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"Dutch Foreign Min Suspends China Trip Over Falun Gong"

(AP, February 6, 2001)

THE HAGUE --Foreign Minister Jozias van Aartsen on Tuesday indefinitely postponed a trip to China after Beijing protested an aide's planned meeting with a Falun Gong representative in Hong Kong. The visit to Beijing - the first by a Dutch foreign minister - was canceled at the last minute because "the circumstances are not optimal to go ahead with it at this time," said ministry spokesman Bart Jochems.
He said the Chinese government had tried to pressure Van Aartsen publicly into canceling a meeting in Hong Kong between the Dutch human rights ambassador, Renee Jones-Bos, and representatives of 11 human rights organizations.
One of the organizations was the Falun Gong meditation sect, which is banned in mainland China but remains legal in Hong Kong.
"The minister doesn't believe that his schedule should be changed under pressure from the Chinese government," said the spokesman.
Van Aartsen had intended to focus the visit on political and economic ties, with meetings scheduled with Prime Minister Zhu Rongji and the Chinese foreign minister.
However, Van Aartsen had also made it plain he intended to bring up human rights issues.

"The Chinese professor who started a ruckus "

by Erik Eckholm ("New York Times," February 6, 2001)

BEIJING -- In the spring of 1999, Professor He Zuoxiu, an elderly theoretical physicist whose avocation is debunking pseudoscience, hoped to provoke some debate with a short article warning about the "deceitful lies" of certain "qigong" meditation sects. One called Falun Gong, he charged, led a student into mental illness.
At the time, his provocative views were not welcome in the mainstream press, and the article appeared in the April issue of "Science and Technology for Youth," an obscure magazine.
Neither the professor nor anyone else could have imagined that the article would touch off the broadest popular resistance to Communist authority since the 1989 democracy movement.
It was anger over the professor's article that led 10,000 or more Falun Gong believers to hold a vigil on April 25, 1999, outside the leadership compound in Beijing, demanding an official apology and legal recognition.
And it was that unauthorized demonstration that led the frightened authorities to outlaw the spiritual group, which had attracted millions of Chinese with its promises of physical and spiritual salvation through meditative exercises.
Mr. He, 74, aided China's development of nuclear weapons in the early 1960s and is still collaborating with scientists at MIT in the search for "dark matter" in the universe, he said.
Yet this advocate of scientific methods is also a devout Marxist.
"As a scientist I make my judgments based on universal laws," he said in the interview. "And Marxism is a science just like all the others."
He said that the latest news, of seven apparent followers trying to immolate themselves in Tiananmen Square, only meant that Li Hongzhi, the Falun Gong founder, was even more despicable than he had asserted before.
"This proves that Falun Gong is more evil than other cults," Mr. He said. "With the Branch Davidians in the United States, at least the head of the cult burned himself together with the others. Here the head wanted to sacrifice his followers to achieve his own ulterior motives."
Falun Gong representatives in the United States insist that the immolation attempts on Jan. 23, which left one woman dead and four people severely burned, could not have involved followers and that "Master Li" opposes suicide.
But while Mr. He says the crackdown on Falun Gong should be intensified -- associated rights abuses, he says, have been greatly exaggerated abroad -- he does not call for a blanket ban on qigong.
"I've never been against endeavors by old people to practice qigong in pursuit of health and longevity," he said. "But if you claim that it can work all wonders, that's cheating people."
Mr. He is unfazed by reports that some Falun Gong members have tried to direct supernatural punishments at him. "I welcome that," he said, "because I know it's impossible" Then, laughing, he added, "But if someone tries to use physical force against me they'll succeed, because I'm old and frail and I believe in Newton's laws of physics."

"Lawyers Ask Singapore Crt To Drop Charges Vs Falun Gong"

(AP, February 6, 2001)

SINGAPORE --Lawyers have asked a Singapore court to withdraw charges against 15 members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement who were arrested for holding an unauthorized assembly, an attorney for the group said Tuesday. The court Tuesday granted prosecutors' request for a two-week adjournment "to consider the defense's representations," defense lawyer Y.M. Ho said.
The case will next be heard in court on Feb. 20, Ho said.
The 15 defendants - all out on bail - were among about 80 people who held a vigil in a Singapore park on New Year's Eve to honor Falun Gong followers they say died in police custody in China.
Singapore forbids public assembly without a police permit, and demonstrations are extremely rare in the tightly controlled city-state.
The 15 Falun Gong followers are charged with obstructing a police officer and illegal assembly.
The first charge carries a maximum jail sentence of three months and a fine of up to S$500 (US$1=S$1.7405). The second also carries a maximum three-month jail term, and a fine of up to S$5,000.
China has outlawed Falun Gong as a dangerous cult. Its millions of followers around the world argue that its Buddhism-based meditation and exercise help build morality and health.
The movement is legal in Singapore, whose 4 million people are mostly ethnic Chinese. There are approximately 1,000 Falun Gong followers in the country.
Of the nine men and six women charged, two are Singapore citizens, eight are Chinese citizens and five are permanent residents from abroad. The permanent residents' citizenship weren't immediately known, though they are all ethnic Chinese.

