BEIJING - China's top law enforcers vowed on Saturday to work harder in 2001 to root out the corruption that Beijing fears is eroding Communist Party rule and to wipe out rising organised crime and the Falun Gong spiritual group.
Both China's top prosecutor and supreme court chief highlighted the fight against graft, abuses of power and collusion with criminals in reports to parliament summing up last year, when corruption scandals set historic records.
"The crime of bribery corrodes our cadre ranks, shatters the mood of society and undermines fair competition and should be punished according to law," Supreme People's Procuratorate President Han Zhubin told the National People's Congress (NPC).
He told the assembly bribery cases shot up 28 percent last year over 1999, while cases of corrupt officials abetting counterfeiting, smuggling and tax evasion rose 45 percent.
On Friday, NPC Chairman Li Peng warned the assembly's 2,900 appointed delegates: "If we fail to do a good job of fighting corruption and building a clean government, we'll risk the future of the party and the state."
China executed scores of government officials, including a former NPC vice chairman, for corruption last year.
Han mentioned a spectacular case made public last year which is believed to be biggest corruption scandal since the Communist Party took power in 1949.
Investigations into a scandal in Fujian province -- involving the smuggling of more than $6 billion worth of cars, luxury goods, oil and raw materials -- were completed, Han said.
Both Han and Supreme People's Court President Xiao Yang highlighted the current trial of former deputy national police chief Li Jizhou for taking bribes from Fujian smugglers.
Seven of 18 officials sentenced to die in the case have been executed already.
Xiao said China's courts tried 847 smuggling cases in 2000, an increase of 122 percent over 1999.
Neither official mentioned former Justice Minister Gao Changli -- sacked last year for undisclosed wrongdoing -- or the multi-billion dollar scandal in Guangdong province involving widespread use of fake receipts to claim export
But both acknowledged the ranks of law enforcers were not free of corruption, with 1,292 judges punished for law violations and 494 prosecutors investigated and punished lst year.
Reacting to the corruption reports, Yang Zhenbin, an NPC delegate from Anhui province, said: "You can't just tackle past corruption cases, you have to get to the root cause of it.
"We need comprehensive reform of problem structures, not a case-by-case approach," he told Reuters.
On Thursday, delegates vote on the work reports. Past years have seen a high rate of abstentions and votes against the crime reports as the 2,900 NPC deputies used their symbolic power to signal unhappiness with the anti-corruption drive.
FALUN GONG "A CANCER"
Han underscored China's struggle against organised crime, saying warrants for 1,500 suspected gangsters had been issued by the end of January and some had received "stern punishment."
"Some organised crime groups had set up a protective umbrella by buying off party and police officials," Han said.
China's courts sentenced 11,048 people in a crackdown on rampant trafficking in women and children, Xiao said.
Both officials put Beijing's drive to crush the Falun Gong spiritual movement -- a crackdown condemned outside China for human rights violations -- among priority targets for 2001.
"The evil cult Falun Gong is a social cancer that sabotages the progress of human civilisation and gravely disturbs China's economic construction, social order and political stability," Xiao said.
Han vowed to "strike a blow against enemy forces, ethnic separatists and the criminal activities of the evil cult Falun Gong."
The two law enforcement reports gave no statistics on the crackdown on Falun Gong, which human rights groups estimate has landed thousands of followers in labour camps without trial.
Six members of Falun Gong, which was outlawed in July 1999, were detained on Thursday in the northeastern city of Shenyang for planning to petition the NPC and protest in Beijing during its March 5-15 session, the China News Service reported.
NEW YORK - The Falun Gong (news - web sites) spiritual group on Friday denied allegations by a Chinese scientist and leading figure in Beijing's fight against the movement that the U.S. Congress gave it millions of dollars in funding.
``Falun Dafa (Gong) has not and is not receiving funds from the U.S.
government, as every member of Congress and journalist knows and can independently confirm,'' Falun Gong said in a statement.
On March 7, Reuters reported that the Beijing Evening News said physicist He Zuoxiu told a meeting of scientists on the sidelines of China's parliament session that Congress had given ''tens of millions of dollars'' to support Falun Gong.
Chinese authorities have banned Falun Gong and branded the spiritual group an ``evil cult.''
The newspaper quoted He as telling the science panel of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), an advisory body to the Chinese parliament, on Tuesday, ``Hard-core members are professional Falun Gong.''
