HONG KONG -- Chinese police have admitted that two members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement have died in custody.
The Associated Press reported that Wu Liangjie died August 20 after falling from a window of a police office in Baicheng city in the northeast province of Jilin, according to a police official there who refused to give his name.
The official said Wu fell after being locked alone in a room during a break in police questioning following her arrest for distributing Falun Gong pamphlets. He said police are still investigating what happened.
In another detention center in Daqing city in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang, Chen Qiulan died of a heart attack on August 14, said a police officer who gave only his last name, Li.
The 47-year-old sect member was arrested in July for posting information about the spiritual group on the Internet, Li said.
"Coroners determined it was a heart attack. There's no doubt. Her corpse has been cremated with the approval of her family," he added.
However, Falun Gong's Hong Kong spokeswoman Sophie Xiao told CNN that Chen had been tortured for two months until she was beaten to death. She was refused doctors' visits.
Xiao also claimed Wu's body was thrown out of a window after he died in the Baicheng according to her source, but she doesn't know the cause of Wu's death.
The two were among five sect members that Falun Gong members in New York alleged had been beaten to death or driven to suicide by police abuse. Police refused to comment on the other cases.
Falun Gong says more than 200 members have died since the July 1999 ban.
Beijing has blamed the group for causing more than 1,600 deaths, including suicides and members who they claim refused to use medicine.
Falun Gong has been labelled by Beijing as an 'evil cult' but it is legal in Hong Kong, a former British colony promised a high degree of autonomy when it reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.
Hong Kong hunger strike
Meanwhile, about ten Falungong members have been on hunger strike outside Beijing's representative office in Hong Kong for about a week in support of Falun Gong inmates in the mainland China.
They say more than 50,000 of their fellow practitioners have been thrown into prisons, labor camps and mental hospitals around China where they are mentally and physically abused.
Human rights groups estimate some 200 Falun Gong members have died from torture during detention in China.
Chinese authorities have acknowledged several deaths in custody, but attributed most to suicide or illness.
Beijing has 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 labor" punishment that does not require a judicial trial.
BEIJING - Five more adherents of the Falun Gong spiritual movement have died in Chinese custody following severe abuse, the group's U.S.-based information centre said on Friday.
The five, all women, died in detention centres or police custody around China and there were some witness reports of beating and torture, the Falun Dafa Information Centre said in a statement.
No comment was immediately available from authorities in any of the five cities where the deaths were reported to have occured.
The information centre cited witnesses as saying one woman from the southern province of Fujian had a gaping hole in her midriff at the time of death and public security officials quickly cremated the body.
Her family members were told to keep her death a secret.
One woman from the northeastern province of Jilin died under suspicious circumstances despite official claims of suicide, the centre said.
The family of a woman from the northeastern province of Heilongjiang said she was beaten unconscious and denied medical help.
Several of the victims were arrested for possessing Falun Gong material or for spreading information on members' plight, the centre said.
Chinese authorities have acknowledged several deaths of Falun Gong members in custody, but say most resulted from suicide or illness.
Falun Gong has said more than 50,000 practitioners have been sent to prisons, labour camps and mental hospitals since China banned the group in 1999.
Human rights groups estimate some 200 Falun Gong adherents have died from torture during detention in China.
Falun Gong, branded an "evil cult" by Beijing, was banned in 1999 after stunning top leaders with a mass protest around the Zhongnanhai leadership compound to demand official recognition of their faith.
China says the group is trying to overthrow the Communist Party and has caused the death of at least 1,800 people by suicide or refusal of medical treatment.
Falun Gong, also called Falun Dafa, follows a mixture of Taoist and Buddhist beliefs and traditional Chinese physical exercises.
BEIJING - A labor camp condemned by rights activists as a notorious torture centre for members of the Falungong sect is in fact a bright, cheerful place where inmates are well fed and freely repent their past crimes, China's state media claimed Thursday.
The report by the official Xinhua news agency also rejected claims that 130 Falungong followers were on hunger strike at the Masanjia labor camp in northeast China's Liaoning province.
"It was lunch time in the Masanjia Reeducation Institute... The big and well-lit dining hall was packed with inmates eating their meals, which consisted of meat, aubergine, potato, pickles and rice," Xinhua said.
Zhang Yanli, identified as a former Falungong practitioner, was quoted saying the food was much better than she had expected.
"The diet is colorful and we have different food for three meals a day," she reportedly told the agency.
The camp has also succeeded in "reeducating" more than 90 percent of the 1,000 female Falungong members housed there, Xinhua added.
