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"Taiwanese Falun Gong followers prepare for Hong Kong protests "

by William Foreman (AP, May 6, 2001)

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Taiwanese supporters of the Falun Gong meditation sect traveled to Hong Kong on Monday, preparing to protest while Chinese President Jiang Zemin attends an international economic meeting.
Hong Kong authorities have in the past detained Falun Gong activists at the airport, but Taiwanese members who arrived early Monday said they cleared immigration without any problems.
"Everything went smoothly," said Justine Huang, who led a group of 15 members.
At least 110 Taiwanese were to fly to Hong Kong on five different flights on Monday, and they planned to protest while Jiang speaks at the Global Fortune Forum on Tuesday, the group's news release said.
Hong Kong police have said that the group would be granted permission to stage a rally of 250 people. But Falun Gong supporters have complained they will be kept at the opposite side of the harbor where Jiang will be attending the forum.
"We want to use peaceful methods to urge Jiang Zemin to respect international human rights, stop destroying Falun Gong, release practitioners jailed on mainland China and clear our names," the news release said.
Former President Clinton will also attend the three-day event.
Falun Gong followers believe the group's slow-motion meditation exercises and Taoist- and Buddhist-influenced teachings promote health and good citizenship.
But China's government, which is extremely suspicious of large groups that might challenge its power, has banned Falun Gong. However, it is still permitted with some restrictions in Hong Kong -- where citizens enjoy Western-style freedoms of speech and religion that are holdovers from British colonial days.
But the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said that U.S. citizens and Falun Gong activists Li Xiaobin and Xu Zhenmei were detained at the Hong Kong airport over the weekend.
Director of Immigration Ambrose Lee denied that the government has blacklisted Falun Gong followers.

"HK plans to deport two US Falun Gong members-group" (Reuters, May 6, 2001)

HONG KONG - Hong Kong plans to deport two American followers of the Falun Gong spiritual movement on Sunday after refusing them entry ahead of a visit by Chinese President Jiang Zemin, a Hong Kong-based human rights group said.
The Information Centre for Human Rights & Democracy in China said Li Xiaobin and Xu Zhenmei, both holding American passports, arrived in the territory on Saturday night, but Hong Kong immigration refused their entry for "security reasons."
"I have not done anything to endanger Hong Kong or the people of Hong Kong. Why the Hong Kong government does not allow me to come in ?," Li told local Asia Television news by telephone from a restricted area of Chek Lap Kok airport.
Director of Immigration Lee Siu-kwong declined to comment on the incident but told reporters the government did not have a "black list" of overseas Falun Gong members, as has been alleged by the human rights group.
"We will not deny any entry because they are Falun Gong members. But we will handle each individual case in accordance to Hong Kong laws and procedures. We don't have a list on Falun Gong members," he said.
The human rights group has said the government probably received such a "black list" from Beijing ahead of Jiang's visit for the Fortune Global Forum conference that starts on Tuesday.
Jiang will deliver an opening keynote address to the conference, while former U.S. President Bill Clinton and Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra will also attend the three-day event.
Li had previously been banned from entering Hong Kong, while Xu, a United Nations employee, had never had problems visiting Hong Kong, the Information Centre said.
Falun Gong practitioners in Hong Kong said that since the end of April five followers from Macau, Taiwan and Australia had been refused entry to Hong Kong. They said such measures by the government were "unnecessary and unacceptable."
"The special restrictions imposed by the government on Falun Gong practitioners entering into Hong Kong not only constitute discrimination against Falun Gong spiritual activities, they also damage the reputation of Hong Kong as a free and open city in the world," the group said in an open letter to the government.
Jiang's visit is expected to draw large protests from members of the Falun Gong movement, which is outlawed in mainland China but remains legal in Hong Kong.
Many political observers see the conference as the toughest test yet to Hong Kong's promised freedom since the former colony's handover from Britain to China in mid-1997.
China-anointed Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa has been under pressure from Beijing to curb the group, which has been labelled an "evil cult" by Chinese leaders.
Tung recently issued his sternest warning yet, accusing practitioners of damaging Hong Kong interests with their planned protest during Jiang's stay.
Police have said they would allow peaceful demonstration as long as they were legal and did not pose a danger to others. But under security arrangements, protesters would be kept a few hundred metres (yards) away from the guests, ensuring any demonstration would be out of sight.
Seeking to avoid the violent protests that disrupted recent world financial meetings, Hong Kong police have thrown a tight security cordon around the conference at the waterfront Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.
On Saturday, police stepped up their security sweep at the venue. Policemen, wearing gas masks and oxygen tanks, checked the sewers near the Convention Centre, while police divers combed the seabed near the waterfront site. Police sniffer dogs also checked for explosives.

