OTTAWA - Canada said on Wednesday it would probe allegations by followers of the Falun Gong spiritual movement that they had been harassed and threatened by Chinese diplomats in Toronto and other Canadian cities.
The Falun Gong Association of Canada sent a letter to Foreign Minister John Manley and other officials demanding China's consul in Toronto be expelled for allegedly inciting hatred against followers in Canada.
China banned Falun Gong in 1999 on the grounds that it was a dangerous cult.
"The letter contained allegations. It did not contain evidence. We'll follow (it) up, the appropriate authorities will investigate," Manley told reporters in Ottawa.
"Once we can conclude whether Chinese diplomats have in some way breached their obligations in the appropriateness of their behavior here then we can take appropriate actions."
A spokesman at the Chinese embassy said an official statement was being prepared but could not comment further.
In the 29-page letter, the Falun Gong association said Chinese diplomats had made threatening phone calls to its followers in Canada, had sabotaged the group's official website and had convened meetings to condemn the movement.
HONG KONG --Falun Gong followers Wednesday accused mainland China of heavy-handed tactics in the dispute over the sect's activities here - which prompted two Dutch officials to scrap visits to Beijing and Hong Kong. "It's very regrettable that the Chinese government put it in such high profile and put pressure on the Dutch government," said Falun Gong spokesman Kan Hung-cheung.
Kan had planned to meet with the Dutch human rights ambassador, Renee Jones-Bos, next week in Hong Kong, where the government is now being urged by Beijing to restrict Falun Gong's campaign against the often-violent crackdown on the meditation sect in mainland China.
After the Dutch said they wanted to hear Falun Gong's side of the story, Beijing lashed out Monday at foreign "interference" in its affairs. The Dutch responded Tuesday by indefinitely postponing a visit by Foreign Minister Jozias van Aartsen to Beijing and the trip by Jones-Bos to Hong Kong.
"The minister doesn't believe that his schedule should be changed under pressure from the Chinese government," said Dutch foreign ministry spokesman Bart Jochems.
Falun Gong is outlawed in China as an "evil cult." But it remains legal in Hong Kong, where a storm has been raging amid Beijing's anger at seeing the sect utilize Hong Kong's free speech rights to clamor for the ability to practice on the mainland and an end to alleged torture-killings by Chinese police.
TAIPEI - Taiwanese distrust towards China is deepening as Beijing steps up pressure on Hong Kong to ban the Falungong spiritual sect, analysts here say.
Persecution of Falungong members on the mainland and condemnation of sect leader Li Hongzhi, living in exile in New York, have only added to doubts over the extent of freedom which Beijing has promised areas under its control, they say.
Beijing banned the quasi-Buddhist Falungong 18 months ago branding it "an evil cult". But it is a legally registered religious group in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
However, Hong Kong's tolerance toward the religious group, which combines traditional mediation with Buddhist-inspire teachings, has wavered in recent weeks.
Hong Kong cabinet member Nellie Fong Wong Kut-man Saturday publicly called for the Falungong to be banned arguing it was an "embarrassment" and harming relations with Beijing.
"This shows that it is never 'one country, two systems' as China had promised," said Chang Ching-hsi, chairman of Falungong Research Society in Taipei, and an economics professor at National Taiwan University.
Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under the "one country, two systems" model, the same political framework Beijing has proposed for reunification with Taiwan, which split from the mainland in 1949.
Under the model, Hong Kong has been promised 50 years of autonomy from Beijing rule in all matters except foreign affairs and defence.
But now Hong Kong authorities are under mounting pressure from influential pro-Beijing channels to curb the Falungong or even ban it outright.
"We are confident that the SAR (Special Administration Region) government will act in accordance with the law and will not allow Hong Kong to become a base for subverting the central government," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi said Tuesday.
Beijing might fear that allowing Falungong to exist in Hong Kong would be an open invitation to challenge its power, said 54-year-old Chang who has been a Falungong follower for two-and-a-half years.
However, he declined to comment on whether Beijing's crackdown on Falungong has deepened resentment among Taiwanese practioners against reunfication with China, saying his society holds no political views.
Some 3,000 Falungong practioners from 20 countries joined a two-day event in Taipei late December sponsored by Chang's group in support of their counterparts persecuted in China.
"China has clearly violated the 'one country, two systems' principle by pressing Hong Kong to outlaw Falungong," said Joseph Wu, deputy director of Institute of International Relations at National Chengchi University.
"It has further intensified the sense of distrust among Taiwanese towards the Chinese government and any form of reunification with the mainland," Wu told AFP.
