Rupert Murdochs second son, James, has voiced strong backing for Beijings crackdown on the Falun Gong movement. In a speech in which he also criticised western press coverage of China, Mr Murdoch called the Falun Gong as a dangerous and apocalyptic cult.
Addressing a conference in Los Angeles, the 28-year-old head of News Corps Asian interests reversed his fathers famous aside that the spread of satellite television represented an unambiguous threat to totalitarian regimes everywhere.
Instead, Mr Murdoch repeatedly praised the "absolutist" regime in Beijing.
He sought to stoke Chinese Communist Party suspicions of a free media. In a broadside at publications ranging from Hong Kong newspapers to western news magazines, he said a falsely negative view of China was being portrayed - one that threatened Chinese communism by concentrating unfairly on controversial issues such as human rights. "I think these destabilising forces today are very dangerous for the Chinese government," he said. Hong Kong journalists were a particularly irritating bunch, he added, saying, in effect, that they should accept Beijings iron-fisted rule and get on with it.
With his father in the audience, Mr Murdoch went on to lambast the Falun Gong, which the Chinese government is harshly crushing. The spiritual group, he said, "clearly does not have the success of China at heart". So strident were his remarks that members of the audience uncomfortably pointed out that western businesses should not be seen as wholehearted supporters of the Chinese government.
Robert Kapp, president of the US China Business Council, distanced himself from Mr Murdochs blanket endorsement of the Beijing regimes record. "I personally get nailed as being Chinas best lobbyist," said Mr Kapp, who represents the most prominent US-China business group. "We go to great lengths to explain we are not working for China. We are working for the interests of the US business community."
Critics have accused Mr Murdoch, a Harvard drop-out, of engaging in a blatant attempt to curry favour with Beijing to further the companys interests in China. Spokesmen for the Falun Gong accused Mr Murdoch of unthinking regurgitation of the Chinese government line. "We understand he has strong family ties with mainland China," a spokeswoman, Sophie Xiao, said. "But what he hears are just one-sided fabrications. If his accusation is right, how can 100 million people be fooled and how could professionals across the world all report wrongly?
"He is not saying things based on the facts," she said.
In its crackdown on the Falun Gong, the Chinese Communist Party has revived some of the darkest tactics from the Mao era. It holds that Falun Gong is an "evil cult". Dozens of Falun Gong followers have been killed and thousands incarcerated, many in labour camps and mental institutions, since the Chinese government declared it an enemy of the state in 1999.
Members of the group, which number at least two million in China, claim its Buddhist belief system and qigong exercises promote well-being and a sense of purpose. Followers have flocked into the group as a refuge in a state that has maintained Marxism as a veneer for dictatorship and allowed the state industrial system, healthcare and pension provision to atrophy.
A spokeswoman for the Hong Kong Journalists Association, Mak Yin-ting, said she was perplexed that the offspring of one of the worlds biggest media moguls did not understand that journalists were "rightly performing their duty" by comprehensively reporting events. The last public figure to make headlines by criticising Hong Kong newspapers was the Chinese president, Jiang Zemin.
Doing whatever it takes to break into China is a Murdoch family obsession. News Corp has invested more than $1 billion in Asia, with negligible returns, over the past decade. Hong Kong-based Star TV, which James Murdoch has run since last year, is the companys main Asian interest. For all the wooing the Murdochs have conducted in China, Stars channels have tiny penetration on the mainland, but are popular in democratic India.
Other News Corp interests in China include a minority share of Phoenix Television, a Mandarin Hong Kong channel. Also, during a temporary easing of Rupert Murdochs scepticism of the "new" economy, News Corp invested about $40 million in Chinese internet businesses that are now struggling.
James Murdoch and his Chinese wife, Wendi, are regular visitors to the Chinese capital and are said by company sources to believe massive opportunities are emerging in China. Analysts estimate that revenue in Chinas cable and satellite advertising market is worth more than £550 million a year. Even more enticing, they say, the sector is expanding by 30 per cent a year.
The family attitude, according to James Murdoch, is that foreign operators with a strong stomach should push the regulatory envelope to establish a presence before the Beijing regime starts removing its protectionist barriers as a result of gaining membership of the World Trade Organisation. "People are going to start piling in quickly," he said. "The time is very ripe right now."