"Martyrs with a cause "

by Nina Willdorf ("The Phoenix," May 5, 2001)

Falun Gong, the Chinese spiritual practice banned in its mother country, is now making its presence known on these shores – particularly in New England. Is it simply a series of meditative physical exercises, as practitioners claim? Or is it a politicized cult that has gained sympathy and popularity only through its persecution?
CHRISTINE MOON, A senior at Tufts University, spent two weeks of the past month in Geneva, Switzerland, hovering around UN headquarters. To purchase plane tickets, she eagerly cashed out her small getting-started savings account. And like every day before and since, her time overseas was spent passing out fliers, collecting signatures, and dutifully poring over the same non-school-related book. With only one month to go before graduation, she’ll tell you it was all worth the money and time; in fact, she’d like to do it again. That’s because Moon, a slim, pretty, ponytailed 22-year-old, says she’s discovered “the meaning of life.”
That is, she has been welcomed into a warm community and initiated into her first political cause: Falun Gong. What’s more, Moon says she’s upped her hip quotient in the process. “Most of my friends will tell you they think I’m much cooler now,” admits the Long Island native, who’s been practicing the group’s meditative techniques for a little over two years. “People like me better. They say I’ve become more understanding. Maybe I’ve become more mature.”
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa (or “The Practice of the Wheel of Dharma”), is a spiritual practice that melds meditative physical exercises with a mixture of traditional Eastern beliefs. Practitioners perform qi gong (pronounced chee gong), a slow set of movements said to circulate energy, and study a primary text, Zhuan Falun, written by the group’s leader, Li Hongzhi. These days, though, Falun Gong is better known as the beating block of the Chinese government, which banned the nine-year-old group in July 1999. The Communist regime has taken a hard - and, some say, inhumane - line against Falun Gong, and has been accused of imprisoning, beating, and killing people who continue to practice their beliefs in spite of the ban. To date, according to the Falun Dafa Information Center’s Web site (www.faluninfo.net), 197 people have been murdered, around 50,000 have been taken into police custody, and 10,000 have been sent to labor camps. The Chinese government has also been accused of placing Falun Gong practitioners in mental facilities and using mind-control techniques to force them to give up the practice. Last month, the Geneva Initiative of Psychiatry, an international foundation working to end the politicization of psychiatry, publicly condemned the People’s Republic of China for “using psychiatry as a means of repression against its citizens.” And efforts to flee persecution have led to harrowing deaths: in a well-publicized case last January, three Falun Gong practitioners were found dead in a Seattle port, locked in a ship’s cargo crate with dozens of others who survived the perilous overseas journey without light, water, or food.
At first glance, a peaceful-looking assembly of Falun Gong practitioners, breathing deeply, moving slowly, and smiling sweetly, might seem harmless. But even some of those who fault the Chinese government for violating human rights believe that practitioners are participating in a cult - irresponsibly disseminating false information and blindly padding the pockets of an increasingly wealthy leader who holds the copyright to the required text, Zhuan Falun, as well as to the accompanying videos, tapes, and CDs.
Now that it’s the target of persecution, however, the religion has taken on the trappings of a sexy, self-sacrificial cause, especially in cities like Boston that are teeming with young people searching for answers, community, and purpose - people like Christine Moon. “The fact that the government has taken such strong action against [Falun Gong] has, in part, politicized them,” explains Merle Goldman, a professor of Chinese history at Boston University and the author of the forthcoming An Intellectual History of Modern China (Cambridge University Press, 2001). “The reason we’ve paid so much attention is because of how the regime has reacted.” And if China incubated the movement - unintentionally turning what was essentially a quiet spiritual practice into a human-rights crusade - Boston has become a petri dish of Falun Gong culture. On any given day, in all the major universities, in the Arnold Arboretum, on Boston Common, or even in front of Malden City Hall, practitioners of all ages, races, and economic levels can be seen doing the same movements, to the same tape, with similar claims of renewed faith, healing, and long-sought-after answers. If not for China’s crackdown, how many of them would even have heard of Falun Gong?
SINCE ITS inception in 1992, Falun Gong has grown with lightning speed, and it has done so across generational, geographical, professional, and class lines - a first for a spiritual or political movement in China, according to Goldman. Though Falun Gong leaders have been accused of amping up their membership numbers with claims of up to 100 million practitioners worldwide, even the most conservative independent estimates put membership at 30 to 40 million. Goldman believes the movement’s popularity is a byproduct of the Communist regime’s instability, greatly facilitated by strides in Internet and cell-phone technology. High-tech communications explain the speed with which such a tight community has been able to form.