"The past for me is like a nightmare," Sun Guizhen, 56, was quoted as saying. "Each time I see my husband, daughter and grandson, I regret having followed Falungong."
In contrast to this rosy picture, Falungong's New York headquarters had said on August 10 about 130 followers had gone on a lengthy hunger strike at Masanjia, protesting at the camp authorities' decision to keep them beyond their original terms.
The quasi-Buddhist group said prisoners at the camp were treated brutally and that in one incident officers stripped 18 female Falungong practitioners naked before throwing them into the cells of male convicts.
Camp official contacted by AFP had declined to comment on the report.
Since Falungong was outlawed two years ago, numerous reports have surfaced about brutal abuse members in labor camps.
Neither account of conditions at the camp can be verified as China refuses to open up its jail facilities to scrutiny.
Tens of thousands of Falunlong practitioners have been sent to "re-education through labor" centres since the Chinese government banned the group as an "evil cult" in July 1999.
Hundreds of practitioners have been given prison sentences and a total of 156 have died in police custody, according to the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy.
Beijing considers Falungong a threat to social stability and a challenge to its authority.
CHICAGO -- A provincial Chinese Communist Party official visiting the United States was served with a complaint accusing him of violating the Torture Victims Protection act by oppressing followers of Falun Gong in China.
The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court Monday, was directed against Sichuan Provincial Committee General Secretary Zhou Youngkang, who was touring businesses and municipal agencies in the area.
"He was hand-served a summons as he was getting out of his limousine while he was going to the 911 Center," said attorney Terry Marsh Tuesday in a telephone interview from New York. "He accepted it."
Marsh, a lawyer who has represented members of the Falun Gong spiritual group in previous court actions, said the civil complaint charged the Chinese official with torture, crimes against humanity, false imprisonment, inhuman and degrading treatment, causing disappearances and other charges under the Torture Victims Protection Act and the Arien-Tort Claims Act.
She said U.S. law gave Zhou 20 days to respond to the summons and indicated the group would continue to legally go after communist officials who travel outside China.
"We intend to keep serving them," she said.
Outlawed as an "evil cult" in China, Falun Gong has been the target of a government crackdown. The movement draws from Buddhist, Taoist and folk religion and believes meditation and exercise will bring good health and morality.
One of the plantiff's, Haiyne He, a graduate student in bio-medicine at Harvard University Medical School, said his brother and sister, both Falun Gong devotees, were detained in China.
He, 36, who has lived in Boston since 1995, said his 34-year-old sister, an elementary school teacher in Sichang, was sent to a labor camp in January and that his family had not been able to contract her. His brother Haiou He, a 32-year-old doctor, was detained in October 2000 and has disappeared.
Chinese authorities are believed to have executed hundreds of followers of the banned sect. Ten Falun Gong members remained on a hunger strike Tuesday near Beijing's Central Government Liaison Office in Hong Kong protesting the imprisonment of Falun Gong practitioners in China.
HONG KONG - Ten members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement in Hong Kong fasted for a fourth day on Tuesday to protest against the imprisonment of followers in China.
The 10, who have not been eating but are drinking water, said they would break their fast outside Beijing's Liaison Office at 9 a.m. (0100 GMT) on Wednesday, when a new batch of members would take over the hunger strike.
"For the sake of our health and in order to let others have a chance, the current 10 who are fasting would end their hunger strike from tomorrow," the Falun Gong group said in a statement.
Wong Yiu-hing, one of the hunger strikers, told Reuters some of them were tired but most felt fine.
The 10 were briefly detained on Saturday, the first time members of the group have been held by Hong Kong police.
Police said they detained them after receiving several complaints, including one from the building management of the Liaison Office, that they were obstructing traffic.
The detentions stirred media debate about whether the government was taking a tougher line against the group.
The Falun Gong is vilified by Beijing as an "evil cult" intent on overthrowing the Communist Party, but it is still legal in Hong Kong, a former British colony which reverted to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise of a high degree of autonomy.
"I think this is a bad sign as it indicated that there may be growing intolerance for the group, especially among the police, though we cannot be sure," said Law Yuk-kai, a spokesman for the Human Rights Monitor.
Followers in Hong Kong have repeatedly irked China with high-profile protests this year against the mainland crackdown. The Hong Kong government recently began echoing Beijing in calling the movement an "evil cult" and pro-Beijing politicians in the territory are pushing for an anti-sedition law to curb the group.
