Police are keeping watch on a move by the Falungong cult in Thailand ahead of an international meeting to be held here in April.
Deputy interior permanent secretary for security affairs Veerachai Naewboonnian said the Special Branch police in Mae Hong Son, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai had been asked to keep watch on Falungong followers there but there was no report about any irregularities yet.
Beijing did not want a Falungong meeting to be held in Thailandin April as scheduled for fear that Thailand would be used by the cult asa base to slander other countries, he added.
According to him, Thai authorities did not regard the move by Falungong here as problem but had to wait and see to find out what would be discussed at April's meeting and if the cult would pose threats to national security.
BEIJING - Torture and ill-treatment of prisoners and detainees is widespread and systemic in China and the government is not doing enough to fight it, Amnesty International said Monday.
In a new report, the London-based group said officials perpetrating abuses include not only police and prison officers, but also tax collectors, family planners, neighborhood watch groups and even business security guards who have tortured and killed complaining customers.
"Torture in China remains a major human rights concern. The range of officials resorting to it is expanding, as is the circle of victims,'' the group said. "The government has acknowledged for many years that torture is a serious problem but has done little about it.''
China has in recent years allowed its wholly state-controlled media a somewhat freer hand in exposing police and official abuses of people not accused of political crimes, helping in a few cases to bring officials to justice.
But Amnesty said Chinese laws against torture contain loopholes, that the use of torture to extract confessions and against political dissidents "remains commonplace'' and that abusive officials are rarely punished.
The banned Falun Gong spiritual movement says its followers have been widely targeted for abuse and torture in the government's relentless 18-month crackdown on the group. Falun Gong says 143 practitioners have died. A Hong Kong-based rights group says it has tallied at least 112 deaths.
China has denied that practitioners have died of abuse in custody claims Amnesty called "unconvincing.''
Amnesty published the report less than two weeks before International Olympic Committee inspectors visit Beijing to assess its bid for the 2008 Olympic Games. Concerns over China's rights record contributed to Beijing's narrow loss in 1993 to Sydney for the 2000 Games.
Human rights group Amnesty International says torture and ill-treatment of prisoners and detainees in China has become widespread and systematic. In a report, Amnesty says a growing range of Chinese officials are resorting to extreme violence against inmates in a range of institutions from police stations to drug rehabilitation centres.
What is particularly horrifying about torture in China is that much of it is committed in broad daylight
Among the victims are members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement and Muslim separatists in the far western region of Xinjiang.
Amnesty says the government's commitment to curbing torture has often been undermined by its own directives to use every means in anti-corruption campaigns and political crackdowns.
The report also says that although Chinese journalists are playing a growing role in exposing abuses, they would never report torture of political dissidents.
"What is particularly horrifying about torture in China is that much of it is committed by officials in broad daylight to instil fear and discipline," said an Amnesty spokesman.
Officials have come down hard on Falun Gong members
He told BBC News Online: "The fact that torture is often not even hidden in China shows that these officials commit these crimes with total impunity."
According to the report, the range of officials resorting to torture is expanding, as is the circle of victims.
"In China, the trend is toward a widening of the scope of torture to include state-sponsored blackmail, collection of tax and the enforcement of fines," said the spokesman.
And although the Chinese Government has said it is committed to fighting torture, the report says investigations rarely bring perpetrators to justice and official denials are readily accepted.
In China the trend is toward a widening of the scope of torture
Amnesty also says bogus psychiatric hospitalisation is often used to suppress dissent.
The report makes recommendations to the Chinese authorities to improve human rights, including banning torture, and excluding from courts all evidence extracted under torture.
Amnesty also urges an end to incommunicado and arbitrary detention, ensuring detainees access to lawyers, families and medical treatment, and instituting an effective complaints mechanism.
BEIJING - China on Monday said its crackdown on the Falungong spiritual movement was part of a global battle against cults and urged other countries to join in that struggle.
The state-run Xinhua news agency, in a lengthy feature, listed examples of how authorities in the United States, Japan and Europe had moved to curb cults, and said they should not use double standards when judging China's policies.