In Beijing on April 25, 1999, as many as 10,000 Falun Gong members came out of the woodwork - cascading down from mountain villages, emerging from laboratories, and stepping out of government offices - to assemble for a peaceful demonstration in front of the Communist Party compound. Three months later, the government - shocked by the sudden appearance of what it saw as a cultish threat - declared the group illegal and put out an arrest warrant for the man members call “Master” or “Teacher” Li. (These days, Li is rumored to be sequestered somewhere in Queens.) In a statement issued by the Chinese embassy in Washington, DC, the government explained its actions: “The Falun Dafa, or Falun Gong, a cult headed by Li Hongzhi, has deceived and harmed a lot of people and been involved in many illegal activities that have seriously disrupted public order, misguided people, and confused right and wrong.”
Yet the movement has continued to grow, and not just in China. The New England coordinator of Falun Dafa, Michael Tsang, boasts a New England membership of about 150 people. One of their assorted meeting spots is Room 110 at the Harvard Science Center, a room the university lends out to practitioners on Friday and Sunday evenings. On days when sessions are not held at Tufts, Christine Moon heads there for her weekly group-practice and study sessions, on either Friday or Sunday nights.
On a recent Friday evening, a little before seven, Moon is joined in Room 110 by six familiar faces. She sits down on a small exercise mat, peels off her sneakers, and begins swirling her arms slowly around her torso and legs as Master Li - via audio tape - guides the group through the exercises and hashes out the finer points of Zhuan Falun. Whites and Asians, professionals and artists, middle-aged and senior citizens, the wrinkled and the smooth-skinned - all have devoted Friday night’s prime time to the spiritual effort to, in the words of one, “become a better person.”
With the air of friends getting together to discuss the new Tom Wolfe, they form a circle and chitchat about topics ranging from Moon’s recent trip to Geneva (where she joined 600 others speaking out in support of the UN Human Rights Commission’s resolution to condemn China) to one woman’s stiff neck and the exercises that could work magic on the pain. They all agree that they’ve been looking forward to this moment all day. After flipping off the light switch and pushing back desks, they arrange their limbs carefully on their rolled-out mats. Someone punches “Play” on a scratchy boom box, and they embark on what has become a daily ritual for a growing number of Bostonians.
For an hour, they move their arms fluidly and slowly, swishing down to the ground and then up around head level, always returning back to swirl around the belly with languid circular flourishes. The five exercises that make up the total qi gong set are accompanied by Master Li’s lulling monotone, heard over the nostalgic musical strains of old-school Orientalist purrs, twangs, and chimes.
The faithful claim that Falun Gong - whose motto is “Truthfulness, Compassion, and Forbearance” - has cured disease, saved lives, and increased moral tolerance among its members. Asked to explain what keeps her coming back to Room 110 every Friday and Sunday for three hours a crack, Linda DeHart, a 62-year-old silk-screen artist in Cambridge, lets out an overwhelmed sigh. “Whoa,” she laughs. “It’s been a varied experience. Most importantly, though, I have peace of mind, and I’ve been able to let go of material attachments.” DeHart, however, is unable to pinpoint exactly what “material attachments” she has in mind. “I’ll have to get back to you,” she says with a smile.
Followers of Falun Gong exude serenity; in some instances it may be studied, but it is always pronounced. Sitting quietly in the MIT student center before an interview to discuss his imprisonment in China, Zhiyuan Wang, a cardiologist from Beijing who began working at Mass General when he emigrated three years ago, sits quietly with eyes closed and hands neatly folded in his lap, listening intently to a CD of Master Li while students flurry about, grabbing cups of coffee and heading to the library. When the interview begins, Wang again sits with closed eyes, his face and body absolutely still, a soft expression painted on his lips. When it is his turn to speak, he contributes slow, warm, carefully worded sentences, while closely watching an interpreter to make sure everything is just so. “Without Falun Gong,” he says, forming the words precisely, “I would have died.” After peeking around for the effect of this pronouncement, he again closes his eyes.
DRAMATIC CLAIMS like Wang’s have given rise to missionary fervor in the movement. Candlelight vigils, photographic dioramas on Copley Square, and publications strategically distributed around town are continual reminders of Falun Gong’s growing presence. “Our intention is to let the public know the situation in China,” said Tsang last month, monitoring a crew of 10 or so people who had assembled on Copley Square to collect signatures endorsing the UN resolution condemning China’s human-rights violations. (The resolution, which the US supported, was shelved April 18, by a vote of 23 to 17, after China motioned to take “no action.”) He added: “The more people are aware of what’s going on, they will support it more, and maybe clear up the persecution.” The words “persecution” and “crackdown” are used frequently, often as a way of marking time in the movement’s history (i.e., “before the crackdown,” “after the crackdown”). The Falun Dafa Information Center has prominently posted a page devoted to “Crackdown Facts & Figures.”
For some, the compulsion to publicize both the horrors of the crackdown and the tales of healing and redemption is so strong that it’s worth sacrificing personal safety. Wang, who emigrated here from China three years ago, was introduced to Falun Gong when a co-worker took him to a nine-day seminar in Cambridge. After only several months of regular practice, he says, he was wholly cured of a debilitating degenerative muscular disease that had had him hospitalized in China.