PUBLIC VIEWS MIXED
The latest protest drew mixed views from the Hong Kong public.
"They are a nuisance, they are obstructing traffic. It's all a load of rubbish and they are making themselves suffer for nothing," said an old man who identified himself only as Lo.
Others were more sympathetic.
"They are very daring to do this in front of the Liaison Office, especially after (Hong Kong leader) Tung Chee-wah called them an evil cult, but they are not creating any problems and they have the right to do this," said accountant Terry Chiu, who was passing by the building.
"But they have their point, after all China has been persecuting their members," she said.
The group says more than 50,000 practitioners have been thrown into prisons, labour camps and mental hospitals around China and detainees are mentally and physically abused.
Human rights groups estimate more than 200 have died from torture while in detention.
The Hong Kong Buddhist Association would not comment on the protest.
"Our relationship with the group is a bit uneasy and we have made a statement about two or three years ago that the Buddhist religion is different from
Falun Gong. Whatever the group does has no bearing on us," said an official of the association.
Unlike Buddhism, Falun Gong mixes Taoist, Buddhist and folk religions and preaches that meditation and special exercises will bring good health and morality.
UNITED NATIONS -- Six members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement will protest outside the U.N. building in New York later Tuesday in support of other followers detained in China.
"After our appeal for saving these lives was rejected by the Chinese Embassy in Washington, we have no option but to carry the appeal to the next level," said a Falun Gong spokesman.
The six are in the 10th day of a hunger strike.
The group will also deliver a letter for U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, detailing alleged atrocities against Falun Gong members in China.
The group will later march to the office of Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, to seek his support for the release of New York resident Dr. Chunyan Teng, now in her second year of detention in China.
The Falun Gong members will then deliver the same letter to Sen. Hillary Clinton's office.
In a separate statement, the group claimed that a Falun Gong family from France has been missing in China since Aug. 7, when they were seized by Chinese security agents.
Chi Jian, a doctoral student in economics from Grenoble, France, his wife Sun Fenglong, and their daughter, Chia Yifan, were visiting Mongolia to spend time with relatives.
Faculty and students at the Second University of the City of Grenoble, where Chi is pursing a Ph.D. in economics, have launched a campaign to lobby for the family's release. Falun Gong has been labeled by Beijing as an "evil cult" but it is legal in Hong Kong.
HONG KONG - Police said Monday that were acting on complaints from the office of China's representative in Hong Kong when they arrested 10 Falun Gong followers protesting over the weekend.
Police cordoned off the sidewalk in front of the office Monday, blocking the area where the Falun Gong adherents were arrested Saturday for allegedly obstructing the public. Their demonstration was a show of support for members detained at labor camps in mainland China, where the group is banned.
The 10 followers became the first Falun Gong members to be arrested in Hong Kong, where the meditation sect remains legal.
The followers, who were released without being charged on Saturday evening, protested for a third straight day on Monday, with the police keeping them 100 feet clear of the Chinese office.
Before the arrests, Hong Kong officials had only escalated their rhetoric against Falun Gong, with Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa calling the group a ``cult'' and saying that it needs to be monitored.
Police said Saturday they had received two complaints but they would not say who made them. But a police spokesman, Mackenzie Mak, told The Associated Press on Monday that both complaints had come from the Chinese liaison office.
Mak said the police had struck a balance in answering the needs of the public and the demonstrators, although local Falun Gong followers branded the police action as an abuse of power.
Mak said demonstration locations are determined according to the law and in consideration of any inconvenience to the public.
``The police always seek to strike a balance,'' Mak said.
Falun Gong spokesman Kan Hung-cheung disagreed.
``The arrests were unnecessary,'' Kan said. ``We believe they were made after the police received pressure from Beijing, including the Chinese liaison office.''
Officials at the Chinese office had not responded by Monday evening to an earlier written request by the Associated Press seeking comment.
Kan accused police of exercising a double standard and acting like ``hired guns'' for the Beijing administration in handling Saturday's demonstration, which he said has been ``very peaceful and has only taken up a very small space.''
``The police said we were obstructing the public; they never question themselves to ask whether they are obstructing the public to a larger extent with their barriers,'' Kan said.
Justice Secretary Elsie Leung said freedoms of demonstration and speech remain intact in Hong Kong, as long as these are exercised lawfully, without causing inconvenience to others.
``I believe anybody, who acts according to the law, is able to exercise freedom of speech, but no one should obstruct the traffic or cause inconvenience to others,'' Leung told reporters Monday.