In potentially its biggest move so far, News Corp has established a strategic beachhead with the help of Jiang Mianheng, the son of President Jiang. In February, News Corp joined with three other companies to take a $325 million placement of 12 per cent of China Netcom, the countrys fourth largest telecommunications provider. The deal, which is of dubious legality given that Chinese regulations bar foreigners from direct equity participation in the sector, was a triumph for Wendi Murdoch, who has courted the younger Mr Jiang as a key ally for her husbands China ambitions.
The two Chinese women, a 50-year-old retired accountant and a 32-year-old lab assistant, hardly seem the type of people to pose a threat to a powerful government. But their habit of practicing slow-motion meditative exercises, their fervent beliefs and their membership in a forbidden sect have caused Chinese authorities to arrest and jail them repeatedly.
They're part of a growing number of Falun Gong practitioners seeking safety in the United States because of the Chinese government's ban on the movement. The U.S. is considering offering adherents asylum because of religious persecution, a proposal the Chinese government protests.
Both woman wanted to remain nameless in this story for fear their families would suffer if the government learned their identities.
"I see a lot of people who are really scared," said immigration attorney Margaret S. Choi, who started seeing Falun Gong cases after a government crackdown in July 1999.
Last year, Choi handled three or four Falun Gong political asylum cases, but by the end of January this year, she had 10 clients.
National figures weren't available because political asylum cases are not tracked by cause.
But according to Don Mueller, spokesman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service in Washington, D.C., 4,200 Chinese political asylum cases were carried over from 1999, and another 5,541 new cases were filed in fiscal 2000.
Out of those, 2,522 applications were granted and another 1,857 were referred to immigration judges.
"Anecdotally, there's been an increase of Falun Gong type cases," Mueller said. "But each case is looked at on a case-by-case basis."
"It's not right," the accountant said in Chinese, as a friend translated. "I am not against the government. I am not into politics. I just want to be able to practice something that gives me good health."
The history of Falun Gong (pronounced fah-loon goan), also known as Falun Dafa (fah-loon dah-fah), dates to 1992, when it was founded by Li Hongzhi, a former government grain clerk who now lives in exile in New York.
Based on traditional Chinese meditation practices and using Buddhist and Taoist concepts, Falun Gong means "Work of the Law Wheel." Falun Dafa translates to "The Great Way of the Law Wheel."
The study of Li's teachings are believed to promote health and morality, as well as endow the practitioner with supernatural abilities once a certain level of self-cultivation is attained.
Falun Gong has gained millions of followers in China and abroad.
On July 9, 1999, the Chinese government banned the practice, calling it an "evil cult," and accused the sect of cheating people and causing 1,559 deaths, mostly practitioners who refused medical treatment.
More recently, the group was blamed for the deaths of two people, a 36-year-old woman and a 12-year-old girl, who immolated themselves in Tiananmen Square.
Human rights groups estimate that 5,000 Falun Gong followers have been sent to labor camps.
The United States is in the process of issuing a resolution condemning China on its human rights record, citing China's treatment of Falun Gong practitioners.
It's the reason why the accountant is now considering applying for political asylum.
"I feel very contradictory," said the woman, a grandmother who is staying with her daughter's family in Denver. Her husband and two other daughters remain in China. "If the (Chinese) government continues to act like this, I don't want to go back. But I am also very worried about my family."
The 50-year-old woman, who comes from a rural village outside Beijing, learned about Falun Gong three years ago.
She had gone to a village healer because her teen-age daughter was having fainting spells.
"He said he couldn't cure the disease, but suggested that we should learn Falun Gong because it would help," the grandmother said.
She and her family sought practitioners in their village and learned the meditations and exercises.
"I was very happy," the woman said. "I wished I had done it earlier because I could have saved money on medicine."
But in the next two years, the woman would be arrested three times.
The first time was in December 1999, when she and a daughter went to the trial of four Falun Gong leaders in Beijing.
"There was no reason for them to take me into custody," she said.
She and her daughter were released 10 hours later, after the trial was over.
After the arrest, the woman said she and other practitioners became more circumspect about getting together, often limiting their numbers and changing venues frequently.
In March 2000, she and a small group of Falun Gong followers gathered at a secluded greenway in her village to practice.
