NEW YORK - Followers and supporters of the Falun Gong qigong movement yesterday stepped up their appeal to free Teng Chunyan, a US resident whose imprisonment has been raised with Beijing by the Bush administration.
Teng, a New York-based doctor who practised and taught traditional Chinese medicine, was convicted last year of passing state secrets to foreigners and sentenced to three years in a labour camp.
Although China says she was imprisoned for spying, rights activists say she was targeted because of her participation in the movement that is banned on the mainland.
``We are calling on the government of the United States of America to demand of China's leadership Dr Teng's safe return,'' Alan Adler, the executive director of Friends of Falun Gong, said in New York.
Mr Adler said Teng, a faculty member at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in New York, had been abused and tortured in custody. He added that her incarceration was ``outrageous''.
Chinese consulate officials in New York were not available for comment.
Teng, who also taught at the New York College for Wholistic Health, is one of several US-linked academics detained in China whose cases have been raised by Washington with Beijing. Over the past several weeks, three of the detainees have been released.
US President George W Bush is scheduled to go to China in October and some China watchers say they expect the cases of detained academics raised by Washington to be settled before the trip.
HONG KONG Falun Gong practitioner Chan Yuk-to has returned to the SAR after being detained for 31 days in Beijing.
But the Beijing-born technician has been barred from entering the mainland for at least ``the next few years''.
Speaking yesterday to the media for the first time since his release, Mr Chan, 34, recounted the ordeal of his arrest and detention.
Mr Chan was released from a detention centre in Beijing's Chaoyang district around 7pm on Saturday and was taken directly to the airport and put on a night flight back to Hong Kong.
He was accompanied to the airport by a group of Public Security Bureau officers, who confiscated his home-return permit and told him he would be barred from entering China.
Although they did not specify the length of the ban, Mr Chan said, he understood it would be at least for the next few years.
Mr Chan believed his status as a permanent resident of Hong Kong - and the assistance of the SAR government after an appeal by his mother - had helped secure his release.
But Mr Chan did not rule out the possibility that the Central Government had improved its stance towards Falun Gong detainees.
``Some detainees told me they had heard that some Falun Gong detainees had been beaten,'' Mr Chan said. ``But no one beat me during my detention.''
Mr Chan, who had worked as a technician for a Chinese-US company in Beijing for two years, was arrested at his home in the capital on the night of July 12.
Public Security officers told him he had been watched for some time.
The officers searched Mr Chan's home and found some Falun Gong material and videotapes.
They then told him he had violated criminal law by practising Falun Gong.
During his detention, Mr Chan was forced to listen to broadcasts on government policies and regulations.
Mr Chan was asked to sign some documents regarding the arrest operation and, shortly before his sudden release, he was asked to sign a ``letter of regret''.
Mr Chan said that instead, he wrote that practising Falun Gong was his own business, and doing so ``does no harm to the country''. He also stressed that he had ``no intention to confront the Communist Party''.
Mr Chan, who migrated to Hong Kong in July 1991, started practising Falun Gong in May 1999 after reading materials on the sect provided by his mother, Lau Yuk-ling.
Mr Chan denied being very afraid during his detention ``because I believed that I had done nothing wrong''. He said he would continue to follow the sect's teachings.
In a statement, the qigong group said that even though Mr Chan was not subjected to severe physical torture, his detention on July 12 was ``unlawful'' and was ``a direct result of the illegal persecution'' of the Falun Gong.
It expressed appreciation for the efforts of the Hong Kong government in bringing the case to the attention of the mainland authorities.
HONG KONG - A Hong Kong Falun Gong follower has been released after nearly a month in detention in Beijing, the controversial spiritual group said on Monday.
Chan Yuk-to, 34, was released and deported to Hong Kong on Saturday after being told he would be banned from mainland China, according to a statement from Falun Gong in Hong Kong.
"He was told that he would be barred entry into mainland China for the next five years," the statement said.