According to a poll released by the cabinet-level Mainland Affairs Council six months ago, 60.1 percent of the 1,647 Taiwanese questioned did not believe China's pledge to maintain Hong Kong's autonomy for the next 50 years.
The survey also showed that 72.6 percent of respondents refused to reunify with the mainland under the "one country, two systems" model.
"Beijing's action (towards Falungong) only proves that Taiwanese were right about the Chinese government from the start," said Wu.
Falungong members insist they have no political agenda and say members are taught how to attain high moral standards and physical well-being through meditation.
The number of Falungong practioners in Taiwan is estimated to have trebled to around 100,000 since Beijing's nationwide clampdown on the sect in 1999, added Chang.
"The overwhelming publicity that Falungong has received during the crackdown and distrust of the Chinese government has brought many new members into Falungong from across the island," he added.
BEIJING - A rights group Wednesday said seven more members of the outlawed Falun Gong meditation sect have died in Chinese custody, raising the death toll to 112 in the government crackdown on the group.
Four reportedly died in labor camps, including two who apparently were injured during force feeding, the Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said. The family of a 28-year-old woman who had served eight months at a camp said she appeared to have been beaten, the Hong Kong-based center reported.
Another fell from the balcony at his home and died while trying to escape police who had come to arrest him, the center said. Two more were beaten at jails, the center reported.
The death reports come amid a renewed government campaign against Falun Gong, which Beijing considers an evil cult that cheats followers and has led some 1,600 to their deaths by discouraging modern medicine and driving them to insane self-destructive acts.
The Communist Party has seized on public revulsion over an attempted group suicide by purported Falun Gong practitioners on Jan. 23 - one person died and four were injured when they set themselves on fire in Tiananmen Square.
Falun Gong attracted millions of followers during the 1990s with a combination of gentle calisthenics and philosophies drawn from Buddhism, Taoism and the unorthodox ideas of its founder, Li Hongzhi, a former soldier and government clerk who lives in the United States.
Fearing the group's size and organization could challenge Communist Party rule, China's leaders banned it in July 1999. Core leaders have been sentenced to prison and rights groups claim thousands of rank and file members have been detained during the 18-month crackdown.
China does not comment on individual cases, but denies abusing sect members sent to labor camps or to counseling centers for deprogramming.
The European Union should take a tough stance to protest China's refusal to allow western officials to meet with members of the Falungong sect, a member of the ruling coalition in the Netherlands said Wednesday.
Dutch Foreign Minister Jozias van Aartsen cancelled a scheduled visit to Beijing and Hong Kong where the Dutch human rights envoy had planned to meet with 11 Chinese human rights activists including a representative of the Falungong sect.
The decision to scrap the visit came after Beijing pressured the Dutch government to cancel the February 12 meeting with the Chinese representatives, which was to be held in Hong Kong.
"I call on Mr. van Aartsen to get the European Union to adopt the same kind of stance," Social Democrat MP Bert Koenders told the ANP news agency.
The minister informed both the Swedish EU presidency and the European foreign affairs commissioner, Chris Patten, of his decision, the foreign ministry said.
Both the press and parliament commented favorably on the decision to cancel the visit, but the Dutch employers' organization expressed concern about possible repercussions on trade relations between China and the Netherlands.
China's official Xinhua news agency cited the Dutch government as saying the visit had been postponed "owing to a time factor."
But the foreign ministry in The Hague made clear late Tuesday that the visit was being cancelled due to pressure from Beijing.
"It is unthinkable that a part of the program would be suppressed under pressure from China," a foreign ministry spokesman said.
Dutch Human Rights Ambassador Renee Jones-Bos was to have met representatives of 11 organisations including the Falungong spiritual movement, which has been banned in mainland China but not in Hong Kong.
A government spokeswoman in Hong Kong said the cancellation was a matter concerning foreign affairs which fell within the jurisdiction of the central government in Beijing.
Falungong was banned by Beijing in July 1999 as an "evil cult" and the Communist leadership stepped up an already-intensive propaganda campaign against it after five alleged members tried to commit suicide by setting themselves on fire in Tiananmen Square last month.
A Falungong spokeswoman told AFP in Hong Kong: "We regret very much that a normal meeting for discussing human rights has been cancelled because of pressure from Beijing, because I think human rights should transcend national boundaries and races."
Two Central Government offices in Hong Kong stepped up their criticism of local Falun Gong members yesterday on the eve of the arrival of a United Nations Human Rights Committee delegation.