"China is willing to form a joint battlefront to wage a global struggle against cults," Xinhua said, quoting Wang Yusheng, secretary general of the China Anti-Cult Association.
It said participants at an international symposium on "destructive cults" held in Beijing in November agreed it was impossible for countries to curb the spread of cults on their own, and that international cooperation was needed.
Xinhua quoted Duan Qiming, an official with the state administration of religious affairs, as saying other countries should support China in its fight against the Falungong and stop the group from creating "tragedies" within their own territories.
"That not only embodies their friendly feelings toward Chinese people, but also is a move which is responsible (toward) their own people," Duan said according to Xinhua.
Beijing is increasingly upset about the Falungong's vocal protests in Hong Kong, and Chinese diplomats in Canada have been accused of threatening followers of the controversial movement there.
Fu Tieshan, chairman of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, told Xinhua the Falungong shared sinister traits with cults in Japan, France, Uganda and the United States.
"They not only jeopardize social order, but also seduce people to commit suicide, especially mass suicide," he said according to Xinhua.
This appeared to be a reference to a mass suicide attempt in Beijing's Tiananmen Square on January 23, when five alleged Falungong followers tried to set fire to themselves. One died and the other four, including a 12-year-old girl, were badly injured.
The Xinhua story listed a range of cult phenomena in foreign countries, such as Japan's Aum Supreme Truth sect and the Branch Davidians of the US, seemingly in an attempt to point out parallels with its own response to the Falungong.
"The Chinese government and people have always supported the efforts of other governments in cracking down on cults," Xinhua said, quoting Feng Jinyuan, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the country's top government think tank.
"(The Chinese) have never changed their attitude toward cults, even if a country with a cult boasts a different social system or cultural background from China," Feng said according to Xinhua.
Falungong, which claims 70 million members in mainland China alone, was banned by Beijing in July 1999 as an "evil cult."
The Communist leadership stepped up an already-intensive propaganda campaign after last month's suicide attempt.
BEIJING - Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien raised human rights concerns with Chinese leaders Sunday and oversaw the signing of an agreement on legal reforms at the start of visit focusing on Chinese-Canadian business ties.
Chretien met with Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji and watched as officials signed a series of pacts at the Great Hall of the People, the government headquarters in Beijing.
Leading a 500-member trade delegation, Chretien told Zhu he hoped the visit would replicate the success of a similar trip in 1994 and ``lead to a lot of good business cooperation between Canada and China.''
Zhu called the business-oriented approach an ``innovative form of diplomacy which has made a contribution to the bilateral relations between our two countries.''
Reporters were barred from the rest of their discussion.
Senior Canadian officials said that during the 90-minute meeting, Chretien raised concerns about Chinese rule in Tibet and Beijing's crackdown on the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual movement.
Chretien was ``very specific in saying these are his concerns and those of Canadians, that we consider them problems,'' one official said. The Canadian officials spoke on condition of anonymity. Canadian lawmakers have pressed Chretien to urge China to hold negotiations with the Tibetan government in exile headed by the Dalai Lama.
Zhu responded by repeating China's assertion that it will talk with the Dalai Lama if he meets certain conditions, said the officials. Zhu also defended the crackdown on Falun Gong. China banned Falun Gong as an evil cult and accuses it of swindling followers and driving them to insanity or even death through its dangerous teachings.
Falun Gong and human rights groups say at least 112 people have died from police mistreatment during the often violent 18-month-long campaign against the sect.
China, which occupied Tibet with troops in 1950, has harshly repressed all challenges to Chinese rule and seeks to stamp out allegiance to the Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959 after a failed uprising against communist rule.
Zhu also pledged that China's legislature would ratify one of two key U.N. human rights and civil liberties covenants next months. Both have been signed by China's government but need legislative approval to take effect.
State television quoted Zhu saying that China adheres to broad international standards of human rights. But he added it was up to individual countries to apply rights to fit their specific conditions - a standard Chinese response to criticism. China is willing to open ``exchanges and dialogue'' with Canada on rights issues, the report quoted Zhu saying.