``Why do I call them professionals? Because someone gives them a salary.
According to my understanding, the U.S. Congress donated several tens of millions of dollars to Falun Gong for activity funds out of ulterior motives,'' He was quoted as saying.
But Falun Gong said in the statement e-mailed to Reuters,
``No evidence for this blatant fabrication was offered, because none exists.''
U.S. officials in Beijing on Wednesday said they had never heard any allegations of American funding for Falun Gong, whose leader Li Hongzhi lives in exile in the United States.
Falun Gong's statement called He's charges a ``calculated effort to whip up nationalist sentiment inside China at the expense of foreign relations, paving the way for more forceful measures to be used against Falun Gong practitioners in China.''
Tens of thousands of followers have been detained for protesting in Tiananmen Square since Falun Gong was banned.
Human rights groups say thousands of members are in labor camps and more than 100 have died of abuse in police custody. China says it has arrested more than 150 protest organizers but authorities deny allegations of abuse, saying they treat ordinary followers with lenience.
He is a member of the China Academy of Sciences and a science delegate to the CPPCC.
The professor is famous in China as a crusader against supernatural and pseudo-scientific beliefs.
It was partly He's criticisms of Falun Gong in an obscure journal that prompted 10,000 protesting members of the group to ring the Communist Party's compound in Zhongnanhai in central Beijing on April 25, 1999, which led to China's ban of the group.
BEIJING -- Six people accused of giving out leaflets promoting the banned Falun Gong spiritual sect have been arrested in northeastern China, a state news agency said Friday.
Chinese leaders meeting this month at the annual session of the national legislature in Beijing have referred to crushing the Falun Gong as a key government goal. Beijing contends the sect is to blame for the deaths of 1, 660 followers.
The six who were arrested printed 68, 000 copies of 30 pamphlets in secret in the city of Shenyang, the China News Service said on its Web site.
The report added to evidence of the tenacity of the group despite an often brutal 19-month-old campaign of arrests and public vilification aimed at eliminating the spiritual movement.
The followers arrested in Shenyang had planned to submit a letter to the legislature and " secretly incite Falun Gong fanatics to enter Beijing and stir up trouble, " the China News Service said.
It gave no details of the letter' s content.
Police closed in on the group after Falun Gong handbills appeared on Shenyang power poles, the report said.
BEIJING -- In November, Ji Zhudi received a copy of a speech by Li Hongzhi, the leader of Falun Gong, urging followers of the spiritual movement to abandon "attachments" and "forbearance," a message she and others like her took as a directive to continue protests against the Chinese government.
Ji, who at 54 has followed Falun Gong since she lost a factory job several years ago in the gritty city of Changchun, traveled to Beijing. She went to Tiananmen Square to unfurl a banner that read "truth, kindness and forbearance," a motto of the Buddhist-like spiritual movement. Police arrested her, beat her and sent her back to Changchun, where she was sentenced to a labor camp for three years.
"Master Li wants us to keep struggling openly with the state," Ji said later, after her daughter bought her release by paying authorities $2,500. "We need to show our goodness by going out onto the street."
The government's 19-month-old crackdown on Falun Gong has emerged as China's most significant political campaign in decades, leaving an estimated 120 people dead at the hands of security forces and thousands more in jail. While human rights groups and reporters have documented the state's brutal and ineffectual repression, it has been more difficult to determine why Falun Gong followers have persisted so stubbornly and publicly to defy China's ban on the organization.
Recent testimony of Ji and other followers points to the key role played by Li in fomenting the confrontation and in exploiting differences within the Chinese government to befuddle the Communist Party. From the start, Li, a former state grain clerk who leads Falun Gong from a secret location in the New York City borough of Queens, sought to take on Chinese police and continues to urge his followers to confront the security services.
According to Falun Gong practitioners, Li's pronouncements have encouraged a belief that the suffering incurred in opposing China's authoritarian government can elevate followers to a higher level of spiritual existence, which Li describes as "consummation."
These accounts, along with interviews with officials and government advisers involved in the crackdown, also help explain the government's fixation on stamping out the group. While the government insists that it opposes Falun Gong because it is an "evil cult" that exploits its members, the real source of concern within the central government seems to be the movement's aspiration to become an organization independent of Communist Party control.