“I felt the need to go back to China because I felt that Falun Dafa gave me a second life,” says Wang, speaking through an interpreter. “I couldn’t understand why the Chinese government wanted to persecute Falun Gong. I thought it must be a mistake.” After simply saying the words “Falun Dafa,” he says, he was cuffed, slammed into a cell, and left there without food or water for days. It was only when he was passed to a policeman from his hometown, who allowed him to go free, that Wang jumped a plane back to Boston. “I was very lucky,” he says, nodding seriously. Looking at this healthy, robust man, it’s hard to imagine him as he describes himself four years ago - angry, ill, and weak. People like Wang truly feel that this movement - these simple five exercises and a book - have been a godsend. And what could be wrong with that?
It’s stories like these, seemingly endless in number, that help lend the movement an attractive sense of purpose - notwithstanding its leaders’ claims that the group is not political. And for people like Moon, who came to the group before it was even banned, its politicization has been an added bonus. “I’ve gotten so much from it, especially now with the persecution,” says Moon, almost all of whose friends at Tufts are involved in rallying the troops in some way or another.
TALK TO several local practitioners, and certain patterns emerge. No one knows much about Master Li’s past or present, and followers are reluctant to discuss even what little they do know about him. Moon responds quickly to a question about his whereabouts: “I’d rather not talk about him,” she says. “His life is his own ... I just don’t try to find out. I don’t need to know his life story. I’m just appreciative that he wrote this book.” That no one knows where he is, where he came from, or what makes him a Master (for example, who was his Master?) does not seem to trouble his followers. Instead, many defensively change the subject after noting that, after all, he has nothing to gain from the movement. All Falun Gong activities are free, and the book, which costs around $12 depending where you buy it, can be downloaded free from the Internet. (No one interviewed for this article used this free technology, choosing instead to purchase the books, tapes, and videos.)
Practitioners’ stories of how they were led to the movement are almost identical: they say they were introduced by a friend, family member, or co-worker after a long and unfruitful search for answers either to spiritual questions (like Moon’s) or to health woes (like Wang’s). Among practitioners, this grassroots quality is a matter of special pride, further testament to the movement’s truth. See, we’re just sharing information and helping each other. After Moon was introduced to Falun Gong in her sophomore year of college by a teaching assistant in one of her science labs, she headed to the Tufts bookstore to buy the book. A few months later, she put in an order at Amazon.com to purchase it for several of her friends. “It’s a very special book,” she says. “It’s important to me to get the true message across. And now, a lot of my friends are doing really helpful things.”
Within the context of modern Chinese history, this movement makes perfect sense, says professor Goldman from her second office, at Harvard’s John K. Fairbank Center for East Asian Research. “With economic reforms, workers have lost health care in China and medical treatment has become expensive,” she explains. “They look upon the fact that they do these exercises as a form of health care, and that’s a positive aspect.” In addition, Goldman adds, “there’s a vacuum of values and beliefs. People are looking for something to believe in. There is a hunger for something to fill the vacuum.”
At the same time, an eerie - almost creepy - fervor emerges when you talk to followers like Harvard Medical School researcher Haiying He. All five of He’s family members are being persecuted in China right now. His mother has been detained in a drug-rehabilitation center for the past six months, his father was carted away for a couple of weeks to an unknown location, and his brother and his sister-in-law - both physicians - are being held indefinitely in a secret spot for “transforming class.” Unless they agree to give up practicing Falun Gong, He says, they may be permanently imprisoned. “No one can see them,” he says. “Every day they are forced to watch brainwashing TV - something like ‘Falun is bad, Falun is bad’ - and they were told if they didn’t give up they would be discharged from the hospital. They were let out at one point and they were told by the authorities in the hospital, ‘Either give up Falun Gong or you give up the job,’ and they said, ‘We didn’t do anything wrong. We talk with you about why it’s so good.’” To date, He has no idea where his brother and sister-in-law are being detained or, for that matter, if they’re still alive.
Still, to He and all of his family members, it’s worth it. Asked whether he thinks they should give it up, or consider practicing it privately in exchange for their freedom, He momentarily looses his cool. “No! Because I know Falun Dafa is good, and I think what they are doing is right.... A lot of young educated people are doing it because they know the principle. It’s really right. It’s really good.”
These moralistic words - “right,” “wrong,” “good,” “bad” - are repeated ad nauseam throughout his story. It’s dizzying and somewhat Pavlovian - he sounds like a kid who had his hand slapped enough times to know Bad from Good, but not exactly why. This type of language is precisely what concerns Steven Hassan, the director of the Resource Center for the Freedom of Mind, a cult-watchdog organization.
“This is a very questionable group,” says Hassan, a former Moonie who wrested himself away from the Unification Church in the late ’70s. “There’s a real hunger for spirituality, but one of the problems is that people haven’t been educated about how to be a good consumer. They’ll hear a story: ‘I went to 20 doctors and no one could help me and then I started to do this and I went off my medication. I haven’t been sick in five years.’ And people say, ‘Wow, I need to try that.’ They don’t know to ask questions like when was the group formed, who’s the leader, what is his background, is there deception?”