HONG KONG - The number of Falun Gong hunger strikers in Hong Kong dwindled from 25 to 10 on Sunday as their protest against the imprisonment of followers in China entered day two.
The 10 remaining were briefly arrested for obstructing the entrance of Beijing's liaison office on Saturday, marking the first time members of the movement have been arrested in Hong Kong.
"The 10 of us who began the hunger strike (on Saturday) returned to an area near the Chinese Liaison Office...and we are planning to continue our hunger strike into the night," said hunger striker Wang Yaoqing.
"We are all drinking water, but not eating anything."
Academics and human rights activists differed over whether Saturday's arrests signalled the government was taking a tougher line against the group.
The Falun Gong is banned by Beijing and vilified as an "evil cult" intent on overthrowing the Communist Party, but it is still legal in Hong Kong, a former British colony which reverted to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise of a high degree of autonomy.
Followers in Hong Kong have repeatedly irked China with high-profile protests against the mainland crackdown, and pro-Beijing politicians in the territory are increasingly pushing for an anti-sedition law to control the group.
Police said the Saturday protesters were arrested after they had received several complaints, including one from the building management of the Liaison Office, that they were obstructing traffic.
Police spokesmen said they had been dealt with in the same manner as anyone else.
"As the protesters were not charged, it does not indicate any major change in the policy towards the sect nor any pre-warning that the government is going to ban the sect's activities in (Hong Kong)," the South China Morning Post quoted Li Pang-kwong, a Lingnan University scholar, as saying.
But local Falun Gong leader Ken Hung-cheung told the paper the arrests damaged freedom of expression in the territory, and accused police of bending to political pressure.
Law Yuk-kai, director of Human Rights Monitor, said he was worried police were losing patience with the group.
"It is rare for police to arrest protesters. The arrests mean that police targeted Falun Gong and indicated they have adopted tougher measures against them."
The Falun Gong has said more than 50,000 practitioners have been thrown into prisons, labour camps and mental hospitals around China where they are mentally and physically abused.
Human rights groups estimate some 200 Falun Gong adherents have died from torture while in detention on the mainland.
HONG KONG - Hong Kong police arrested 10 members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement on Saturday for "obstruction in public places" after they began a hunger strike in support of other followers imprisoned in China.
Nine women and one man, dressed in the movement's trademark yellow T-shirts, began sitting at the front entrance of the Chinese Liaison Office in Hong Kong's western district at around 9 a.m. (0100 GMT), witnesses said.
The hunger strikers were all Hong Kong residents, according to spokeswoman for Falun Gong, which is banned in China.
"We were forced individually into police vehicles at about 1 p.m. (0400 GMT)," Wang Yaoqing, one of the protesters, said shortly after her arrest on Saturday.
"The police told us we were arrested because of traffic obstruction complaints made by the Chinese Liaison Office," she told Reuters by mobile phone while being detained at Hong Kong's western district police station late on Saturday afternoon.
"They have warned us verbally, but it doesn't look like they have enough reasons to charge us formally, and we might be going home tonight," she added.
The Hong Kong police were not immediately available to comment on whether or when the 10 hunger strikers would be released.
The Hong Kong government said in a statement regarding the arrests late on Saturday that the police "would endeavour to ensure public order, safety and reduce any inconvenience to the public to the minimum."
Police spokesman Ricky Chong told Reuters earlier that the hunger strikers were arrested because they had ignored repeated police requests to relocate their sit-in protest to a public area near the Chinese Liaison Office, away from the front entrance.
Falun Gong is vilified and banned by Beijing but legal in Hong Kong, a former British colony that was promised a high degree of autonomy when it reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.
The movement has said more than 50,000 practitioners have been thrown into prisons, labour camps and mental hospitals around China where they are mentally and physically abused.
Human rights groups estimate some 200 Falun Gong adherents have died from torture while in detention in China.
Chinese authorities have acknowledged several deaths in custody, but attributed most to suicide or illness.
Beijing has 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" punishment which does not require a judicial trial.
HONG KONG - Police arrested 10 followers of the Falun Gong meditation sect on Saturday for allegedly blocking a sidewalk in front of a Chinese government office and refusing to leave.
It was the first time Hong Kong authorities have taken action against local adherents of the group that is outlawed in mainland China as an ``evil cult.'' But the Falun Gong complained there had been no legitimate reason for the arrests.
China's central government is fighting to eradicate Falun Gong in the mainland, but the group remains legal in Hong Kong and frequently protests here against Beijing's suppression, to the dismay of Beijing's local political allies who have demanded some sort of clampdown.