Central Government Liaison Office director Jiang Enzhu, speaking after the office's annual spring reception at the Convention and Exhibition Centre, said the sect had become ``more and more politicised and internationalised''.
``And it will endanger Hong Kong,'' he warned.
Asked about reports that the UN delegation planned to meet local Falun Gong members, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs branded the sect an ``anti-human, anti-society, anti-science, evil cult with political purposes''.
On Sunday, human-rights groups and some pro-democracy legislators slammed government moves to outlaw Falun Gong in Hong Kong and vowed to raise the issue with the delegation.
The Foreign Affairs spokeswoman said Falun Gong was ``treading on human rights, and strangling freedom''.
``Therefore, it is entirely necessary for the Chinese Government to ban the Falun Gong evil cult according to the laws,'' she said.
The spokeswoman said that recent statements by Hong Kong Falun Gong members attacking the Central Government had dispelled any doubts about their being ``non-political, non-anti-government, and not associated with any political force''.
The spokeswoman warned that ``no organisation or person was allowed to try to turn Hong Kong into a centre for Falun Gong activities, to use Hong Kong as an anti-China base, to tarnish the one country, two systems principle, and to damage social stability and prosperity in Hong Kong''.
``Their attempts are doomed to failure,'' she said, adding that Hong Kong's affairs were ``an internal matter'' for China.
``We are firmly opposed to any foreign government and its officials interfering in China's internal affairs by making use of the Falun Gong issue,'' she said.
Last week, the Central Government's Liaison Office described the sect as ``anti-China''.
Mr Jiang declined to repeat that statement, but said the Falun Gong - through actions such as the recent suicide in Tiananmen Square - had seriously endangered mainland society.
Meanwhile, an unprecedented meeting will be held on Friday between local National People's Congress deputies and sect members led by spokesman Kan Hung-cheung.
Local deputy Ma Lik said the sect had approached him recently and asked for the opportunity to explain their beliefs.
At least one other deputy, Dr Raymond Wu Wai-yung - who also sits on the Basic Law Committee - would accompany Mr Ma to meet the sect.
Mr Ma said he would try to persuade sect members to refrain from activities harmful to Hong Kong.
Dr Wu said he would tell Mr Kan that sect members could be allowed to stay in Hong Kong in accordance with the one country, two systems principle.
``But they should prevent themselves from being used by foreign forces, they should keep a clear distance from the sect on the mainland as well as foreign forces,'' he said.
Dr Wu said the SAR Government should not be forced into enactment of an anti-subversion law over just a single issue.
Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference Standing Committee member Xu Simin said he would not raise the Falun Gong issue at the committee plenary session in Beijing next month because he thought that the Central Government already understood the situation.
But he questioned the nature of the sect and why members practised exercises outside the Liaison Office rather than in public parks.
Mr Xu said the sect was different from the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of the Patriotic Democratic Movement in China because its headquarters were in the United States, while the alliance was based in the territory.
Beijing -- China's already shrill campaign to discredit the Falun Gong spiritual group got louder yesterday, with the strongest accusations yet that the group is colluding with Western forces seeking to vilify and destroy the nation.
"Western anti-Chinese forces have spared no effort to engage in ideological infiltration to achieve their goal of overturning our socialist system and subverting our state," said a front-page essay in the Liberation Army Daily, the military's official mouthpiece.
"How closely this chimes with Li Hongzhi's political ambitions!" the article said, referring to the founder and theorist of Falun Gong, who lives in exile in New York.
The essay also compared Li to a notorious traitor who became a puppet for Japanese invaders in the last century.
"Any scum who betrays the interests of the state and people," the article concluded, referring to Li, "will ultimately never escape a despicable end of disgrace and ruin and 10,000 years of infamy."
Another article, in yesterday's Legal Daily, dredged up epithets from the Cultural Revolution, calling sect members "running dogs of foreign anti- Chinese forces."
Ever since it banned Falun Gong in July 1999 as an "evil cult," the government has kept up its attacks against a group that had drawn millions to meditative exercises that are said to harness cosmic forces for one's well- being.
Trying to capitalize on public shock over the attempted self-immolation of seven apparent believers on Jan. 23, which left one woman dead and four others,
including a 12-year-old girl, severely burned, the authorities have now shifted their campaign into overdrive.
In a typical news report yesterday, 18 former believers who were described as government workers were quoted as saying that their eyes were opened to Li's perfidy by months of "re-education," apparently in labor camps.
Nearly every organized body in the country has been required to hold meetings and issue statements against the group.