Banned and vilified in mainland China as an "evil cult," the Falun Gong remains legal in Hong Kong, a former British colony that was promised a high degree of autonomy when it reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.
Chan, who was not available for comment, was arrested by authorities in Beijing in mid-July.
A permanent resident of Hong Kong, Chan lived and worked in Beijing. His release followed a three-day protest in Hong Kong last week led by his mother Lau Yuk-ling, also a Falun Gong practitioner.
"They confiscated everything in his house. The computer, the mobile phone, books and tapes on Falun Gong. He only practised at home and didn't harm others," Chan's mother, Lau Yuk-ling, told Reuters.
China has accused the Falun Gong of trying to topple its communist leadership and banned the movement in July 1999.
The crackdown intensified this year after an apparent suicide attempt by alleged members in Beijing in January. A mother and her 12-year-old daughter died after setting themselves on fire in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.
Waco practitioners of the Falun Gong spiritual movement fear their former teacher is facing torture at the hands of a hostile Chinese government.
Falun Gong is a Chinese practice that involves a series of meditations and motions that resemble yoga and tai chi. Adherents say the exercises help them achieve the principles of "truthfulness, benevolence and forbearance."
The practice, also known as Falun Dafa, was publicly introduced in China in 1992. Popularity of the movement spread quickly, leading Communist leaders in China to outlaw the practice in 1999. The government has reportedly used jails, labor camps, mental hospitals and even death to try to stop the practice.
Local practitioners insist Falun Gong is not a religion. But D.E. Mungello, a history professor at Baylor University who specializes in religions in China, said the government there has tried to stop Falun Gong because it sees it as a religious sect.
"The problem is that there's a tension between following one's god and following the state," Mungello said. "The Chinese want to be sure that they get the primary loyalty, and they're willing to allow religious worship, but only if it doesn't interfere with state practices."
Mary Jo Ard, a Waco schoolteacher and Falun Gong practitioner, worries for the safety of former Baylor graduate student Yan Luo. Ard has heard that Luo, the first to lead Falun Gong in Waco, has been arrested for practicing in her hometown of Beijing.
Luo, whom friends estimate is in her late 20s, began sharing the practice here two years ago after moving from Boston to study information systems at Baylor. Despite her own discomfort with the English language, she gave 40-minute presentations on the movement at local churches, libraries and community centers.
She secured space at the Bledsoe-Miller Recreation Center and publicized group sessions through newspaper announcements and letters to the editor. Ard guessed that about 10 people began practicing because of her teachings here.
"There are no religious rituals or worship, no political agendas and no fund-raising activities," Luo wrote in a March 2000 letter to the Tribune-Herald . "Those who practice are not followers but people with complete individual freedom and no obligations."
At group exercises, practitioners listen to a tape of founder Li Hongzhi instructing their movements in Chinese. They stand on cushioned mats and slowly move their arms slowly above their heads and in front of their bodies.
They hold some positions for 10 minutes, eyes closed, while trying to clear all thoughts from their minds. The exercises are meant to balance energy flow in the body, which Ard says enables practitioners to focus on and enact the teaching's core principles. Those principles can be found in Li's writings, which practitioners read on their own and at group sessions.
Her friends say Luo was so dedicated to the practice that, long after sessions ended, she would answer Falun Gong questions in the Bledsoe-Miller parking lot. She gave rides to anyone who needed them, and when the recreation center's television set was stolen, she shopped around at garage sales for one she could donate to the center.
"She seemed to have a knack for knowing what people needed and giving it to them," said practitioner Pat Knighten, 48. "She just thought of others more than she thought of herself."
She finished Baylor in the spring of 2000, but skipped her own commencement to share World Falun Dafa Day with Waco practitioners. The night before she left Waco to join her husband in Boston, she gave Knighten three boxes filled with Falun Gong cassettes, books, videos and more than 1,000 brochures.