"UN human rights team refuse to be drawn into Falungong debate"

(AFP, February 6, 2001)

HONG KONG - A UN delegation arrived in Hong Kong Tuesday to assess the human rights situation here and walked straight into a high-intensity debate surrounding the China-banned Falungong movement.
The five-day visit by the United Nations Human Rights Committee is the first since the former British colony reverted to Chinese rule in July 1997.
The two representatives, Justice P. N. Bhagwati and Christine Chanet, were briefed about the debate surrounding the activities of the Falungong in a meeting with the Secretary for Home Affairs W. K. Lam.
Speaking on local radio, Lam said he had taken the opportunity to "introduce to them the controversy surrounding the issue of the Falungong in Hong Kong.
"I adopted a factual and objective approach and I gave them a very brief background to the controversy," Lam said, adding he had told them to talk to other senior officials if they wished to obtain more information.
However, Bhagwati refused to comment on the matter to local reporters and answered simply that he would discuss it with the Secretary for Security Regina Ip and other senior officials.
The delegation is scheduled to meet other government officials, including Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa and outgoing Chief Secretary Anson Chan, legislators and representatives of non-government organisations (NGOs).
Speaking earlier, Bhagwati had said the committee's aims were primarily to obtain a rounded picture on the events in the territory.
"Ultimately this is a visit to acquaint ourselves with what is happening," he said.
Media reports had alleged the committee members also planned to visit local Falungong devotees, although Bhagwati said nothing had been decided.
However, a Falungong spokeswoman told AFP: "There are absolutely no plans to hold meetings with the delegation."
Tensions have been high since pro-Beijing supporters last week called for a ban on the sect here, which is already outlawed on the mainland, shortly after the group held an international conference where speakers criticised Beijing for its repression of the sect.
Calls for the implementation of anti-subversion laws here to curb the Falungong have allegedly split the government and seen human rights groups in the territory jump to the sect's defence.
Ip added fuel to the fire on Thursday by stating the government would be keeping close tabs on the group's movements.
The sect was banned by Beijing in July 1999 as an "evil cult" and the Communist leadership has stepped up a propaganda campaigan against it, after five alleged members tried to commit suicide by setting themselves on fire in Tiananmen Square last month.
Central Government Liaison Office director, Jiang Enzhu late Tuesday reiterated earlier accusations that the Falungong had become more politicised and internationalised and warned they would "endanger Hong Kong".
A spokesperson for the Commissioner of China's foreign ministry based in the territory warned foreign countries to keep their distance as Hong Kong's affairs were "the internal matter of China."
"Falungong members in Hong Kong in their recent political activities, have already stripped away their pretensions to be 'non-political, non-anti-government, and no association with any political force'," he alleged.
Pro-Beijing supporters have adopted the battlecry that no organization or person would be allowed to turn Hong Kong into a centre for Falungong activities or to use the island as an anti-China base.
Falungong members, who follow the Buddhist-inspired teachings of guru Li Hongzhi, who lives in exile in the United States, insist they have no political agenda and members are taught how to attain high moral standards and physical well-being through meditation.

"China jails judge for seven years over Falungong books"

(AFP, February 6, 2001)