That would be difficult, given the freedoms of speech and religion that exist in Hong Kong four years after the former British colony was returned to Chinese sovereignty, but Hong Kong officials have gradually stepped up their rhetoric against Falun Gong and they say they are keeping a close eye on the group's activities.
``Our protest ran very peacefully,'' Kan Hung-cheung told The Associated Press by telephone. ``I don't see why the police have done such a thing to us.''
Police spokesman Ricky Chong said the Falun Gong members were arrested for obstructing the public, but he said authorities had not yet decided whether to charge them. They were being detained and questioned Saturday afternoon, Chong said.
``We have warned them many times that their sit-in protests have obstructed the public,'' regional police commander Ng Wing-tai told reporters at the scene.
``On top of that, we have received two complaints from the public about their obstruction,'' Ng said, without disclosing who had complained.
Some of the Falun Gong followers shouted loudly but none resisted as police picked them up and took them away. The group remains legal in Hong Kong.
The Falun Gong adherents gathered outside the Chinese liaison office in the morning and said they would refuse food in their latest protest against Beijing's crackdown on Falun Gong that allegedly has led to the deaths of 268 people in Chinese custody.
Kan said the police have controlled demonstrations outside the Chinese office more tightly than they have elsewhere.
``It makes us wonder whether some higher level officials have put extra pressure on the police,'' Kan said.
Police insisted Falun Gong had not been singled out, and Security Bureau spokeswoman Patricia Mok said Falun Gong was free to keep practicing and speaking its mind here as long as its members obey the law.
``I want to stress that we treat this group like any other group,'' Ng said. ``We just act according to the rules. We treat everybody the same.''
Police on the sidewalk outnumbered the Falun Gong followers, and Falun Gong said that if anybody had been blocking things, it was the police.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa and other top government officials have characterized Falun Gong as a ``cult'' but stopped short of any action against the group.
HONG KONG - The Falun Gong spiritual group staged a protest on Friday to demand the release of a follower now imprisoned in mainland China for filing a lawsuit against President Jiang Zemin.
About 120 adherents of Falun Gong, which is outlawed in mainland China but remains legal in Hong Kong, sat in meditation poses outside the Hong Kong government offices before 20 of them marched to the Chinese government's local liaison office.
The followers also protested what they called the illegal detention and torture of 130 sect members in a Chinese labor camp in the northeastern province of Liaoning, who have been on a hunger strike for more than three weeks.
In a petition letter addressed to Hong Kong's No. 2 official, Chief Secretary for Administration Donald Tsang, Falun Gong criticized local leaders for taking a passive attitude toward the imprisonment of a Hong Kong resident, Chu O-ming.
Falun Gong spokeswoman Hui Yee-han said the group has asked Bowen Leung, director of the Hong Kong office in Beijing to visit Chu, but he refused to help.
"Chu has no relative in Hong Kong to appeal for him," Hui said. "I doubt whether the Hong Kong government has ever done anything."
A spokeswoman for Tsang was not immediately available for comment.
Falun Gong member Linda Duan told reporters during Friday's rally that public security officers came to her house in Beijing and arrested Chu and her nephew Wang Jie on Sept. 7, after they sued Jiang over his crackdown on the sect.
Chu, a Hong Kong businessman, was sentenced to five years' imprisonment in the northern Chinese city of Tianjian, while Wang, a law student, was released on medical parole after he suffered severe injury to his kidneys during detention, said Duan who was a practicing doctor in China.
"They had no warrant or evidence but simply arrested them," Duan said. "Wang is still very sick."
"I talked to Chu's mother yesterday and she said he is not in good shape, either," she said. "She told me not to come out and speak because they are under great pressure."
The sect says at least 268 of its followers have died in police custody, but the Chinese government has denied any abuse.
Falun Gong has attracted millions of followers, most of them in China, with its combination of slow-motion exercises and its philosophy drawn from Taoism, Buddhism and the often unorthodox ideas of founder Li Hongzhi.
Adherents are free to practice in Hong Kong, where citizens enjoy considerably more freedom under a government system put into place when Britain handed the city back to China four years ago.
HONG KONG - About 100 Hong Kong disciples of the Falun Fong spiritual movement on Friday called for the release of practitioners kept in Chinese jails and labor camps and for an end to Beijing's persecution on the group.
Dressed in their trademark yellow tee-shirts, they marched through the streets of the former British colony and handed in petitions at government offices and at Beijing's local representative office.
