Beijing has ordered local governments and major state units across the mainland to set up anti-cult task forces in a further escalation of its already intensive crackdown on the Falun Gong movement.
The order to all levels of regional governments followed hard on Beijing's recent move to set up two central task forces to oversee the campaign, several sources with connections to the government said.
The two central task forces are headed by senior Communist Party officials.
The so-called ``June 10 Working Office'' is headed by Luo Gan, the party's main official in charge of maintaining law and order. It oversees the overall nationwide crackdown.
The second, the ``propaganda work office'', is headed by Liu Yunshan, the second-in-command of the party central committee's Propaganda Department. It is in charge of winning the media war. Mr Liu's second-in-command is Li Dongsheng, the party chief at and deputy head of China Central Television.
Mr Luo will have two deputies - Minister of Public Security Jia Chunwang and Minister of State Security Xu Yongyue.
The move to set up the task forces at both federal and state levels came after the Politburo, the party's top decision-making body, recently ordered an all-out campaign to completely root out the Falun Gong ``evil cult''.
Local governments in provinces, municipalities and counties are expected to set up their task forces immediately to enforce federal edicts in the nationwide campaign, according to an internal government circular recently sent to regional governments, sources said.
Major state-run enterprises, universities and social institutions are also expected to set up similar organs.
Propaganda officials said they had not seen a campaign undertaken on such a scale since the years of the Cultural Revolution between 1966 and 1976.
The propaganda office has ordered all state-run media to mount a saturation campaign to condemn the sect and educate the masses.
The Falun Gong, which claims 70 million members in the mainland alone, was banned by Beijing in July 1999 as an ``evil cult''. The move to set up the task forces follows the sect's vocal protests in Hong Kong and a mass suicide attempt in Tiananmen Square last month that the leadership blamed on the ``evil cult''.
Beijing launched its propaganda offensive on January 30 with official media giving prominent coverage to its allegations that the mass suicide attempt showed the ``evil'' nature of the sect.
In that event, a group of seven sect members tried to set fire to themselves in Tiananmen Square a week before, on the eve of the Lunar New Year. Five of them, including a 12-year-old girl and her mother, succeeded. The mother died.
HONG KONG - Christian and human rights activists in Hong Kong rallied behind the controversial Falun Gong spiritual movement on Friday by protesting against the government for stepping up pressure on the group.
Holding banners, about 20 demonstrators lined up outside the office of Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa and slammed the administration for its recent comments against Falun Gong, which is legal in the territory but banned in mainland China.
Their actions followed remarks by Tung last week in which he borrowed Beijing's line that the group had some characteristics of "an evil cult". Tung said the government would be keeping a close watch on the situation.
Tung's comments also angered members of the democratic camp who felt Hong Kong's promised independence was under threat with the government towing Beijing's position.
A statement issued by the protesters and signed by 30 local organisations accused the government of being "unreasonable and unjust" and infringing on freedoms in the former British colony, which was guaranteed a high degree of autonomy when it reverted to Chinese control in July 1997.
LAWMAKERS TO SEEK ANSWERS FROM GOVERNMENT
Local lawmakers will press the government to clarify its stand on Falun Gong in a special meeting next Tuesday.
"How could the government label a group as an evil cult just because a couple of people outside of the territory had burnt themselves alive?" legislator Andrew Cheng, who will chair the meeting, told Reuters, referring to a recent fiery mass suicide attempt by some Falun Gong followers in Beijing.
Cheng said the government would need to give a clear definition of what constitutes an "evil cult".
Falun Gong, based loosely on Buddhism, Taoism and traditional Chinese exercises, says it has millions of followers in China. It has shocked the Communist Party with its persistence and ability to organise mass protests but denies it has political interests.
BEIJING -- China said Thursday that nominations for Falun Gong leader Li Hongzhi for this year's Nobel Peace Prize had made a mockery of the award.
"We are strongly opposed to the use of the Nobel Peace Prize to achieve ulterior political motives," foreign ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao said.
Over 30 people have formally nominated Li for next year's prize, including parliamentarians from the United States and Britain. Scholars from the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, Taiwan and other countries have also put his name forward, the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said.
China, which has banned the sect, has said giving the prize to Li would amount to encouraging a criminal.
Beijing has accused Li of causing the deaths of more than 1,600 Falun Gong followers, whom it says were duped by Li into believing they did not need medicine and could cure their illnesses by following his teachings.
It has also blamed Li for the apparent suicide attempts by five people whom China said are Falun Gong members on Tiananmen Square on Chinese New Year's eve on January 23. One woman died and four others, including a 12-year-old girl, suffered severe burns when they set themselves on fire.
China said the five were trying to reach nirvana, but human rights groups said they were more likely protesting against the government's ban against the group, imposed in July 1999.
Falun Gong's headquarters in New York have denied the five were Falun Gong members.