She worked temporary jobs in Boston before leaving to speak at a Falun Gong conference in Hong Kong. Ard said Luo knew she might not make it back to the United States.
After the Hong Kong conference early this year, she spent two weeks in Thailand. She then went to Laos, where, according to e-mails she regularly sent to her Waco friends, she hoped to secure a visa that would allow her to return to Thailand. Shortly after arriving in Laos in February, she sent her last e-mail to Waco.
Ard said she recently attended a Falun Gong convention in Washington, D.C., where she asked any Bostonian she could find for information about Luo. She eventually learned Luo had been arrested in Laos, near the Chinese border.
Luo was released from a detention center, Ard heard, but continued to practice when she returned home to Beijing. She was then arrested there, Ard was told.
The Waco supporters are unsure what kind of treatment has followed. Ard said that 255 practitioners have been tortured to death in China, more than 1,000 have been sent to mental hospitals, 25,000 sent to labor camps and 50,000 sent to jails. She disputes China's claim that some Falun Gong adherents have committed suicide while in labor camps.
"The Chinese government is pushing the notion that they're committing suicide, which is against the teaching," she said. "It's very clearly stated that there's nothing more important than your life and you hold onto your life for anything."
Despite the troubles that Luo could be facing, her message lives on for the handful of Waco residents who continue to practice. They gather each Wednesday and Saturday at Bledsoe-Miller for sessions that last about two hours.
Ard said the balancing of energies in her body has cleared up her allergy problems to the point that she no longer needs daily shots. She said her focus on the guiding principles has, for instance, made her less likely to gossip about others.
Active Waco participants are trying to localize a national effort to bring attention to the crackdown in China, particularly in light of the news that Beijing will host the 2008 Olympics. They're also trying to rally support for a congressional resolution that calls on the Chinese government to cease the persecution.
"Any time we have an opportunity to do something, we will," Knighten said.
That includes seeking information at every turn about their former teacher. And they wonder, Ard said, if they will ever see Luo again.
"I hope like everything that we do."
The Chinese embassy in Moscow has asked the Russian interior ministry to ban a news conference which followers of the Falun Gong spiritual movement plan to hold in the Russian capital.
The Russian news agency Itar-Tass said the Interior Ministry had not yet decided whether to ban the conference which is due to take place on Monday.
The Falun Gong movement has been outlawed in China since 1999 but has a large following.
The movement has held demonstrations in China to draw attention to the government's attempts to suppress it.
Practitioners of the banned spiritual group Falun Gong are reportedly turning to hunger strikes inside Chinese labour camps, in their campaign against the Chinese Government.
The largest appears to be underway in one of the country's biggest detention centres.
Falun Gong supporters outside China claim than at least 130 practitioners are into the second week of a hunger strike inside the Masanjia camp in north-eastern Liaoning province.
They say the protest was sparked by the authorities' refusal to let them free when their one-year sentences ended last month.
China has been under international pressure to scrap its system of labour camps that allow detention for up to three years without trial.
A group spokeswoman in New York called for immediate international action to help free the hunger strikers.
But China's leaders show no signs of relenting.
In a newspaper interview President Jiang Zemin says the government will continue its crackdown against what he calls dangerous cult.
BEIJING- About 130 members of the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual movement have been on hunger strike for more than 10 days at a labor camp in northeast China, the group said Friday.
The hunger strikers, inmates of the Masanjia camp in Liaoning province, are protesting against the camp authorities' decision to keep them beyond their original terms, according to the Falun Dafa Information center, a Falun Gong news service.
An official at the camp contacted by AFP by telephone denied the report.
"I give you my word of honor there is no one on hunger strike here," she said.
The Falun Gong news service said the refusal to release the group's practitioners stemmed from a directive issued by the Liaoning judicial authorities.
The Falun Gong said the Masanjia camp was notorious for its brutal treatment of inmates.
It cited reports that camp officers allegedly stripped 18 female Falun Gong practitioners naked and threw them into the cells of male convicts.