They said they would mount a hunger strike on Saturday to support some 300 practitioners presently on hunger strike and languishing in Chinese labor camps.
``There are about 300 Falun Gong practitioners who have been on hunger strike for over three weeks in three labor camps,'' said Hui Yee-han, a spokeswoman for the movement in Hong Kong.
Falun Gong is banned in Beijing as an ``evil cult'' but it is legal in Hong Kong, which was promised a high degree of autonomy when it reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.
The spiritual movement says over 50,000 practitioners have been thrown into prisons, labor camps and mental hospitals around China where they are mentally and physically abused.
Human rights groups estimate some 200 Falun Gong adherents have died from torture during detention in China.
Chinese authorities have acknowledged several deaths in custody, but say most resulted from suicide or illnesses.
BERNE - The Swiss government received a delegation of Falun Gong adherents Thursday and reiterated its concern about what it called a Chinese "campaign of repression" against the spiritual movement.
In a rare meeting with foreign officials, the Falun Gong members met representatives of the Swiss foreign ministry's human rights section who outlined Berne's human rights policy, the ministry said in a statement.
"Switzerland is very concerned about the campaign of repression which the Falun Gong movement has faced for two years. Switzerland has exhorted China in concrete terms to respect the freedom of religion, the freedom of expression and the individual rights of Chinese citizens," it said.
It recalled that Foreign Minister Joseph Deiss had expressed his concern before the U.N. Human Rights Commission last year about the "massive repression of religious groups and minorities whose basic rights are regularly disregarded."
Switzerland, which has conducted a human rights dialogue with China for the past decade, will continue to press Beijing to respect basic human rights, the ministry said, singling out the rights of detained Falun Gong members.
The subject will next come up when a Swiss delegation visits China later this year to meet Chinese officials and organizations, it added.
China portrays its campaign against the Falun Gong as needed to protect Chinese from an "evil cult," but several governments and human rights groups have expressed alarm at the many reported abuses of members' rights since the Beijing government banned the movement in July 1999.
The Falun Gong says 50,000 followers have been detained and many sent to labor camps without trial. The movement follows a mixture of Taoist and Buddhist beliefs and traditional Chinese physical exercises.
Dutch Foreign Minister Jonas Van Aartsen scrapped a trip to China at the last minute in February after a dispute with the Chinese authorities over Falun Gong.
China played down his decision as arising from a scheduling conflict, but the minister's spokesman said the visit was postponed because Beijing publicly opposed a planned meeting between Dutch diplomats and members of the Falun Gong.
Swiss ties with China have traditionally been good, although Chinese President Jiang Zemin rounded on his Swiss hosts when his visit to Berne in 1999 was briefly disrupted by a noisy demonstration against Chinese rule in Tibet.
Kilomètre 128, Neyruz (FR), 28 degrés. Une vingtaine de pratiquants du Falungong poursuivent leur marche vers Berne. En colonne, disciplinés, silencieux, tout de blanc vêtus, ils avancent pas à pas, déterminés. Une musique chinoise douce inonde la file de protestataires. Des banderoles bleues et blanches sur lesquelles sont inscrits «SOS Falungong» et «Sauvez Falungong» se succèdent. Sur la route qui relie Romont à Fribourg, les voitures ralentissent. Certains automobilistes klaxonnent, d'autres sourient, d'autres encore manifestent leur soutien: personne ne reste indifférent. Partis de la place Neuve de Genève jeudi passé, les pratiquants du Falungong, persécutés en Chine depuis deux ans, vont se réunir ce jeudi matin à 10 heures devant le Palais fédéral. D'autres marcheurs viennent de Zurich, de Bâle et de Saint-Gall. Protester contre la mort sous la torture fin juin de quinze des leurs dans un camp de travail de la province du Heilongjiang en Chine est la cause de leur longue marche. «Je suis une microgoutte d'une microgoutte, mais je fais quelque chose pour que le gouvernement chinois arrête de nous persécuter», sourit Kyeja Lee, un petit drapeau dans les cheveux.
«Depuis deux ans, nous, les adeptes du Falungong, subissons une cruelle répression en Chine», explique le docteur Ki (prononcez «Chi»), le front en sueur. C'est justement cette femme aux cheveux noirs de jais qui a introduit, il y a cinq ans en Suisse, cette pratique issue de traditions bouddhiste et taoïste. Cette méthode, qui séduit toujours plus de personnes dans notre pays, comporte en tout cinq séries d'«exercices paisibles avec des mouvements lents et souples, permettant de développer rapidement bien-être et énergie». Tandis qu'en Chine, selon l'association suisse dont le maillon principal est à Genève, plusieurs dizaines de milliers de pratiquants ont été arrêtés, des milliers sont internés dans des hôpitaux psychiatriques et plus de 260 personnes sont décédées à la suite de tortures.