Zhu on Thursday said Li has "fabricated fallacies and exercised spiritual control over his followers."
"The Falun Gong cult, in disregard of the laws and regulations, collected a large amount of money illegally and also held illegal assembly, seriously violating public security," Zhu said.
"It also harmed the lives and health of other people, resulting in many family tragedies."
Nominations for Li have cited his teachings which advocate high moral values, as well as the ways in which he has instructed his followers to peacefully protest the ban imposed by Beijing.
The Chinese government has called the group the biggest threat to its one party communist rule since the 1989 Tiananmen democracy protests and has jailed hundreds of Falun Gong leaders for up to 18 years while sending tens of thousands to labor camps for refusing to give up their beliefs
HONG KONG -- Beijing has asked all school principals to ensure that their institutions are free from "infiltration" by the Falun Gong quasi-Buddhist sect.
And while calling on the nation to declare an all-out war on the spiritual movement, President Jiang Zemin has indicated failure to contain the "scourge" will amount to a defeat for the Communist Party.
A source close to security departments in Beijing said instructions had been given to heads of primary and secondary schools as well as college presidents to adopt a "personal responsibility system" in combating the Falun Gong.
The principal or college head is held personally responsible for ensuring that there are no Falun Gong members -- or at least no Falun Gong-related "crimes" -- on campus.
He or she is responsible for organizing ideological campaigns to educate students about the allegedly evil nature of sects and religious groups such as the Falun Gong.
"School authorities are asked to report all known Falun Gong members in their institutions, including students and teachers, to police and state security units," the source said.
"School principals and college presidents have been told they will be criticized and punished if Falun Gong-affiliated students from their units commit acts such as holding protests or distributing leaflets in public."
Dangers of cults
Official media in different provinces have reported that after students returned to class earlier this week for spring term, their first priority was to attend ideological classes on the dangers of cults.
It is understood that in an internal meeting, Jiang urged cadres of all levels to wage "the hardest struggle" against the Falun Gong.
"If we can't exterminate the cult soon, this will be seen as a major weakness of the Communist party," Jiang reportedly said. "The authority and prestige of the party is at stake."
Party sources said Jiang had also implemented a "social stability responsibility system" among provincial and municipal officials.
This meant that should law and order problems in any one province or city worsen, the responsible cadres would be subject to reprimand and punishments such as demotion.
And the extent to which a provincial governor or mayor can stamp out Falun Gong activities has been made the premier criterion of whether he can maintain order and stability.
The sources said the worst transgression for local cadres was failure to prevent Falun Gong activists from going to the capital and staging protests there.
LONDON - A senior Chinese official has denied that members of the outlawed Falun Gong religious group have died in detention as a result of maltreatment or torture by Chinese authorities.
In an interview to be broadcast Friday, the Chinese embassy spokesman in Washington, Zhang Yuan-yuan, said those group members who had died in detention were old, sick or committed suicide.
"People died in detention, that's true," he told BBC World Service radio. "I can confirm that Falun Gong followers died in detention. But you have to ask how they died. So there are some who are old, sick and they commit suicide.
"They throw themselves against the wall and got themselves fatally injured and they refuse to eat, refused to take medicine, refused medical attention and people also died of natural causes," he said.
In a fresh attack on the Falun Gong Monday, China's Communist Party vowed to "fight the war to the end" against the outlawed spiritual group.
The remarks were part of a public relations campaign that began last month after five people tried to set themselves on fire. China says the five were sect members.
Falun Gong members have protested almost daily in Beijing's 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 labor camps without trial.
In his interview, Zhang said Chinese policy was to try to change the outlook of Falun Gong members.
"We have never denied that some people did indeed die during detention. Why detention?
"Because these people violate the law even though we try to change their minds and their outlook and try to bring them around. We still have to uphold the law of the land. If they break the law we have to do something about it," he said.
BEIJING - Calling for dialogue instead of confrontation, China on Thursday kicked off its annual effort to fight off attempts to criticize its human rights record at an upcoming United Nations meeting.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao said Western efforts to censure China at the U.N. Human Rights Commission had disrupted and ``seriously poisoned the atmosphere'' at previous commission meetings.
``This has met with strong opposition from the wide majority of developing countries, China included. It is natural that it ended in failure,'' Zhu said at a regular press briefing.
The U.S. government is still debating whether to back a resolution to censure China at the annual meeting next month of the U.N. rights commission in Switzerland. On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of 11 U.S. senators urged President Bush to sponsor such a resolution.
Last year, as in previous years, Beijing mobilized support from developing countries to prevent discussion of a U.S.-led attempt to censure Chinese repression. The European Union refused to co-sponsor the text after France and several other countries expressed concern that China might retaliate by cutting commercial ties.