BEIJING -China has sentenced a high court judge to seven years in prison for helping a bookstore buy books published by the banned Falungong spiritual movement, court officials said Tuesday.
Hu Qingyun was sentenced by a court in the eastern province of Jiangxi on January 10 on a charge of engaging in illegal business, the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said.
Hu, who is to appeal, was accused of helping a bookstore purchase 200,000 copies of Falungong books, making a profit of 60,000 yuan (7,300 dollars) before the government banned Falungong 18 months ago.
A court official confirmed the sentencing to AFP Tuesday.
It is common for China to punish Falungong followers for actions committed before the movement was banned.
A judge in criminal cases at the Jiangxi Province High Court, Hu narrowly escaped jail in 1999 by using his legal expertise, said the center.
He was detained on July 21, 1999, the day China banned Falungong, on charges of gathering information to disturb social order. After China declared Falungong an evil cult three months later he was charged with using an evil cult to disturb social order.
Hu managed to escape conviction by showing prosecutors lacked evidence but officials responded by using the new charge of engaging in illegal business, the center said.
Meanwhile, the Intermediate People's Court in the central city of Wuhan sentenced nine Falungong members on January 29 to between two and six years in prison for downloading Falungong information and pictures, photocopying them and distributing them.
They are also accused of encouraging other practitioners to protest, and have been charged with using an evil cult to damage laws.
China is currently ratcheting up its draconian campaign against the Falungong following an attempted mass suicide by five people it says were group members in Beijing's Tiananmen Square on January 23.
One of the five died, and the other four suffered serious burns.
As part of a massive propaganda campaign against the sect, the official Xinhua news agency said Tuesday a 36-year-old nurse had been arrested on suspicion of selling mood-altering drugs as well as Falungong publications in Zhengzhou, the capital of central Henan province.
Falungong members, who follow the Buddhist-inspired teachings of US-based guru Li Hongzhi, insist they are a harmless group that teaches members how to attain high moral standards and physical well-being through meditation.
The government has accused founder Li of causing the deaths of 1,600 people by pushing them to give up medicine, commit suicide or become insane.
Human rights group say more than 100 Falungong practitioners have died in police custody since the crackdown was launched, while hundreds have been sent to jail and tens of thousands to labor camps.

"China warns against Falun Gong meddling"

(Reuters, February 6, 2001)

HONG KONG -- China has warned governments against interfering in the Falun Gong issue a week before Holland's foreign minister meets Hong Kong followers.
"We are firmly opposed to any foreign government and its officials in their interference in China's internal affairs by making use of the Falun Gong issue," a Hong Kong Chinese Foreign Ministry office statement said.
Falun Gong adherents in Hong Kong told Reuters they would meet Dutch Foreign Minister Jozias van Aartsen and Ambassador for Human Rights Rene Jones-Bos on Feburary 12 to air grievances about China's crackdown on the movement.
Falun Gong has millions of followers in China. Supporters say 50,000 of them have been detained on the mainland and many sent to labor camps without trial, while about 100 adherents have died while in detention.
Beijing's statement Monday kept up its vilification of Falun Gong and reiterated that Chinese leaders would not allow Hong Kong to be turned into an anti-China base or a center for Falun Gong activities.
The subject of Falun Gong has become one of the toughest challenges faced by Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa since Britain returned its colony to Beijing in 1997.
A Falun Gong rally in Hong Kong
A Falun Gong spokeswoman said the meeting with Van Aartsen was an opportunity to voice grievances about China's crackdown on the movement.
"There is nothing political about it," Hui Yee-han said. "We simply want to make an appeal to them and hope they can help with the situation in mainland China."
Evil cult
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said the movement was an "anti-human, anti-society, anti-science evil cult with political purposes" that trod on human rights and sought to target the Chinese government.
"No organization or no person is allowed to try to turn Hong Kong into a center for Falun Gong activities, to use Hong Kong as an anti-China base, to tarnish the one country, two systems principle, and to damage the social stability and prosperity in Hong Kong," the ministry statement said.
China's Liaison Office in Hong Kong made similar remarks last week -- the strongest attack yet by Beijing against Falun Gong activities in Hong Kong and widely seen as putting pressure on the territory to limit the group's activities.
The local government has also signaled it might take a tougher stance on Falun Gong.
Jiang Enzhu, head of the Liaison Office, chided Falun Gong again Monday.
"Falun Gong activities in Hong Kong are now becoming more and more politicized and internationalized. It will be detrimental to Hong Kong," he told reporters.
The movement's believers in Hong Kong plan to request meetings with senior local officials including Tung, Chief Secretary Anson Chan and Hong Kong delegates of China's parliament ahead of the parliament's annual meeting in Beijing next month.