The camp official contacted by AFP declined to comment on the report.
Since the Falun Gong was banned two years ago, tens of thousands of practitioners have been sent to "re-education through labor" camps and hundreds have been given prison sentences.
A total of 156 have died in police custody, according to the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy.
Members of the spiritual group Falun Gong met in downtown Las Vegas Wednesday to call attention to continuing persecution in China.
Falun Gong, a spiritual practice that includes meditation and simple physical exercises, was banned by the Communist government in 1999. More than 12,000 followers have been arrested, tortured or killed for continuing to practice in China.
About 20 local practitioners gathered Wednesday on the steps of the Lloyd George Federal Courthouse under a banner that read, "truthfulness, compassion, forbearance."
"The (Chinese President) Jiang Zemin regime has been intensifying the persecution to the point of now legalizing killing practitioners," Gina Sanchez, a Falun Gong spokesperson from Los Angeles, said while members performed their spiritual exercises on red, circular mats.
"Since legalizing murdering Falun Gong practitioners, there have been 40 confirmed deaths since June 10," said Sanchez, who has been touring the U.S. holding news conferences to draw attention to the persecution.
In Las Vegas about 250 people practice Falun Gong freely in public parks and libraries. Falun Gong was created in 1992 by a former government clerk, Li Hongzhi, who is now living in the U.S.
Kaijin Liang, a local Falun Gong practitioner -- the group prefers to be called "practitioners" instead of "members" -- said the Chinese government fears that the group might someday be mobilized politically in opposition to Communism.
"But we are not a political group," he said.
Liang said there are more than 70 million Falun Gong practitioners in China, compared to about 60 million Communists.
The United States has signalled it will continue to keep a close watch on the Hong Kong government's stance towards the Falun Gong.
Beijing has generally kept its commitment to respect the SAR's autonomy, ``with some notable exceptions that bear continued close attention'', according to a report to the US Congress. One of these is the Falun Gong.
The SAR government's ``strong rhetoric and possible action'' against the qigong sect warrants attention, says the report, which went before Congress on Tuesday. The report also laments that the SAR is no closer to universal suffrage in the election of its Chief Executive and claims that its open, international image was damaged by Beijing's ban on US warships entering port during the Hainan spy-plane row.
Nevertheless, it says, Hong Kong remains one of the freest cities in Asia.
The special report by the State Department follows a series of reports spanning the handover that were required by the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act and ended last year. It was prepared in response to concerns in Congress about the SAR's autonomy.
In reply, the SAR government said Hong Kong was proud of ``the successful implementation of one country, two systems'' and would continue to develop the political system in accordance with the Basic Law.
Hong Kong remained a free society, it said, and the government was ``firmly committed'' to protection of fundamental rights and freedoms, including those of speech, press, religion and assembly. The US report said that while Hong Kong residents enjoyed rights of expression and association, the same could not be shared by outsiders - such as overseas Falun Gong members.
Pressure from Beijing had led to the banning of at least 102 practitioners during the visit of President Jiang Zemin for the Fortune Global Forum in May, it said. This was illustrated by Mr Jiang's warning to the Hong Kong and Macau governments in December that they should never allow anyone use the two SARs to stage activities against the Central Government.
Adding weight was the SAR government's admission it was watching the sect closely and studying the possibility of anti-cult legislation that, according to the report, ``could endanger freedom of belief, conscience and expression in Hong Kong''..
It noted however that the government had said later it was not planning legislation.
The report said the ban on US warships and military aircraft visiting the SAR after the collision in April between an American spy plane and a Chinese jet fighter had ``negatively affected Hong Kong's reputation as an open, cosmopolitan, and internationally connected city''.
Despite this and lack of progress to universal suffrage, Hong Kong remained a ``free society'' where basic human rights remained ``well-respected and staunchly defended''.
The SAR also continued to play an important role as a regional financial hub and an open international city with robust exports, the report said.