Zhu said the only way for countries to resolve differences over human rights was through ``dialogue and exchange on the basis of equality and mutual respect'' and ``it is no use to engage in confrontation.''
China has refused to restart human rights talks with the United States while Washington supports censure efforts at the U.N. commission.
Zhu also warned against nominating Li Hongzhi, founder of the Falun Gong sect that China has banned as a cult, for the Nobel Peace Prize. Li, a former government grain clerk who lives in the United States, is among 126 people and groups known to have been nominated this year.
Since the Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, Beijing has said the Nobel committee is biased against the communist government. The choice in October of exiled author Gao Xingjian as the literature winner appeared only to confirm those suspicions, although Beijing has largely ignored discussing his selection.
``If Li Hongzhi or the Falun Gong cult are nominated as candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize then it will make a great mockery of the prize,'' Zhu said. ``We are strongly opposed to the use of the Nobel Peace Prize to achieve ulterior political motives.''
China has imprisoned thousands of Falun Gong followers in an often brutal, 19-month-old crackdown. The government claims the sect has led nearly 1,700 followers to their deaths - an accusation the group denies.
Falun Gong says 143 practitioners have been killed in the often brutal crackdown. A Hong Kong rights group has tallied 112 deaths.
Falun Gong followers believe the group's meditation exercises and Buddhist- and Taoist- influenced philosophies promote health, moral living and even supernatural powers for experienced practitioners.
BEIJING - China said on Thursday that Western countries thinking of pushing a U.N. resolution critical of its human rights record should "draw lessons from past failures" and abandon plans to censure Beijing.
It also slammed the nomination of the Falun Gong movement for the Nobel Peace Prize this year as a "major mockery" of the award.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao indicated China thought it could again ward off censure at the annual meeting of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, which opens on March 19.
"Nine times since 1990, some Western countries have introduced anti-China resolutions... and as a matter of course, these have ended in failure," Zhu told a news conference.
China's human rights record has come under increasing criticism this year as outsiders recoil at harsh treatment of Falun Gong protesters, rights groups allege widespread use of torture and media watchdogs decry curbs on the Internet.
This week alone, U.S. Senators introduced a resolution calling on President George W. Bush to lead international condemnation of Beijing and it was revealed that the outlawed Falun Gong were among 126 Nobel nominees.
In addition, rights watchdog Amnesty International issued a damning report on torture in China, and domestic pressure forced Canada's Prime Minister Jean Chretien to devote a significant part of talks in Beijing with China's leaders to human rights.
U.S. DECISION WATCHED
Zhu's remarks came in response to moves in the U.S. Senate by Democrat Paul Wellstone of Minnesota and Republican Tim Hutchinson of Arkansas, who said China's human rights record had deteriorated since last year's U.N. rights meeting.
They cited China's increasing attacks on minority religious groups and long-standing campaigns against pro-democracy activists and ethnic minority groups as reasons the Bush government should go ahead with the resolution.
Sources in Washington say they expect Secretary of State Colin Powell and other top officials to meet this week to decide on a recommendation to Bush on the resolution.
Washington has routinely sponsored a resolution condemning China's human rights record, except in 1998, when China released some dissidents from prison and signed a human rights convention.
But China has lobbied successfully nearly every year to prevent debate on the resolution.
"We hope the relevant countries will draw lessons from past failures and think twice before proceeding this year," Zhu said.
RIGHTS DIALOGUE QUESTIONED
Beijing also offers formal human rights dialogues to those countries who do not back the critical U.N. resolution.
While some U.S. allies in Europe say the annual U.N. resolution merely angers China without changing its behaviour, activists say bilateral human rights dialogues have had little effect.
China's anti-Falun Gong campaign, which rights groups say has resulted in more than 100 deaths in police custody and landed thousands in labour camps without trial, has unfolded while China and many Western states have held regular human rights exchanges.
Reacting to reports from Oslo that Falun Gong was among this year's Novel Peace Prize nominees, Zhu angrily repeated Beijing's assertion that the group was an "evil cult" that duped followers, broke up families and destroyed social order.
"China firmly opposes using the Nobel Prize for ulterior motives," he said.
BEIJING - China lashed out Thursday at the reported nomination of Falun Gong leader Li Hongzhi for the Nobel Peace Prize.
''It is clear to everyone that Falun Gong is an evil cult,'' Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao told a regular news conference in Beijing.
The candidacy of Li or the Falun Gong group, which is banned in mainland China, would ''make a great mockery of the Nobel Peace Prize,'' he said.
The prize committee has a policy against revealing candidates and conducts its selection process in secret until the recipient is announced in October.
However, past laureates, professors and legislators qualified to nominate candidates often declare their favorites independently.
On Tuesday in Oslo, committee secretary Geir Lundestad told reporters that 98 individuals and 28 organizations have been nominated for the prize but that the list may grow if more nominations arrive postmarked by the Feb. 1 deadline.