The agreements signed Sunday included one that would further cooperation in setting up legal aid centers throughout China and promoting reforms of the criminal justice system, part of Canadian efforts to engage China on human rights and the rule of law. Other agreements covered cooperation in the energy sector, poverty reduction and the environment.
Before meeting with Zhu, Chretien lunched with China's minister for development and planning, Zeng Peiyan, and leaders from western provinces where China has launched ambitious development projects.
China is among Canada's top trading partners, and Chretien's entourage included representatives of the aerospace and energy industries. Canadian officials say they expect 173 business agreements will be signed during the visit, which will also take Chretien to China's commercial center, Shanghai, and the western city of Xi'an.
BEIJING - In a fresh salvo of sharp anti-Falun Gong rhetoric, China's Communist Party vowed on Monday to "fight the war to the end" against the outlawed spiritual group.
"The Chinese government will fight the war to the end in a bid to safeguard the reform and opening-up, the socialist modernisation drive and the hard-won social stability," the People's Daily said in a commentary.
And in an apparent slap at countries that have condemned human rights abuses reported in the 19-month-long crackdown, the party's official newspaper said "Western anti-China masters" were behind Falun Gong's repeated public protests.
The commentary -- part of a mass propaganda campaign sparked by self-immolation attempts last month by five people who China says were sect members -- said Falun Gong teachings inspired a failed bombing attempt at Tiananmen Square last year.
"After receiving the message, a crazy Falun Gong follower armed with explosives went to the square and was ready to ignite himself on April 5, 2000. His deadly attempt was foiled by patrolling police," it said.
It was not clear why China, which promptly reported last month's self-immolations and used them to discredit the sect, waited 10 months to publicise the would-be bomber.
INTERNATIONAL CONCERN MOUNTS
Falun Gong members have protested almost daily in Tiananmen Square since the movement was outlawed in 1999 and China's often harsh treatment of protesters has provoked widespread international concern.
Human rights groups say more than 100 Falun Gong followers have died of police beatings and other abuse, while the sect says tens of thousands of its mainland members have been sent to labour camps without trial.
On Sunday, visiting Prime Minister Jean Chretien voiced Canada's concern about the crackdown in talks with Premier Zhu Rongji, Canadian officials said.
Last month, Ottawa lobbied for the release of Chinese Falun Gong adherent Zhang Kunlun, a 60-year-old sculpture professor who emerged after five months in a Shandong province labour camp saying he suffered electrical shock torture and had feared he would be killed.
Replying to Chretien, Zhu repeated China's position that the movement which combines Taoism and Buddhism with traditional Chinese exercises was an "evil cult" that duped folllowers and threatened social stability.
Last week, Dutch Foreign Minister Jozias van Aartsen postponed a visit to China after Beijing sharply criticised his plan to meet members of the Falun Gong in Hong Kong. The Dutch said they resented China's meddling in Van Aartsen's agenda.
Falun Gong is legal in Hong Kong, which is under Chinese sovereignty but enjoys a high degree of autonomy. Last week Hong Kong's government said it would step up monitoring of the activities of Falun Gong's estimated 400-500 members in the territory.
Hong Kong's autonomy and rule of law would suffer a severe blow if it gave in to growing pressure from Beijing to ban the sect, scholars and human rights activists said on Saturday.
Hong Kong's justice secretary on Sunday said that the government had no plans to implement laws against local members of the Falun Gong, the spiritual sect banned on the mainland.
The comment from Elsie Leung, secretary for justice, was the strongest statement in support of the freedoms of the sect in the city, which in the past couple of weeks has been severely criticised by Hong Kong and Chinese government officials.
Last Thursday, Hong Kong's chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, told the local legislature that the government would closely observe the activities of local Falun Gong members, who have infuriated Beijing by organising international meetings in Hong Kong. He also described them as an evil cult, prompting accusations from legislators that he was toeing Beijing's line. "We will not allow anyone to abuse Hong Kong's freedoms," Mr Tung warned.