Not only are Master Li’s whereabouts unknown, but a simple search for the publisher of Zhuan Falun - Universe Publishing Company - led to disconnected phone numbers and untraceable records. The Falun Dafa Web site (www.falundafa.org) lists the company in Gillette, New Jersey. But the only Universe Publishing Company in New Jersey is a tiny Hungarian publisher, the head of which says he fields calls all the time about the elusive other Universe Publishing company, which he knows nothing about. Stuart Weinberg, the owner of the Seven Star Bookstore in Cambridge, which stocks Zhuan Falun, says he gets the books from a distributor in New York. But the phone number he supplied, which others corroborated, led to a Chinese woman who said it was an accounting firm, and she provided the same disconnected 888 number as the next link in the chain. Falun Dafa’s New England coordinator, Michael Tsang, had a ready - if unsatisfying - answer to questions about the publishing labyrinth: “There has been a lot of changing over of the publishing companies. It was the bestseller in China in 1996, and there were many counterfeit books on the market. There have been many different distributors - in China, in Hong Kong, in the US.” Later, he called back with the same 888 number. “I just called it. It works,” he said. Try it yourself: (888) 353-2288.
Also questionable is members’ insistence that the movement’s growth and structure is organic. Elizabeth Wang, who is married to Haiying He and serves as the informal public-relations person for the New England chapter of Falun Gong, boasts that groups gather without phone lists, e-mail reminders, or prodding of any sort. Her husband adds: “If you want to come, you come. If you want to go, you go. We don’t have a phone book. Everybody would like to share with you because they know this is really good. We want to share good news, good things with people.” Sounds good. But how was it that news of a call placed on Thursday afternoon to the point person for the Falun Gong session in Room 110 managed to make its way around to every person who wandered into the room on Friday evening? “Oh, you’re the reporter.” Without a phone or e-mail list, disseminating the message that quickly would have been impossible.
FOR HASSAN, these are all signs of cult-like behavior. “If a group is legitimate, it will stand up to scrutiny,” he says. But for many, criticizing a movement that is already being persecuted is distasteful. As much as people may question Falun Gong - or call it, as Hassan does, a “mind-altering cult” - the fact remains that its practices are less questionable than those of most other extremist groups - and certainly those of the Chinese government. The bottom line is that it is not harming anyone, and for Goldman, that’s the only criterion by which a movement’s danger level should be judged. “There’s no evidence that [Master Li] has exploited his followers, either for money or for sex,” says Goldman. “The other aspect of it is when you talk about a cult, it’s usually associated with destructive acts, and I have yet to find clear acts of destructive activities.” There was the matter of the five members who set themselves on fire in Tiananmen Square in January, but the motives of these self-immolators - one of whom died - were unclear, and movement leaders are now disputing whether they were even Falun Gong practitioners.
In fact, Falun Gong leaders argue that the only destructive acts associated with the group have been committed against members, not by them. Human-rights organizations are quick to underscore the point. “You can buy it or not,” says Joshua Rubenstein, the Northeast regional director of Amnesty International, “but we feel that people have the right to pursue their own religious or spiritual needs. It’s one thing to supervise them. It’s another to make mass arrests.”
Even mass arrests haven’t merited censure from the international community, if the UN’s recent vote for non-action is any measure. “The US supports the resolution but it doesn’t really push for it,” says Rubenstein, explaining that diplomatic and economic ties often prove stronger than human-rights concerns. Sure enough, James Murdoch (Rupert’s son), the chairman and chief executive of Star TV, is one media mogul who’s publicly endorsed the persecution of Falun Gong, explaining at a California business conference that the movement “clearly does not have the success of China at heart.” And Dad’s of the same mind. According to the New Republic, Murdoch booted the BBC off his Hong Kong–based satellite TV service and barred his publishing house from taking on a book project critical of China, actions surely meant to curry favor with a country poised to put a great deal of cash in his pocket.
Yet for the local Falun Gong faithful, the crackdown has created a rallying point - a cause that’s an end in itself, transcending even the question of the Chinese movement’s survival. The fight has won these followers popularity and visibility. Even after losing the UN-resolution vote, for which local practitioners lobbied hard, Falun Gong members claim they came out on top. “We were able to hold a lot of meetings and press conferences,” says Tsang, who flew to Geneva to participate in a candlelight vigil across the street from UN headquarters. “We raised enough awareness in terms of the persecution.”
Whether Falun Gong is a cult or not - and whether or not it wins its battle with the Chinese government - this sense of underdog urgency has sent people like Christine Moon on the social, spiritual, and political ride of their lives. More than $600 poorer, Moon is happy with her decision to forgo a trip to Jamaica or Palm Beach and to instead spend her spring break in wintry Geneva. “We had to go show support for Falun Gong,” she says, “and stand up and say, ‘Okay China, you have to stop persecuting people.’”