Many people were repulsed by the attempted suicides and accept the government's assertion that they were Falun Gong protesters, despite denials by group leaders abroad.
But some intellectuals, including a few Communist Party officials, are complaining that the heavy-handed propaganda blitz -- which recalls Maoist campaigns of the 1950s and 1960s -- may discredit the party itself and harm China's interests abroad.
BEIJING - A last-minute decision by the Dutch foreign minister to scrap a trip to China after Chinese lecturing over Falun Gong has set a precedent that could come back to haunt Beijing, diplomats and analysts say.
China played down the decision, saying it stemmed from a "scheduling conflict." Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan invited Jozias Van Aartsen to reschedule his trip.
But Van Aartsen's spokesman said the scheduled February 7-13 visit was postponed because Beijing publicly opposed a planned meeting between Dutch diplomats and members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement in Hong Kong.
Beijing-based diplomats said the Dutch case could backfire on the Chinese if other foreign leaders follow suit and rejected Chinese efforts to dictate their itineraries.
"The Netherlands made a strong statement and the Chinese may be happy that they prevented official foreign contact with Falun Gong," said one Western diplomat on Wednesday. "But what happens if others follow the Dutch example?"
The diplomat cited the example of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled leader who regularly meets world leaders "despite, if not because of" Chinese hectoring.
A Falun Gong spokeswoman in Hong Kong said the meeting with Dutch diplomats was intended to be an opportunity to air grievances about China's crackdown on the movement -- outlawed in China but legal in the Chinese-controlled former British colony.
CLASH IN PERCEPTIONS
The row was the second clash of perceptions over the Falun Gong crackdown in 24 hours between China and outsiders and comes as Beijing is trying to win the right to host the 2008 Olympics and avoid censure by the U.N. Human Rights Commission.
China portrays its no-holds-barred campaign against Falun Gong as necessary to protect Chinese from an "evil cult," but outsiders are alarmed by the many reported abuses since the government banned the spiritual movement in July 1999.
Falun Gong says 50,000 followers have been detained and many sent to labour camps without trial. Human rights groups estimate that about 100 believers have died in detention.
A representative of the United Nations Human Rights Commission told reporters in Hong Kong on Tuesday the territory's government had no case against a legal body which obeyed the law.
"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," said former Indian chief justice P.N. Bhagwati.
He is one of two U.N. delegates visiting Hong Kong this week to assess respect for human rights since Britain handed the territory back to China in 1997.
Beijing's increasingly vocal charges that Falun Gong is turning the territory into an anti-China base have raised fears that China might soon curb Hong Kong's freedoms in violation of a pledge to maintain them for 50 years after the handover.
RISK TO OLYMPICS, RIGHTS DIPLOMACY
But analysts said failing a Hong Kong litmus test was only one risk China ran with a crackdown which has intensified since a fiery suicide attempt by five purported Falun Gong followers at Tiananmen Square on January 23.
One woman died of her injuries.
Her 12-year-old daughter, in hospital with burns over 40 percent of her body, is the centrepiece of the current Communist Party campaign to depict Falun Gong as a merciless, manipulating pedlar of superstition with political aims.
Far more is at stake this year, beginning with Beijing's bid to host the 2008 Olympics. International Olympic Committee officials will visit the Chinese capital in just two weeks and some voting members have already raised human rights concerns.
"They seem to have used the self-immolations effectively inside China," said another Western diplomat.
"But it is a different story overseas," the envoy added, saying the Falun Gong crackdown had featured prominently in many Western countries' diplomatic dialogue with the Chinese.
Before the Dutch row, the United States and China exchanged sharp criticisms after the George W. Bush administration issued its first public condemnation of Beijing's crackdown.
China's tactics could work against its annual human rights diplomacy, sapping any goodwill it gets from concessions timed to escape criticism of its record next month, when the U.N. Human Rights Commission opens its annual session in Geneva.
This year, China has indicated its parliament might soon ratify the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which Beijing was applauded for signing in 1997.
"Often with these kinds of concessions, domestic priorities still come first and the government has already made clear its hard-line position against Falun Gong," said Sophia Woodman, research director for Human Rights in China.
What Is Falun Gong? See "Falun Gong 101", by Massimo Introvigne
FALUN GONG UPDATES
[Home Page] [Cos'è il CESNUR] [Biblioteca del CESNUR] [Testi e documenti] [Libri] [Convegni]
[Home Page] [About CESNUR] [CESNUR Library] [Texts & Documents] [Book Reviews] [Conferences]