Les adeptes du Falungong que l'on peut voir tous les matins vers 6 heures au parc des Bastions de Genève sont étroitement surveillés. En Chine comme en Suisse. «A l'approche de Coppet, des individus d'origine asiatique ont tenté de nous prendre en photo à plusieurs reprises. Ils faisaient des va-et-vient dans une voiture avec des plaques de corps diplomatique», révèle Marianne Grangier, une pharmacienne qui a pris une semaine de congé pour cette marche symbolique. Et les autorités helvétiques prennent cette affaire au sérieux. Ainsi, les mouvements suspects d'une autre voiture de marque allemande qui effectuait des allers-retours aux alentours de Neyruz (FR) et s'intéressait de près une nouvelle fois à ces marcheurs ont été dénoncés. L'enquête préliminaire a révélé que le véhicule détenait des plaques minéralogiques interchangeables. Tout le long de cette marche, les pratiquants du Falungong sont donc restés en contact permanent avec les polices cantonales et fédérale. «Nous suivons cette manifestation avec beaucoup d'attention, mais nous ne pouvons pour l'instant rien révéler», a déclaré plus tard au Temps Charles Marchand, porte-parole de la police cantonale de Fribourg.
Mis à part ces tentatives d'espionnite, les marcheurs ont été très bien reçus par les villages qu'ils ont traversés. «Nous sommes très touchés par le soutien des gens. Hier, une femme plutôt âgée est venue nous proposer de l'eau et nous a offert de quoi manger, poursuit Kyeja Lee. Elle a fait un petit bout de chemin avec nous, puis elle est retournée chez elle.» Mardi après-midi, aux portes de Fribourg, la colonne bleue et blanche s'est arrêtée pour manger à l'auberge de l'Aigle noir. Le groupe était parti tôt le matin des abris de la protection civile de Romont. «Des gens sympathiques», précise la serveuse. Et le prosélytisme? «Ils ne m'ont pas parlé de technique, de méthode ou de croyance. Ils m'ont simplement dit qu'ils étaient persécutés en Chine et que cette marche était une protestation», ajoute-t-elle. Après sept jours de marche, les adeptes du Falungong devraient arriver ce matin devant le Palais fédéral, sous les flashs des journalistes et... probablement d'informateurs.
Le mouvement en 3 points
Fondé en 1992 par Li Hongzhi, un ancien soldat qui vit en exil à New York, le Falungong ou «gymnastique de la roue de la loi» combine foi bouddhique et exercices physiques et de méditation. Depuis 1999, Pékin interdit cette pratique jugée «malfaisante», tandis que ses adeptes font l'objet d'une répression de plus en plus dure.
Selon Claire-Lise Hoehn, du Centre de liaison et d'information concernant les minorités spirituelles (Clims), il n'y a aucune vénération de Li Hongzhi, aucune hiérarchie et aucun fichier. Les cours de Falungong sont gratuits et donnés bénévolement. Le mouvement se veut apolitique et prétend ne pas être une religion, même s'il s'inspire des traditions bouddhistes et taoïstes. Le principal attrait de Falungong est l'acquisition de capacités supranormales de guérison. Mais cette possibilité ne doit être en aucun cas la motivation principale des pratiquants, qui n'ont d'ailleurs pas le droit de tenter des guérisons entre eux.
Selon l'association Falungong, quelque 70 millions de Chinois pratiqueraient ces exercices de méditation en silence. Les adeptes seraient environ 500 en Suisse; un tiers est d'origine chinoise, alors que les deux tiers restants sont d'origine occidentale. Une pétition de soutien à cette pratique a été signée par plus de 20 000 personnes.
As Dartmouth resident Deping Chien went through some of the gracious and meditative moves of Falun Gong on Wednesday in Halifax, it was difficult to imagine the Chinese government violently repressing the seemingly harmless practice.
However, this was just the scenario presented by a small group of Falun Gong practitioners as they provided a demonstration of some of the exercises and explained some of the spiritual elements that have caught the ire of communist officials in China.