Government officials and media in Hong Kong have said that Mr Tung's tough talk on the Falun Gong would allow him the leeway to resist pressure to ban the group in Hong Kong. Banning the sect would seriously undermine the autonomy China promised the local government when the former British colony was returned to it in 1997.
In another move to lower the temperature on the Falun Gong issue, Ms Leung said that the public should not be alarmed about enactment of an anti-subversion law, which the government is required to legislate and promised the government will take public opinion into account before deciding to pass the legislation.
The issue is something of a political minefield, given China's generous definition of the term, which is the local government has chosen to put off enacting such laws. Recently, pro-Beijing figures in Hong Kong have said that the government should consider putting in place such laws so that they could be used against groups like the Falun Gong, a position denounced by politicians and human rights activists in the city.
HONG KONG --Amid calls from pro-Beijing forces to clamp down on Falun Gong, Justice Secretary Elsie Leung said Sunday she has no plan to enact a law against the meditation sect, which is banned in mainland China. Leung said she "hasn't received any instruction" from the government to establish any law to restrict the sect, which has been criticized by pro-Beijing forces as evil and associated with Western forces in an anti-China conspiracy.
On Thursday, Hong Kong's leader Tung Chee-hwa became the first government official in the territory to call the group a "cult." The chief executive said the government will closely monitor the group's activities but added that the controversy over the group won't prompt Hong Kong to speed up the legislation of an anti-subversion law.
Following Tung's line, Leung reiterated Sunday that the public shouldn't be too concerned about enactment of the anti-subversion law, which the government must pass at some point now that the former British colony has returned to China.
Leung said the government will take public opinion into account before deciding to pass the legislation.
Falun Gong has come under attack from the mainland Chinese government and pro-Beijing groups in the territory since the Hong Kong government allowed it to hold an international conference last month at a public concert hall, where sect followers openly attacked Beijing's "brutal crackdown."
Although Falun Gong is banned in China, the group remains legal in Hong Kong, where citizens enjoy considerably more freedom than their counterparts on the mainland.
Falun Gong has attracted millions of followers, most of them in China, with its combination of slow-motion exercises and philosophy drawn from Taoism, Buddhism and the often unorthodox ideas of founder Li Hongzhi.
BEIJING, China -- Police and security forces have raided the homes of more than a thousand grassroots leaders of the Falun Gong in yet another instance of Beijing's escalating battle against the quasi-Buddhist sect.
And the central government is collecting more evidence of the group's alleged links with cults in different parts of the world.
A Beijing source close to the security establishment said the authorities had identified the leaders of most of the sect's grassroots cells or liaison units, estimated to number several thousands. The homes of some of these leaders have recently been raided.
"Police and state security agents hope to uncover evidence of 'cult-like practice' and economic crime, or evidence that the sect leaders have done bodily and other harm to members," the source said.
The evidence would then be used in the on-going nationwide vilification campaign being waged against the "evil cult."
It is understood police and state propaganda units are studying evidence which might suggest personal links between overseas-based Falun Gong practitioners and quasi-religious groups generally branded as cults in foreign countries.
Beijing's foreign-based intelligence network has been told to work harder at putting together dossiers of Falun Gong veterans in different countries.
Meanwhile, pressure has been put on the police and state security apparatus to prevent Falun Gong-related mishaps in the capital.
Some of the nation's most important events, including the annual sessions of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, are due to be convened in the Tiananmen Square area next month.
A Western diplomat who has studied the Falun Gong movement said security officers in provinces with large concentrations of sect practitioners had been told they would be penalized if "cultists" from their jurisdictions managed to go to the capital despite police surveillance.
"Morale among provincial police officers is not high," the diplomat said. "They have complained that once Falun Gong members from their areas end up as protesters in Tiananmen Square, their promotion prospects will be finished.''
Since early January, police have boosted check points in the outskirts of Beijing to prevent Falun Gong affiliates from getting into the capital.
What Is Falun Gong? See "Falun Gong 101", by Massimo Introvigne
FALUN GONG UPDATES
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