HONG KONG - Members of the Falun Gong meditation group, banned in mainland China but not here, began a three-day protest Wednesday calling for the release of a Hong Kong resident who they say is detained in Beijing.
About 30 people marched 5.2 miles in sweltering weather to Hong Kong's main train terminal on Victoria Harbor, urging China to free fellow Falun Gong member Chan Yuk-to.
The group plans similar marches Thursday and Friday. Afterward, it intends to present a petition to the local Chinese liaison office, said Kan Hung-cheung, a Falun Gong spokesman.
Lau Yuk-ling, Chan's 58-year-old mother, led the silent march. She wore a yellow t-shirt printed with ``S.O.S.'' in red letters and held a placard showing her son's photo that read: ``My son is not guilty,'' and ``Release my son.''
``I am not doing this just for my son, I am doing this for all those innocent Falun Gong practitioners who are being kept in jail and suffering from torture,'' Lau said before setting out.
Falun Gong claims that at least 263 members have been killed in the Chinese crackdown on the popular meditation movement. Thousands of adherents are in jails and labor camps and many have been forced to renounce their beliefs since the government banned the sect in 1999, denouncing it as a public menace and threat to Communist Party rule.
Hong Kong residents, however, enjoy more freedoms under an autonomy arrangement agreed to when Britain returned the colony to China four years ago.
Lau and other Falun Gong members said police detained Chan last month, and have not informed the family of the reason.
Officials from Hong Kong's Immigration Department and Security Bureau have said they were contacting Beijing regarding Chan's case. Inquiries to the central government's liaison office went unanswered.
Falun Gong combines slow-motion exercises and meditation with a philosophy drawn from Taoism, Buddhism and the often unorthodox ideas of founder Li Hongzhi.
HONG KONG - China has kept its promise to allow Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy, though criticism by local leaders of the Falun Gong sect, banned in the mainland, is cause for concern, the U.S. government says in a report submitted to Congress this week.
``Hong Kong under Chinese sovereignty has remained one of the freest cities in Asia,'' said the report, released Wednesday by the U.S. consulate here. It said residents still enjoyed basic liberties, including a free press, Western-style legal system and independent civil service.
The report said that during the 15 months that ended on July 31, 2001, Hong Kong ``largely continued to make its own decisions in pursuit of its own identity and economic interests.''
Under the Hong Kong Policy Act, the U.S. Congress required the State Department to report on the city's status for three years after the former British colony returned to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997. The current report was made on a voluntary basis, the U.S. Consulate said in a statement.
Washington has watched for signs that Beijing might not abide by its pledge to preserve Hong Kong's capitalist lifestyle and civil liberties. In recent months, U.S. officials expressed concern over strongly worded criticism by Hong Kong leaders of the Falun Gong meditation group, which is banned in mainland China but allowed here.
The report said Hong Kong's decision to prevent about 100 overseas Falun Gong members from entering Hong Kong to participate in protests during a visit by President Jiang Zemin was further cause for worry.
On the other hand, the report applauded the continued ability of Falun Gong members to practice and stage protests in Hong Kong, despite pressure from Beijing for controls.
``The severest test of Hong Kong's human rights record and autonomy was ... pressure on Hong Kong to curb the Falun Gong,'' it said.
The report also praised the government's decision to allow U.S. scholar Li Shaomin to return to live and work in Hong Kong, just two weeks after he was convicted by a Beijing court of spying for Taiwan and expelled from China.
The Hong Kong government said in a statement that it had ``noted'' the report.
``Hong Kong has remained a free society,'' the statement said. ``Our continued prosperity is underpinned by our economic autonomy, free economy, minimum business restrictions, free flow of information and well developed infrastructure.''
The U.S. report criticized China's denial of requests from U.S. military ships and aircraft to visit the city in April and May of this year, following the crash of a U.S. spy plane and a Chinese fighter jet. Such decisions had hurt Hong Kong's image as an open and cosmopolitan city, it said.