In the beginning, Falun Gong practitioners stayed away from politics, asking simply and stubbornly to be allowed to practice their faith. Now, their protests are increasingly political. A leaflet distributed by Falun Gong followers blames President Jiang Zemin for an unhealthy obsession with their movement. And Falun Gong practitioners routinely raise politics and human rights in their conversations with Western reporters.
"There are no human rights in China; the party is run by evil forces," said Richard, a Falun Gong practitioner who wished to be quoted only by the Western name he has adopted. Eighteen months ago, Richard expressed only "pity" for his fellow Communist Party members. Now, he said, "I have changed. My understanding is clearer than before."
Falun Gong spokeswoman Dana Cheng says Li has never directed his followers to do or say anything. But numerous interviews with practitioners in China indicate Li encouraged protests leading up to the movement's spectacular debut on the world stage on April 25, 1999, when 10,000 members surrounded Communist Party headquarters in Beijing.
In the preceding year, Li's followers had conducted 17 major protests in 11 major cities and provinces, putting Falun Gong on a collision course with the party leadership. And days before the April 25 incident, Li came to China, apparently to direct the unprecedented sit-in, which has been cited by Jiang as the reason for beginning his campaign against the group.
As the crackdown unfolded over the summer and fall that year, Li withdrew from the public eye. He appeared in Toronto on May 22, 1999, but not again until Oct. 21, when he surfaced at a conference in San Francisco. When Li reemerged, his statements were more radical than before. Instead of urging his followers to stay home -- Chinese officials had told Falun Gong followers they could practice in their homes if they did not protest outside -- Li called on them to "abandon final attachments" and said "the time for forbearance" was over.
"In the face of life and death, students have had the courage to step forward -- step forward as they lose everything possible -- and do everything that's extraordinary, what a [Falun Gong] disciple should do," Li said in a speech in December urging followers to continue civil disobedience. "On the other hand, those who haven't stepped forward have hidden themselves and have sided in their understanding with the evil beings -- how could they still be [Falun Gong] disciples?
"For example," he continued, criticizing followers for breaking under torture, "some students were arrested and imprisoned. When they couldn't endure the severe torture, they repented. . . . But this is unacceptable."
Falun Gong practitioners in China, including Ji, said in interviews that they interpreted such statements to mean they should prepare to sacrifice more for the movement.
Over the past two months, six people identified by the government as Falun Gong members have set themselves on fire in Beijing. Five set themselves ablaze on Jan. 23 in Tiananmen Square. One woman died; the others, including the woman's 12-year-old daughter, remain hospitalized. On Feb. 16, a 25-year-old shoeshine man committed suicide by pouring gasoline over his body and igniting himself a few minutes past noon on a street in western Beijing.
Cheng, the spokeswoman, said these people were not "real" Falun Gong practitioners, even though repeated broadcasts on state-run television showed the Tiananmen Square victims sitting in the lotus position, which Falun Gong members use in their protests, as flames enveloped them.
David Ownby, a professor of Chinese history at the University of Montreal who has done a detailed study of the group, noted that Li does not endorse suicide in any of his recent statements. "But a practitioner at the end of his or her rope in China could certainly see [the statements] as an endorsement for martyrdom, and perhaps choose his or her own means to achieve that," he said.
Partly as a result of pressure from Western governments, Li seems to have modified some of his more radical positions. In his latest statement, issued this month, he expressed understanding for followers who break under torture, saying that while he opposes such behavior, "a cultivator ought to be looked at in his entirety."
Cracks in Party Leadership
Many observers say that the Communist Party's failure to crush Falun Gong underscores the gap between the party leadership, which still believes it has a right to a monopoly on power, and the reality in China today, which includes more space for people to pursue lives unfettered by the party machine than at any time since the 1949 revolution.
The party's campaign also has exposed fissures between the leadership in Beijing, which is preoccupied with Falun Gong, and local governments, which generally do not view it as a security risk.
A mixture of Buddhism, Taoism and Chinese martial arts, Falun Gong has been as natural to many Chinese confronting vertiginous social changes as was evangelical Protestantism to American settlers hacking a living from the forests of the Deep South. Many embraced the movement because it promised them health at a time when thousands of people were losing benefits with the collapse of China's state-run economy. Others came to Falun Gong because its message of predetermination was comforting to people buffeted by the vast changes caused by China's reforms.