"As soon as I raised my hands to begin, three policemen arrested me," she said. "They yelled at me, `What are you doing? Go, go, go! The government prohibits you from practicing, so why don't you listen to the government?' "
They were taken to a police station, where they were forced to stand in freezing weather for three hours.
"We were charged with blocking traffic," she said. "We were given 15 days detention."
The woman said she was put in a room with more than a dozen other women, many elderly. They had no beds, and a hole in the floor served as a toilet.
"They would not let us practice (Falun Gong), and they would not let us read (the teachings of Li)," she said.
Still, she said female practitioners fared better than the men.
She said men often are beaten by other inmates. She recounted the condition of one injured Falun Gong member.
"His face was broken, and his body was covered with bruises," she said, adding that the man later was taken away to serve one and a half years of hard labor.
After that arrest, the woman said she stopped doing the exercises outside and instead practiced at home.
The third time she was arrested was in June 2000, when she joined thousands of other Falun Gong practitioners at a protest in Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
"When you feel you have been treated wrongly, you can go to an appeal office in Beijing," she said. "But the appeal office was closed, so we had to go to Tiananmen."
But as soon as she approached the area, she and her daughter were arrested.
"They let us all go," she said, smiling at the memory. "There were too many of us, so they let everyone go."
After that, Chinese plainclothes police officers started following her as she went grocery shopping, she said. She has been forced into house arrest on holidays.
The lab assistant, who is in Denver with her husband (a visiting scholar at the University of Denver) and 3-year-old daughter, took up Falun Gong after her husband became interested in 1996.
"I decided to read the book and found it was very good," she said in Chinese. "It comforted me and guided me in my life. I felt the book would help me become a better person, the person I wanted to be."
She was first arrested in Tiananmen Square in mid-January while trying to contact other followers. She said she was interrogated for several hours.
She eventually went on a hunger strike, saying she wouldn't eat unless she could practice Falun Gong.
At that point, she was taken to another room, where she said she was beaten and that three other inmates tried to force-feed her a type of salty soy mixture.
"I (spat) it all out," she recounted with a grin. "Everyone had the mixture all over them. I had it all over my clothes."
The inmates then took her to another cell, where there were three other practitioners. One cellmate helped her clean up and told her that the prisoners in that cell could talk about Falun Gong and practice meditation.
The prisoners also had a copy of the Falun Zuan, a text of Li's teachings, which they were allowed to study and discuss.
The lab assistant said she ended her hunger strike but was imprisoned for 21 more days.
She said she is planning to apply for political asylum in the United States.
"I think the Chinese government is afraid of Falun Gong," she said.
In the meantime, both women continue to practice and study Falun Gong in the United States.
"We don't harm anyone, we don't kill anyone," the grandmother said. "It is not wrong for people to practice Falun Gong."
Dabord autorisé et soutenu par Pékin, le mouvement est interdit depuis 1999. Gymnastique du corps et de lesprit, le Falun Gong nest pas une secte malfaisante. En Occident, des milliers de sympathisants se mobilisent. Vous ne verrez rien, ce ne sont que quelques mouvements!, ma averti Jianping Zhang quand je lui ai demandé de me montrer. De fait, la pratique du Falun Gong se résume à quelques postures, simples comme le plus bâclé des stretchings matinaux avant daller au travail. Et si lon en croit Jianping Zhang, ingénieur établi à Paris, ainsi que les adeptes de cette pratique, il ny aurait dans celle-ci rien de plus que des exercices pratiques visant à activer une roue invisible située dans labdomen; elle aspire les bonnes énergies et chasse les mauvaises, gage de bonheur et de santé.
Doù provient donc cette impression de force inouïe qui se dégageait la semaine dernière, à la place des Nations, du millier de sympathisants du Falun Gong immobiles et silencieux? Et surtout, comment expliquer la répression terrible des autorités chinoises qui sest abattue sur le mouvement dès son interdiction en 1999?
Saisissant loccasion de la Commission des droits de lhomme (dont la haut-commissaire Mary Robinson, découragée, devait annoncer au même moment son retrait!), Jianping Zhang, comme des centaines dadeptes chinois dEurope et dailleurs se sont donnés rendez-vous pour trois journées de protestations devant le Palais des Nations.