Nomination alone does not make a person or organization a serious candidate for the prize, he pointed out.
Other ''nominees,'' announced independently, include U.N. General Secretary Kofi Annan, Japanese historian and antiwar educational activist Saburo Ienaga, and the International Red Cross, whose founder won the first Nobel Peace Prize 100 years ago.
To confer the prize on Li, who lives in New York, would amount to ''using the prize for ulterior political motives'' to which ''we are resolutely opposed,'' Zhu told the news conference.
His words echo those with which the spokesman dismissed last year's award of the Nobel Prize for Literature to exiled Chinese novelist and playwright Gao Xingjian.
That was a clear demonstration that the prize had ''been used for ulterior political purposes, and it is not worth commenting on,'' Zhu said in a statement last October.
WASHINGTON - Exiled dissidents and legislators Wednesday called on the US government to censure China at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, setting up an early political test for President George W. Bush.
High-profile exiles including Harry Wu and Wei Jingsheng and rights campaigners turned up the heat on the administration as it mulls whether support a motion condemning China at a commission meeting in Geneva.
Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone, a champion of human rights causes in Congress, has introduced a bipartisan Senate resolution calling on Bush's new foreign policy team to take a stand against rights abuses in China.
"The United States cannot be silent, but must lead international condemnation of China's terrible abuse of its citizen's fundamental human rights," Wellstone told reporters.
China has signed but not yet ratified the UN Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convenant on Political and Civil Rights, but Wellstone poured scorn on Beijing's motives.
"In all due respect, your words do not matter, your record has been atrocious," he said.
A concurrent non-binding resolution is also to be lodged with the House of Representatives. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi of California, who supports the move, called on Bush to send a "clear message" that he supports human rights in China.
"The world looks to our new president to declare his commitment to promoting democratic values .... Now it is more important than ever for the United States to organize and win the vote in Geneva," she said.
The United States co-sponsored a resolution against China in Geneva in 2000, but Beijing, with its habitual massive lobbying effort, stopped the move in its tracks.
Secretary of State Colin Powell told a congressional committee during confirmation hearings last month that the new administration was considering whether to sponsor a resolution in Geneva.
Next week Powell's State Department is due to release its annual human rights report, which in the past has been harshly critical of China's treatment of political activists, non state sanctioned religions and prisoners.
This year's campaign by activists is the first since they lost a battle last year to defeat a historic China trade bill which they say rewards Beijing for an appalling human rights record.
Security officials will study how other countries legislate against ``evil cults'' while the government continues to keep an eye on the Falun Gong's activities in Hong Kong.
But this did not mean there was an urgency to introduce any new legislation or speed up the introduction of the subversion law, Secretary for Security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said yesterday.
Instead, the government would rely on the Public Order Ordinance to keep troublemakers away from Falun Gong activities or to control protests during international forums being held in Hong Kong in May and October, she said.
Mrs Ip was speaking on the subject for the first time since Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa branded the Hong Kong arm of the Falun Gong as ``more or less an evil cult in nature'' during a Legislative Council question-and-answer session last Thursday.
She said Mr Tung made the remarks after watching television footage of five alleged Falun Gong followers setting themselves alight in Tiananmen Square.
As far as Hong Kong was concerned, she said there were a few examples where the Falun Gong may be perceived as acting as an evil cult.
On July 21 last year Falun Gong members holed up at a Happy Valley flat threatened to jump from a window when immigration officers, firemen and police arrived to deport them for not having valid visas.
A week later another Falun Gong woman threatened to jump from the same flat when the owner decided to evict her and other tenants.
Also in July, pregnant Falun Gong follower Wendy Fang Minqing from the United States was refused entry at the airport and went on hunger strike.
But Mrs Ip said such acts were not enough to warrant anti-cult legislation.
The government would continue to monitor the Falun Gong and, in the meantime, would study other countries' laws to deal with such activities, she added.
The Association of Hong Kong Falun Dafa is due to hold a conference in Hong Kong on May 13 to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the sect's founding by US-based Li Hongzhi.
Falun Dafa Hong Kong spokesman Kan Hung-cheung said they ``would not be threatened'' by any anti-evil cult law ``as our sect does not encourage killings or suicide''.
Mrs Ip said the government would also be on alert when Fortune magazine hosts a forum in Hong Kong from May 8-10, to be attended by President Jiang Zemin and former US president Bill Clinton.
World leaders will also take part in an SAR government-hosted World Economic Forum East Asia Summit to be held between October 29-31.
Meanwhile, the Falun Gong issue has been put on the Legislative Council agenda following concerns about the Chief Executive's branding of the religious sect as ``more or less an evil cult in nature''.
What Is Falun Gong? See "Falun Gong 101", by Massimo Introvigne
FALUN GONG UPDATES
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