With 50,000 U.S. citizens residing in Hong Kong and direct investments here totaling $20.8 billion, the United States has a vested interest in the city's well-being, the report noted.
Reflecting strong U.S. commercial ties, the report commended Hong Kong's progress in combatting pirated movies, audio products, software and other copyrighted goods, saying the city was a model for the rest of Asia.
Cina experts like to talk about how quickly the vast country is changing: the increase in personal freedoms, the spread of the Internet, the triumph of private enterprise. These changes are real, and significant. But such talk can too easily obscure how much in the regime remains unchanged -- how cruelly it continues to treat many of its own people. China's Communist rulers commit unspeakable violence against their subjects, not occasionally, not aberrantly but as policy: to stay in power. And to the extent that their repressiveness discourages open discussion, it succeeds; it leaves the field to those China hands who would rather focus on the Internet than the gulag.
One stunning reminder of China's dark side came in a Sunday report by Post China correspondents John Pomfret and Philip P. Pan. They documented the regime's systematic campaign of violence, torture and brainwashing against a peaceful spiritual movement known as Falun Gong. China's leaders, who routinely bulldoze churches and arrest Buddhist monks, decided that this movement too was a threat; so far, more than 250 believers have died in prisons and reeducation camps, the movement says. That number is trifling compared with those who have been tortured and broken, such as James Ouyang, described in The Post as "a slight man with thick glasses and crooked teeth":
"At a police station in western Beijing, Ouyang was stripped and interrogated for five hours. 'If I responded incorrectly, that is if I didn't say, "Yes," they shocked me with the electric truncheon,' he said. . . . [T]he guards ordered him to stand facing a wall. If he moved, they shocked him. If he fell down from fatigue, they shocked him. Each morning, he had five minutes to eat and relieve himself. 'If I didn't make it, I went in my pants,' he said. 'And they shocked me for that, too.' By the sixth day, Ouyang said, he couldn't see straight from staring at plaster three inches from his face. His knees buckled, prompting more shocks and beatings. He gave in to the guards' demands."
Even so, he was beaten for three more days before his confession was deemed sufficiently sincere.
Nor is it only Falun Gong believers who are thus treated. Han Lifa, 39, spent most of the past decade in labor camps for advocating democracy. His most recent sentence was extended by two years when he refused, after the U.S. bombing of China's embassy in Belgrade, to chant "Down with America" during a labor camp meeting. "Every day they beat me," said Mr. Han, who was freed last month, just ahead of Secretary of State Colin Powell's visit to China.
A couple of U.S.-trained academics also were freed just before Mr. Powell's visit. But lest anyone interpret that as a softening, the regime indicted another naturalized American academic, Wu Jianming, on Aug. 1. Defenders of the Chinese regime in this country often shake their heads at such arrests; so "counterproductive," they say. It's true that such arrests don't help the regime's image, particularly when (as happened in one case) the academic's 5-year-old son is separately arrested and detained for a month. But the arrests may not only be a sign of insecurity among the leaders or power struggles between "westernizers" and "conservatives," as the Chinese hands often posit. They serve a usefully chilling purpose; any academic, Chinese or American, who wants access to China is reminded to watch his or her words with care. A similar purpose is served by what the New York Times, in a front-page story last week, described as a "heavy-handed Chinese government campaign to monitor the activities of Chinese scholars living abroad." The campaign, which includes menacing "returnee interviews," "is quietly muting criticism of the Communist Party and curbing free speech beyond the country's borders."
Another kind of self-censorship comes from Americans eager to make the case for trade and other forms of engagement with China. Often they feel compelled to minimize the repression in order to justify their position, or to prove that trade is having an effect; perhaps they convince themselves. In fact sound arguments can be marshaled for engagement. But those arguments need not, and should not, rest on a romanticized portrait of China's dictators. An honest assessment will yield more realistic expectations of the U.S.-China relationship.
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
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