the frank admission that there is ``still much room for further improvement'' in China's human rights conditions.
It said that the number of people living in poverty had plummeted in the last two decades.
Better diets ``improved the physique of the Chinese people,'' the report added. It pointed to the record 28 gold medals won by Chinese athletes at the Summer Games last year in Sydney.
It also said that more than 600 million farmers had voted in village elections since first being allowed to choose local leaders three years ago.
A Falun Gong practitioner says she was barred from entering Macau despite a claim by the enclave's Chief Executive that there is no political blacklist of Hong Kong people. Without commenting specifically on the case, Macau police admitted there was a list of unwelcome people with criminal records in Macau or people who they believed had criminal intentions.
The female practitioner, 49, who works in the retail industry, said: "I have no idea why I was denied entry. I could only say it was because I am a Falun Gong member."
The woman said she visited Macau for business on Tuesday. She was accompanied by several friends who are not Falun Gong practitioners.
On arrival at the ferry terminal in Macau, she said she was asked by immigration officials to wait in a room while her friends were allowed entry. After half an hour, she was denied entry and asked to return to Hong Kong. She said officials escorted her to the ferry and kept watch on her until her ferry left at 1.30pm.
The woman said she travelled to Macau for business in late February and last month without problem. She also visited Shenzhen on Monday without difficulty. "I believe Macau has tightened the immigration measures."
She said she had never taken part in protests in Macau, was not a core member of Falun Gong and did not keep a high profile in Hong Kong. She has distributed pamphlets on the sect but police have never checked her identity card or taken her name.
Leong Wai-keung, Macau's Public Security Police Force senior superintendent responsible for public relations, refused to comment on the case, citing privacy reasons. The police force heads the Immigration Department in Macau.
However, he echoed Macau Chief Executive's Edmund Ho Hau-wah's claim that there was no political blacklist of Hong Kong people. Mr Ho made the remark when he met a group of visiting Hong Kong legislators on Monday.
Mr Ho was also quoted as saying the administration would impose more stringent measures at certain times, such as when Beijing leaders were visiting.
"However, a list of unwelcome people does exist," he said. "They are those who have committed criminal offences or whom we believe have the intention to commit crime. These include terrorists whose names are supplied by Interpol. It doesn't matter whether they practise Falun Gong or not."
People on the list may be barred from entering the enclave for a period, subject to review, he said.
Mr Leong said under Macau law, non-residents were not allowed to stage protests or demonstrations.
Kan Hung-cheung, a spokesman for Falun Gong practitioners in Hong Kong, said there had been previous cases in which Falun Gong practitioners had been barred from entering Macau.
This happened when President Jiang Zemin attended the first anniversary of the Macau handover last December.
April 5th Action Group activists Leung Kwok-hung and Lui Yuk-lin have also been denied entry to Macau.
The American Psychiatric Association has urged the World Psychiatric Association to protest to the Chinese government about the incarceration of political dissidents and members of the Falun Gong movement in mental hospitals.
It has asked the association to "move with alacrity as it did at American, British and Australian insistence when psychiatry was used in the intimidation and torture of Soviet dissidents."
There is growing evidence of widespread abuse of psychiatry in the Peoples Republic of China. Two new reports describe forcible incarceration of political dissidents and Falun Gong members in mental hospitals, where they undergo the forced administration of psychotropic drugs, electroshock treatment, inadequate diet, and brutal beatings. Falun Gong members are told, "No transformation, no release."
In July 1999 the Beijing government banned the Falun Gong movement, which draws on Buddhism, Taoism, and the traditional Chinese doctrine of qigong (respiratory exercises).
In the first of the two reports, Robin Munro, a senior research fellow at the Centre for Chinese Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London, said: "The Chinese government is waging a campaign to discredit and eliminate the Falun Gong spiritualist movement, interring obstinate members in mental asylums."
He has published his findings in a 130 page study ("Judicial psychiatry in China and its political abuses") in the Columbia Journal of Asian Law.
Mr Munro stated: "The Ministry of Public Security in China runs a network of special hospitals to house the criminally insane and in which political opponents are incarcerated, and now the members of the Falun Gong movement are being treated the same way." He added that this system was copied from the former Soviet Union.
A special 100 page report on Chinese psychiatric abuse was released in March from the Falun Dafa Information Center in New York (www.faluninfo.net). It named 123 Falun Gong practitioners sent to mental hospitals up to 8 January 2001.
According to the Hong Kong based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy, however, the number of those detained is even higher. It said that 600 Falun Gong members have been detained in mental hospitals, of whom at least 50 have died in custody.
An editorial on 25 March in the New York Times strongly criticised Beijing, which "imprisons nonconformists as mentally ill," and called for forceful condemnation from foreign governments, including the United States. Bush administration officials, according to a recent Associated Press article, said that they would condemn Chinas record at an annual United Nations forum in Geneva.
Dr Martin Deahl, chairman of the ethics committee of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, warned, however: "Basically the college is aware of the problem, but that it is essential to work carefully with the Chinese. By condemning them you just alienate them."
Human rights activists have called on the World Psychiatric Association to censure or suspend China at next years meeting of the World Psychological Association.
What Is Falun Gong? See "Falun Gong 101", by Massimo Introvigne
"Falun Gong 101. Introduzione al Falun Gong e alla sua presenza in Italia" (in italiano), di Massimo Introvigne
FALUN GONG UPDATES
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