"China judge gets 7 years for Falun activities-report"

(Reuters, February 6, 2001)

HONG KONG - A judge in China's southern Jiangxi province and nine students in Wuhan have been sentenced for involvement with the banned spiritual movement Falun Gong, a Hong Kong-based rights group said on Tuesday.
The judge of a provincial high court, Hu Qingyun, was sentenced on January 10 to seven years for "engaging in illegal business," the Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said in a statement.
Hu had already been held in custody for 18 months, it said.
A suburban court in Nanchang ruled that Hu, who conducted his own defence, had earned 60,000 yuan (US$7,250) by selling Falun Gong books, the statement said.
Falun Gong, which draws on a mixture of Buddhism, Taoism and traditional Chinese breathing exercises, was blasted by state media last week in a propaganda blitz that blamed the group for self-immolations in Tiananmen square on January 23.
China's government brands Falun Gong an "evil cult," and stamping out the group -- whose adherents regularly protest in Tiananmen Square despite a heavy police presence -- has become a top concern for Beijing on the eve of the high profile National People's Congress annual assembly in March.
In a separate case, nine of the group's followers in Wuhan in central Hubei province were sentenced to between two and six years for distributing Falun Gong materials downloaded from the Internet and encouraging others to join demonstrations, the centre said.
Those sentenced include Cui Hai and Peng Cong, it said. No other details were available.
China warned on Monday against foreign interference in the sensitive issue of the Falun Gong, days before the Dutch foreign minister was to meet members of the group in Hong Kong.
The group is legal in Hong Kong, which maintained a high degree of autonomy after reverting to Chinese rule in 1997. But Beijing has repeatedly warned it will not allow the Falun Gong to turn the territory into an anti-China base.

"UN rights rep offers tip on Falun Gong - Ignore it"

(Reuters, February 6, 2001)

HONG KONG - A representative of the United Nations Human Rights Committee said on Tuesday the best way to deal with the controversial Falun Gong spiritual movement was to ignore it.
"I really don't know why it should be so controversial for the simple reason that in my country there are so many cults, we never bother about them," P.N. Bhagwati, India's former chief justice, told reporters in Hong Kong.
"The best way of dealing with the situation of the cults is to ignore them," he said.
He said that if the group acted within the limits of the law then it should be allowed to continue in Hong Kong.
"It is a registered society and therefore it is free to function so long as it functions within the limits of the law. There is no problem. And so long as they are acting within the law, there can be no objection. and I don't think any government can take objection to them," he said.
Bhagwati is one of two U.N. delegates visiting Hong Kong this week to assess the human rights situation since Britain handed the territory back to China in 1997.
They are meeting some Hong Kong officials, legislators, rights groups and other non-government organisations.
Banned by Beijing as an "evil cult," the Falun Gong spiritual movement has been under an intense media spotlight since five followers set themselves alight in Beijing's Tiananmen Square on January 23.
Beijing has stepped up its crackdown on the group since the suicide attempt. One woman died of her injuries and the others were severely burned.
In Hong Kong, a highly autonomous "special administrative region" of China, the Falun Gong movement is legal and its followers have been largely left alone.
"We believe that the government of the special administrative region will conduct affairs according to law and not allow Hong Kong to become a base for activities to overthrow the central government," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi said in Beijing.
In recent days Beijing has warned that it will not allow the group to turn the territory into an anti-China base, raising fears that limits might soon be placed on Hong Kong's freedoms, which Beijing guaranteed would be left largely intact for 50 years after the handover.
On Monday, Beijing said it would not tolerate any foreign interference in its affairs, a week before a Dutch human rights official was expected to meet Hong Kong followers of the Falun Gong.
A Falun Gong spokeswoman in Hong Kong said the group was seeking a meeting with the U.N. human rights delegation.
"We will tell him the truth of Falun Gong and the brutal persecution in China and that we wish to have an independent investigation into the brutality," she said.
Supporters say 50,000 followers have been detained in China and many sent to labour camps without trial, while about 100 believers have died while in detention.

"China's sect suppression carries a high price"

by Willy Wo-Lap Lam ("CNN," February 5, 2001)