Dix mille adeptes dans les goulags
Soutenus par de nombreux sympathisants occidentaux, ils protestaient contre les arrestations massives qui se sont soldées en Chine par 165 morts. Relayés par Amnesty international, ils sinsurgeaient, lors de plusieurs soirées dinformation à lUniversité, contre linternement de quelque 10 000 de leurs membres dans des goulags et en asile psychiatrique, les tortures systématiques et la campagne de diffamation du gouvernement chinois taxant le mouvement de secte hérétique.
Le Falun Gong est tout sauf une secte!, sindigne Jean-Pierre Marville, docteur en mathématiques et enseignant à Lausanne. Sans pour autant quitter son costume-cravate, lui aussi a pris une semaine de congé pour venir à Genève participer au mouvement de protestation. Depuis de nombreuses années, il sintéresse à la tradition chinoise et a pratiqué le taï chi, le yoga et le quigong. Le Falun Gong fut une révélation. Un ami ma branché là-dessus au début des années 90. Jai immédiatement été frappé par lefficacité des cinq exercices basés sur la tension et la détente: simples, puissants. Lénergie est décuplée. Séduit par la discipline, ce rationnel accepte sans rire laffirmation du maître Li Hongzhi selon laquelle, à force dassiduité, on peut voler et même se dédoubler. Mais il souligne que le Falun Gong est une humble pratique visant essentiellement au mieux-être. Les cours sont gratuits. Il ny a pas dembrigadement. Chacun est libre.
Cest pour le dire et sensibiliser le monde politique suisse à la répression en Chine que Jean-Pierre Marville a par ailleurs accompagné Patrice Mugny à Lugano. Ce mois-ci, à deux reprises, le Conseiller national vert y a présenté, dans un hôtel, des adeptes du Falun Gong ainsi que des victimes de la répression.
Vive réaction de la Mission de Chine
Un point de vue qui fait bondir la Mission permanente de Chine à Genève. Dans un fax de six pages quelle nous a fait parvenir, elle estime que comme tous les cultes, le leader du Falun Gong prêche le jugement dernier et le catastrophisme pour le genre humain. Il a affirmé que la catastrophe ne pouvait être évitée et que la seule manière dy échapper consiste à pratiquer le Falun Gong. Relayant la campagne de dénigrement du gouvernement chinois, la Mission ajoute que beaucoup de pratiquants refusent de prendre des médicaments et que 1600 personnes en sont mortes. Elle fustige les adeptes qui se sont immolés par le feu sur la place Tian An Men à Pékin pour aboutir à la perfection complète, poussés par une secte antisociale, antihumanitaire, antiscientifique et antinature, dont le crime monstrueux réside dans le contrôle de lesprit.
Pékin accusé de manipulation
Or, selon les pratiquants du mouvement interrogés, de telles affirmations ressortissent de la manipulation. Ils soulignent que la diminution des prises de médicaments, en Chine, établit la preuve de lefficacité de la méthode. Surtout, ils émettent les plus sérieux doutes quant à lappartenance au Falun Gong de ceux qui se sont immolés à Pékin, vu que le mouvement na jamais prôné le suicide.
En 1992, rappellent-ils, lorsque Li Hongzhi, ancien fonctionnaire du régime, démocratisait le Falun Gong en enseignant à qui le souhaitait cet ésotérisme millénaire, le gouvernement avait alors donné son appui à un mouvement qui ne comprenait que quelques centaines de membres. Or, en 1999, une centaine de millions dadeptes étant venus grossir les rangs du mouvement, le gouvernement, se sentant concurrencé par une autre idéologie que la sienne, avait décidé de léliminer.
Six cents membres du Falun Gong en Suisse
Sil savère fort difficile détablir exactement le nombre des adeptes du Falun Gong, il est certain quon assiste là à une lame de fond spirituelle qui dépasse les frontières chinoises. En Suisse, on compte environ 600 adeptes; plusieurs écoles enseignent la discipline à Genève. En France, ils sont quelque 3000 et, dans une quarantaine de pays occidentaux, les émules se comptent par milliers. New Age à la sauce asiatique, le Falun Gong séduit par la simplicité et lefficacité de ses exercices. Nul doute que cette méthode dinspiration bouddhiste contribue (malgré elle?), en Chine, à libérer les individus du pouvoir central; en Occident, à résister à la société de consommation et au néolibéralisme ambiant.
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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