Falun Gong's main message is that Earth is the center of the universe, but is inhabited by condemned souls. The goal of what Li calls self-cultivation -- reading Li's writings and practicing relaxation exercises -- is to move to a higher plane of existence, what Li calls consummation. As the crackdown has unfolded, followers have drawn on Li's pronouncements to conclude that the more they are repressed, the faster they can move up the ladder of existence, numerous practitioners said.
In his few statements during the buildup of protests, Li encouraged this spirit, urging followers to continue practicing Falun Gong openly. Since reemerging in October, Li has gone further, saying practitioners will reach consummation faster the more they protest.
"The repression of the police has helped me raise my consciousness," said Richard, 28, an employee at a Beijing telecommunications firm who recently spent a month in jail after protesting in Tiananmen Square. "It is a great test for me personally. It is a great test for Falun. And we believe the more we continue to stand up for our rights, the better it is for the Fa," the group's religious teachings.
An Indifferent Public
In the 1950s and '60s, the Communist Party counted on society to support its political campaigns, but cannot any longer. In the battle between the party and Falun Gong, Chinese society is largely a spectator.
"I hate Li Hongzhi, but the party is dumb, too," said Amanda Li, 18, a high school senior who complained about sitting through several speeches about Falun Gong at school. "This has nothing to do with me."
Nonetheless, members of the party leadership in Beijing, specifically Jiang, have displayed unusual determination to eradicate the movement. During the key protest in April 1999, Jiang rode around the outskirts of the walled Zhongnanhai leadership compound in a black government sedan transfixed by the protesters, sources said.
His premier, Zhu Rongji, met with a delegation of five practitioners and told them that the government would think about Falun Gong's requests. Falun Gong was asking for the right to practice religion -- basically for the right to organize beyond party control, a demand similar to the one made by students during the pro-democracy protests around Tiananmen Square in 1989.
According to sources familiar with deliberations between Zhu and Jiang, Zhu advocated attempting to co-opt Falun Gong and put it under party leadership while Jiang argued for crushing the movement. Any weakening of the party's resolve on this question, Jiang is reported to have argued to the Politburo, the party's decision-making body, could speed the growth of a civil society in China, a tendency the party views with alarm.
Despite the longest political campaign since the Cultural Revolution, however, Jiang's orders have not been followed completely at the local level.
>From the outset, Li Hongzhi moved shrewdly to exploit nascent differences between China's central power structure and its local governments by encouraging his followers not to protest locally, but to concentrate their complaints on Beijing. This tactic is having the desired effect. In an internal survey of senior party members from local governments, Falun Gong was listed last among 10 issues said to be causing instability. For Beijing, it is Enemy No. 1.
"The only way for Beijing to check if [local officials] are carrying out orders and eradicating the sect is to see the numbers of people coming to Beijing," a government official said. "But the localities are not interested in the issue of continued belief or whether people are continuing to practice. All they want to stop is people going to Beijing."
The government has responded by fining and firing regional officials who fail to prevent Falun Gong followers from journeying to Beijing. In several areas, county governments have kept township officials under house arrest until Falun Gong practitioners from villages under their control were chased down in Beijing and returned, government sources said.
A Chinese researcher who conducted an internal report on local government responses to Beijing's dictates uncovered several methods used to get around the central government's rules.
First, he discovered, a large number of local governments are negotiating with Falun Gong representatives -- in direct violation of Beijing's orders -- and offering them a deal: Stop protesting and practice only in your homes and we will essentially leave you alone.
Last August, Falun Gong followers from Weifang, in Shandong province, said their local government was tacitly allowing Falun Gong followers to practice at home as long as they did not protest in Beijing. For those who stuck to Li's admonitions to continue demonstrations, however, Weifang adopted brutal methods. Human rights groups say 11 practitioners have died at the hands of Weifang's security services.
To avoid being fined or losing their jobs, local officials also bribe Beijing officials who are charged with counting which practitioners have come from where. The going price is $2,000 a head. The capital of one Chinese province earmarked $430,000 for this purpose, a government source said.
What Is Falun Gong? See "Falun Gong 101", by Massimo Introvigne
"Falun Gong 101. Introduzione al Falun Gong e alla sua presenza in Italia" (in italiano), di Massimo Introvigne
FALUN GONG UPDATES
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