"Hong Kong economic forum could test its freedoms "

by Dirk Beveridge (AP, May 5, 2001)

HONG KONG -- The official goal is to lure foreign investment, but observers say the most telling aspect of a global economic conference next week will be how Hong Kong handles demonstrations by the Falun Gong meditation sect.
China is trying to crush Falun Gong, but it remains legal in Hong Kong, a Chinese territory where citizens continue to enjoy Western-style freedoms of speech and religion that are holdovers from British colonial days.
Falun Going plans to use Chinese President Jiang Zemin's appearance at the Fortune Global Forum -- where he is expected to meet with Bill Clinton -- as a chance to speak out against Beijing's often violent suppression of adherents on the mainland.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa outraged Falun Gong and pro-democracy activists by accusing the sect of plotting to "undermine the relationship" between Hong Kong and Beijing by disrupting the forum.
Critics say Hong Kong is planning security overkill that could tarnish its international reputation. Three thousand police are to be deployed, compared with 2,000 during Hong Kong's 1997 handover from British to Chinese sovereignty.
Hong Kong officials say they are taking precautions to avoid any anti-globalization protests, even though there have been no indications such activists plan to mobilize.
Pro-Beijing forces, furious that Falun Gong can attack Chinese policy on Chinese soil, have demanded a crackdown on its activities in Hong Kong. Pro-democracy figures fear that would wreck Hong Kong's freedoms.
"Protests ought to be heard and seen," grumbled lawmaker Martin Lee, chairman of the opposition Democratic Party and the most prominent critic of Hong Kong's government.
Falun Gong was denied permission to protest near the exhibition center where Jiang is to speak Tuesday. The sect says Hong Kong was offering to let 20 followers demonstrate at a distance.
Falun Gong spokesman Kan Hung-cheung said Saturday that followers were still negotiating with police to find a place where several hundred people could practice their meditation exercises.
The official host of the invitation-only conference is Invest Hong Kong, a government agency that seeks to attract more business.
Jiang and Clinton are expected to meet privately on the sidelines. Chinese-language media have suggested they might discuss the recent spy plane crisis, but U.S. officials say Clinton is traveling purely as a private citizen.

"HK police boost checks ahead of Fortune Forum"

(Reuters, May 5, 2001)

HONG KONG - Hong Kong police, bracing for possible protests from several groups including the Falun Gong spiritual movement, stepped up security checks on Saturday at the venue of a top business and government leaders meeting.
Ahead of next week's Fortune Global Forum, police said they had received protest applications from five groups including Falun Gong, the environmental group Greenpeace and mainland activists lobbying for Hong Kong residency.
The three-day conference which opens on Tuesday will feature Chinese President Jiang Zemin, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, and Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer. More than 600 CEOs and managing directors are expected to be present.
Seeking to avoid the violent protests that disrupted recent world financial meetings, Hong Kong police said on Friday they would throw a tight cordon around the conference at the waterfront Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, where Britain returned the territory back to China in 1997.
Police will deploy 3,000 officers to handle security, compared with 2,000 during the handover ceremony to mark the transfer of sovereignty to Beijing.
On Saturday, policemen, wearing gas mask and oxygen tank, checked the sewers near the Convention Centre, while police divers combed the seabed near the waterfront site.
Police sniffer dogs also checked for explosive.
Jiang's visit is expected to draw large protests from members of the Falun Gong movement, which is outlawed in mainland China but remains legal in Hong Kong.
Protesters would be kept a few hundred metres (yards) away from the guests, police said.
Many political observers say the handling of the Falun Gong protest could be a key test of China's guarantee of a high degree of autonomy for the territory for 50 years after the handover.
China-anointed Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa has been under pressure from Beijing to curb the group, which has been labelled an "evil cult" by Chinese leaders.
Tung last week issued his sternest warning yet, accusing Falun Gong members of damaging Hong Kong interests with its planned protest during Jiang's stay.
Police have said they would allow peaceful demonstrations as long as they were legal and did not pose a danger to others.
Some Hong Kong newspapers on Saturday criticised the tight security measures. The Chinese-language Ming Pao newspaper said the planned security moves might lead to overseas visitors to think that freedoms had been curbed after the handover.
The Hong Kong Economic Journal said demonstrations were a means for the disadvantaged to vent their grievances and would help soothe social conflicts.