JIANG ZEMIN may succeed in suppressing the Falun Gong sect for now, but the president's prestige could suffer considerable damage. So could China's program of reforms.
Jiang has mobilized a Mao-era mass movement against the quasi-Buddhist group, which is characterized as part of an "anti-China international movement."
Not since the anti-American crusade in the wake of the NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999 have so many Chinese hit the streets in a government-orchestrated campaign.
In terms of size and reach, the "struggle against the devilish cult" has surpassed many previous mass movements.
The official media has in the past week reported anti-Falun Gong gatherings of hundreds of thousands of people in provinces and cities including Henan, Sichuan, Shandong, Jiangsu, Ningxia, Shenyang, Shanghai and Beijing.
Meetings denouncing the sect have been held even in the remote western provinces -- and by apparently irrelevant government units such as the weather bureau and the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources.
In a throw-back to the Cultural Revolution, there were hints the People's Liberation Army (PLA) might enter the fray.
Vow to defend leadership
The Xinhua news-agency quoted officers from the PLA and the para-military People's Armed Police as asserting that the sect was "an effort by hostile Western forces to subvert China."
Officers from all divisions of the military forces have vowed to do their utmost to defend the central leadership and to "maintain national security and social stability."
Sources close to security departments in Beijing said Jiang was poised to take more drastic steps to reach his goal of eradicating the sect before the forthcoming 80th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party.
For example, the state security apparatus has identified about 40,000 Falun Gong practitioners among staff in Communist Party and government units, state enterprises and colleges.
These "cultists" have been told if they do not sign papers denouncing the sect, they will be fired -- and their pensions confiscated.
Surveillance and harassment of sect members, who apparently do nothing more than practice their brand of slow breathing exercise at home, have been stepped up.
There are reports that understaffed police authorities have recruited unemployed workers in the battle against the Falun Gong.
While the Jiang leadership may have genuine reasons to feel threatened by the sect, the quasi-Maoist tactics it has employed have raised serious questions.
Whipped up the masses
"Even assuming the Falun Gong is spreading dangerous ideas, the way the leadership has whipped up the masses to fight a 'global anti-China conspiracy' is disturbing," says a Beijing academic who wants to remain anonymous.
"The Jiang leadership has yet to show proof of the Falun Gong's links to anti-China elements in the United States and the West."
The anti-U.S. and anti-NATO riots in May 1999 should have taught Beijing the lesson that Cultural Revolution-vintage campaigns could backfire.
A few days after the demonstrations took place, Beijing had to rein them in because many protesters were taking advantage of the melee to vent their grievances against the central government.
Moreover, draconian steps such as cutting off the pay and pension of unrepentant Falun Gong affiliates in government departments and enterprises risk further radicalizing the sect.
In the long run, social unrest may be exacerbated if underground Falun Gong activists were to wage a kind of protracted guerrilla warfare against Beijing.
Yet the most severe criticism leveled at Jiang's handling of the Falun Gong is that he seems to be using the mass movement to promote allegiance to himself.
As with campaigns dating from the 1960s, the standard ritual of ideological sessions held in party units, factories, and colleges the past few years is that participants make public declarations of support for the Beijing line -- and for the top leader.
Anti-American crusade
For example, the theme of the anti-American crusade in 1999 was not just beating back the "anti-China conspiracy of the United States-led NATO" but professing unreserved support for the "central leadership with comrade Jiang Zemin as its core."
According to a party veteran, Jiang might want a public show of support for himself if only because the Politburo had divergent views on what to do with the Falun Gong.
It is no secret that several Politburo members thought the president had used the wrong tactics. They ranged from moderates such as Premier Zhu Rongji, Vice President Hu Jintao, and head of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference Li Ruihuan to conservatives such as National People's Congress Chairman Li Peng.
For example, both Li Ruihuan and Zhu -- who met Falun Gong representatives shortly after they had staged the now-famous demonstration outside party headquarters in April 1999 -- were said to favor a conciliatory approach.
"By unleashing a Mao-style movement, Jiang is forcing senior cadres to pledge allegiance to his line," said the party veteran. "This will boost Jiang's authority -- and may give him enough momentum to enable him to dictate events at the pivotal 16th Communist Party congress next year."
So far, however, Jiang has only been moderately successful in the loyalty game. Among top-level officials, Zhu and Hu have publicly supported the harsh measures.
However, Li Ruihuan, whose best known motto is "seeking harmony and reconciliation,'' has kept quiet on the anti-Falun Gong struggle.
Political analysts said Jiang ran a big risk by staking his reputation on the early extermination of the sect.
Big speech
"Jiang wants the Falun Gong rooted out when he makes his big speech at the Great Hall of the People on July 1 to mark the 80th anniversary of the party's founding," said a Western diplomat.
"But what if the sect refuses to disappear? Many Falun Gong members are known for their dare-to-die fanaticism. If anti-Beijing protests either in the capital or the provinces continue throughout the year, Jiang's prestige will suffer tremendously."
Moderate cadres and academics in Beijing also think the return of Mao-style political campaigns will deal a blow to economic and political reforms.
For example, this will send Western governments and investors the wrong message about Beijing's commitment to burying the xenophobia -- and mass hysteria -- of bygone eras.
Since late last year, liberal members of official think tanks have dropped hints about the leadership's readiness to resume political reform in the run-up to the 16th party congress.
However, the revival of Maoist norms -- including using para-military forces against an apparently non-violent religious group, and promoting unthinking loyalty to the president -- would seem to indicate Jiang and company are putting their vested interests before the reforms.