"The exercises are excellent for reducing stress," said Mr. Chien, a computer specialist and Dalhousie graduate who became involved in Falun Gong almost three years ago. "They are harmless and peaceful."
He said if anything, the Chinese government's banning of Falun Gong has only served to popularize the meditative sequence of exercises and the philosophy behind them.
"Since the persecution started in China, I've been much more active," he said.
The outdoor Falun Gong demonstration at Dalhousie University was organized by Canadian practitioners concerned about the plight of their brethren in China.
Co-ordinator Alice Huyn said it's part of a global effort to raise awareness about the "persecution" of supporters of the mediatative movement, which was enjoying a huge growth in popularity when Chinese officials instituted the ban two years ago.
To date, she said, 265 people have died from police torture in China, while thousands are being held in work camps and hundreds in mental hospitals.
"Practitioners are at risk, but so are their friends and families," she said.
"We're hoping that Canada would co-ordinate an international rescue team," she added.
Falun Gong was described by the handful of participants at the Dalhousie demonstration as a meditative pursuit that has a "spiritual" underpinning, but isnot an organized faith in the western sense. They described it as a "peaceful and harmonious" way of living.
Mr. Chien said outdoor and indoor gatherings of groups of practitioners are popular but very informal. There is no participation fee.
"It's very effective, very good for mind, body and spirit," he said. "And it's free."
A mainland court yesterday sentenced a Falun Gong follower to death for the first time in its two-year crackdown against the outlawed sect, but the sentence could be reduced to life imprisonment, Xinhua News Agency reported.
A court in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region ordered the death penalty for Lan Yunchang after he was convicted of murdering a man who refused to sell him arsenic to commit suicide, Xinhua said. The sentence was suspended for two years.
A suspended death penalty could normally be reduced for good behaviour to life in jail after two years.
Lan, a farmer in Liuzhou's Rong'an county, was described in the report as a ``fanatic'' Falun Gong practitioner eager to attain a state of enlightenment through death.
On April 16, Lan visited fellow villager Wei Shaoming's home asking for arsenic.
Wei refused the request fearing he wanted to poison himself. Lan became so upset that he axed Wei to death, the report said.
Lan fled but he turned himself in to the police the next day, the report said. It also said Lan refused to give up his beliefs in Falun Gong, even after police tried to ``educate'' him.
Last September, he was detained for 15 days for disturbing social order, the report said, with detailing whether Lan was involved in protests.
Courts in Beijing last week convicted four Falun Gong followers of ``intentional homicide'' and sentenced them to between seven years and life for allegedly organising a mass suicide attempt in Tiananmen Square in January.
Thirteen hunger strikers have mounted a protest outside the Chinese Embassy against the imprisonment of 130 practitioners of Falun Gong in a Chinese labour camp. Falun Gong, regarded as a sect by China's authorities, has been banned since July 1999.
Sleeping in cars parked outside the embassy in Yarralumla, the 13 members have not eaten anything since noon on Wednesday.
Sitting on the grass for most of the day, reading the works of Li Hongzhi, the founder of Falun Gong, they are on an indefinite hunger strike to free the 130 prisoners imprisoned in the Masanjia Labour Camp, Liaoning Province.
The Chinese prisoners have been on a hunger strike for 22 days.
The 13 hunger strikers in Yarralumla are refusing food as part of a coordinated global hunger strike, with strikes in Germany, Britain, New York and Washington.
Canberra has about 25 Falun Gong practitioners, according to Daniel Clark, the spokesman for the local group.
But the hunger strikers, all volunteers, are from Sydney.
"The hunger strike is an act of solidarity for the prisoners in the Masanjia Labour Camp," Mr Clark, an electrical engineer, said last night.
Falun Gong combines meditation and exercises, and has the motto, Truthfulness, Benevolence and Forbearance.
Since July 1999, China has launched a massive crackdown on the group, imprisoning practitioners and pursuing them through the media. China's ruling communist party regards Falun Gong as a divisive, evil group.
Apart from torture and beatings, many Falun Gong members are forced to recant their beliefs through signed confessions, reminiscent of the days of the Cultural Revolution.
The hungers strikers in Yarralumla have an album of photographs of victims allegedly bashed and tortured by what they say is the secret group charged with cracking down on practitioners, the 610 Office.
Mei-ling Dai, an Australian citizen jailed for 45 days when she returned to China in March last year, said yesterday she was arrested four times when she went home, and was only released from prison when the Australian Consul helped her.
Watched closely by the embassy, the hunger strikers are photographed and video-taped when they meet visitors to the protest site.
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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