"HK protesters to be kept at bay from forum VIPs"

(Reuters, May 4, 2001)

HONG KONG - Hong Kong police, seeking to avoid the violent protests that have disrupted recent world financial summits, said on Friday they would throw a tight security cordon around a meeting of top business and government leaders next week.
The three-day Fortune Global Forum will feature Chinese President Jiang Zemin, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer. It is expected to draw more than 600 CEOs and managing directors.
Jiang will make a keynote address to mark the opening of the event at the Hong Kong convention centre on May 8.
Police will deploy 3,000 officers to handle security, compared with 2,000 during the handover ceremony in July 1997 when the former British colony was returned to Chinese rule, assistant commissioner Cheung Chi-shum told a news conference.
Protesters would be kept a few hundred metres (yards) away from the guests, police said.
Jiang's visit is expected to draw large protests from members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which is outlawed in mainland China but remains legal in Hong Kong.
Many political observers say the handling of the Falun Gong protests could be a key test of China's guarantee of a high degree of autonomy for the territory for 50 years after the handover.
Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa has been under pressure from Beijing to curb the group, which has been labelled an "evil cult" by Chinese leaders.
Tung last week issued his sternest warning yet, accusing Falun Gong members of damaging Hong Kong interests with its planned protest during Jiang's stay.
Cheung justified the heavy police presence, citing violent protests that had marred other global gatherings including last month's Summit of the Americas in Quebec and world trade talks in Seattle in 1999.
However, police intelligence reports indicated Hong Kong was unlikely to witness similar violence, Cheung said.
Police said they would allow peaceful demonstrations as long as they were legal and did not pose a danger to others.
Police said they had received protest applications from five different groups including Falun Gong, the environmental group Greenpeace and mainland activists lobbying for Hong Kong residency.
A leader of the Falun Gong said he expected over 200 people to attend the protest.

"Falun Gong to Protest in HK During Jiang Visit "

(Reuters, May 3, 2001)

HONG KONG - Followers of the Falun Gong spiritual movement in Hong Kong said on Thursday they had received police permission to protest during Chinese President Jiang Zemin's planned visit to the territory next week.
A leader of the movement in Hong Kong told Reuters he expected over 200 people to participate in mass outdoor exercises to take place on May 8, the first day of the three-day Fortune Global Forum which Jiang is scheduled to attend.
``We estimate around 200 local practitioners will participate. Some overseas practitioners also plan to come,'' Falun Gong spokesman Kan Hung-cheung told Reuters.
But Kan said the location of the protest zone was far from ideal because it would be a fair distance away from the venue of the forum.
He would not say where exactly the demonstration would take place, but added the group would announce details of the arrangement on Saturday.
Members hope the session would draw world attention to what it called ``cruel persecution'' of Falun Gong adherents in mainland China.
Falun Gong, which combines meditation and exercise with Buddhists and Taoist teachings, was banned in China in July 1999 but remains legal in Hong Kong.
Apart from the exercise session, members also plan to distribute flyers, hold a photo exhibition and seminar as well as hand a petition to Jiang.
During a Falun Gong conference in January in Hong Kong, the followers blamed Jiang personally for trying to crush the movement in China.
Local officials in Hong Kong subsequently said they would tighten their watch on the group for fear it would disrupt the territory's stability.
Kan said police had implied the protest this time around should not include personal attacks against anyone but he said the group would still erect banners with Jiang's name on them.
Analysts see the upcoming event as the toughest test yet to Hong Kong's promised freedom since the former colony's handover from Britain to China in mid-1997.
Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa issued his sternest warning yet to the Falun Gong last week accusing the practitioners of deliberately undermining ties between Hong Kong and Beijing and seeking to damage Hong Kong interests with its planned protest during Jiang's visit.