"China Revs Up Attacks on Falun Gong"

by Christopher Bodeen (Associated Press, February 5, 2001)

BEIJING - China's government is seizing on the dramatic suicide attempt by purported members of the Falun Gong sect to try to sway a public that has stood on the sidelines during the 18-month-long crackdown on the banned group.
State media, the only kind there is in China, have intensified attacks on Falun Gong. Scholars are denouncing it in a symposium-like forum touring Beijing. Schools have been ordered to hold classes criticizing it once the Lunar New Year vacation ends this month.
``Blood Debts Old and New Will be Thoroughly Reckoned,'' the People's Daily, the ruling Communist Party's newspaper, blared in a typical headline. China Central Television has shown people identified as ordinary citizens expressing hatred and revulsion for the sect and its U.S.-based founder, Li Hongzhi.
Touching off the campaign was the attempt by seven people to burn themselves on Tiananmen Square on Jan. 23, eve of the Lunar New Year, China's biggest holiday. Kept out of state media for a week, the group suicide attempt - which left one dead and four injured - got its first airing last Tuesday with reports scripted for maximum impact.
Gruesome footage showed the people bathed in flames in what media described as an attempt ``to ascend to heaven.'' The reports dwelled on one of the injured, 12-year-old Liu Siying, who lies in a Beijing hospital with burns over 40 percent of her body. Her mother died in the suicide attempt.
China claims the immolators were obsessed Falun Gong members, their act the most outrageous in a series of outrages instigated by founder Li. Spokesmen for Li in New York deny the seven followed Falun Gong and suggest the government orchestrated the act. The only known foreign witnesses, a camera crew from Cable News Network, said the protesters struck meditation poses typical of Falun Gong.
Li's denials are absent from the one-sided state media accounts. Seizing on shock over the television footage, the government's propaganda machine has featured scathing testimonials from former Falun Gong practitioners and group condemnation sessions.
``I felt extreme outrage at seeing that self-immolation and now realize even more Falun Gong's cult nature,'' said a woman identified by China Central Television as a resident of Beijing. ``I bitterly hate Falun Gong. ... I want the government to get even tougher in its attacks, not to go soft.''
At an anti-Falun Gong seminar, scientist and longtime sect opponent He Zuoxiu accused ``overseas anti-China forces'' of nurturing the group. A 1999 article He wrote provoked a massive demonstration outside Communist Party headquarters, which in turn prompted the government crackdown.
At last week's forum, He suggested official complacency contributed to Falun Gong's rise, reading off a list of honors bestowed on Li by various government agencies in China before the crackdown.
The government has maintained a steady drumbeat of attacks on Falun Gong since banning the group as a public menace and a threat to communist rule in July 1999. The crackdown has detained thousands, and, by a Hong Kong rights group's reckoning, more than 100 have died in custody, mainly from police abuse.
Still, the campaign failed to convince many Chinese, who had grown used to seeing members of the popular spiritual movement practicing their slow-motion exercises in public parks.
Falun Gong drew millions of members in the 1990s with a regimen of exercises and an eclectic, often unorthodox philosophy that practitioners claim promote health and morality and give experts supernatural powers, like flying.
The timing of the suicide attempt couldn't have been better for the government. Embarrassed by persistent peaceful displays of defiance by Falun Gong on Tiananmen Square, the government over the past month had backed a signature campaign encouraging people to take a public stand for the crackdown.
Chinese have long grown attuned to the demands of government campaigns, making objective assessment of public attitudes difficult, but the television footage seems to have hit its mark.
``It was horrible and I found it hard to eat afterward. I don't know how a mother could do that to her child,'' said a middle-aged retiree, who gave only her surname, Zhang. Where before she merely had an unfavorable impression of the group, Zhang said she now considered it dangerous.
``Falun Gong is bad,'' said a construction worker for the city government, Wang Haiqing. ``These people were obviously deceived.''

What Is Falun Gong? See "Falun Gong 101", by Massimo Introvigne


CESNUR reproduces or quotes documents from the media and different sources on a number of religious issues. Unless otherwise indicated, the opinions expressed are those of the document's author(s), not of CESNUR or its directors

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