"State Drawn Into Chinese Controversy "

by Eric R. Danton ("Hartford Courant," May 3, 2001)

Gov. John G. Rowland has signed thousands of proclamations while in office, but only one, recognizing Falun Dafa, has drawn objections from the Chinese government.
Now adherents of the spiritual exercise regimen want to meet with the governor or his staff to explain why they feel the administration should not have apologized to the Chinese government, which regards Falun Dafa as an "evil cult."
"What we would like to do is help them understand not to believe those lies from the Chinese government and encourage them to stand up and speak out," said Ted Lin, a Falun Dafa practitioner from Glastonbury.
The proclamation and subsequent apology have put state officials in the middle of the ongoing international debate on human rights in China at a time when relations between China and the United States are already tense. Chinese officials, wary that Falun Dafa could find support abroad for the movement outlawed at home, are asking American officials to rescind the proclamations.
Though Rowland stopped short of withdrawing his, the administration quietly apologized in a letter to the Chinese consulate in New York - without telling the Falun Dafa practitioners who had requested the proclamation in the first place.
Dean Pagani, a Rowland spokesman, said the governor's staff had prepared the December proclamation without realizing that Falun Dafa is also known as Falun Gong, a series of stretching exercises and meditation banned in China. When the Chinese consulate pointed that out, Pagani said the administration apologized Jan. 4 to avoid offending the Chinese government.
"They expressed the view that this proclamation was very troubling to them, and that was not the intent," Pagani said. "Some people viewed this proclamation as the state taking sides on a controversial issue."
Pagani said Connecticut is officially neutral on Falun Gong.
While Rowland's proclamation is less significant than the 1999 NATO bombing of China's embassy in Belgrade or the recent standoff over an American surveillance plane on the island of Hainan, China's objections fit a pattern, said James D. Seymour, professor of political science in the East Asian Institute at Columbia University.
"It's part of a broader policy and obviously they have shown considerable willingness to antagonize the rest of the world," Seymour said. "They are absolutely determined to make their point, and they make it more strongly than one may feel is necessary."
Chinese officials say they are doing Americans a favor by pointing out the dangers of Falun Gong. In a letter to Rowland, Consul-General Zhang Hongxi compared Falun Gong to the Branch Davidians and said the practice led "many Falun Gong practitioners [to] become insane and even commit suicide and kill their loved ones."
Should the practice gain popularity in the United States, "it will also harm your society and jeopardize the social stability," Zhang continued. "At the same time, it will hurt the feeling[s] of Chinese people and infringe on the friendship between our two peoples."
Zhang Yuanyuan, a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington, said consulates around the country regularly send similar letters to local governments that have proclaimed Falun Dafa weeks. Scores of cities and towns in 35 states have recognized the practice, including eight in Connecticut. After hearing from Chinese officials, Baltimore, Seattle and the state of Maryland rescinded proclamations recognizing Falun Dafa or its founder, Li Hongzhi.
"We believe that some of your municipalities and local governments have been taken in," Zhang Yuanyuan said. "We want to tell you the truth about how dangerous that organization has been."
The truth, say practitioners and human rights advocates, is that China has brutally repressed Falun Gong since banning the practice in 1999. Practitioners estimate the Chinese government has subsequently detained more than 50,000 people who practice the exercises. Some 190 of those detainees have died in custody, amid allegations they were tortured.
"The Chinese government is absolutely adamant about this crackdown," said Mickey Spiegel, a research consultant with Human Rights Watch in New York. "They have pursued it with extreme vigor."
In his Jan. 4 apology letter to the Chinese consulate, Rowland's co-chief of staff, Peter N. Ellef, worried that rescinding the proclamation would attract more publicity to Falun Gong.
"Focusing more attention on the group may serve to heighten their profile, which is not in anyone's best interest," Ellef wrote.
Practitioners want to draw more attention to Falun Gong as a way of raising awareness about what is happening in China. And though proclamations aren't difficult to get - often, groups need only to send a letter asking for one - adherents say they are a valuable tool.
"We realized that it's very important to have government recognition of Falun Gong - not only its healing effect, but its ability to uplift morals," said Tracey Zhu, 32, a Falun Gong practitioner from New Haven.
Bridgeport, Burlington, Cromwell, East Hartford, Middlebury, Middletown, New Haven and Orange have issued proclamations over the past several months, and none has heard objections from the Chinese consulate.
Practitioners like Zhu and Ted Lin hold free clinics in parks and libraries to teach people about Falun Gong and the health benefits they say go with it. Since he started practicing the regimen of exercises and meditation in 1998, Lin, 39, says his own health has improved and a chronic stomach ailment has disappeared.
"During a short period of time, just six months, there was a significant improvement in my physical condition," Lin said. "I get so much benefit - my stomach problem is gone and I sleep very well."

"HK govt not worried about Fortune forum protests"

(Reuters, May 3, 2001)

HONG KONG - The Hong Kong government is not worried about violent outbursts from Falun Gong members or anti-globalisation protesters at next week's Fortune Global Forum, the government's top business promoter said on Thursday.
"I'm not worried about the law and order situation in Hong Kong. We have an excellent police force and they're used to handling major demonstrations," said Mike Rowse, director general of Invest Hong Kong, the government department sponsoring the event.
The Fortune Global Forum, headlined by Chinese President Jiang Zemin, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer, is expected to draw more than 600 corporate CEOs and managing directors.
There has been no indication in local media that foreign demonstrators were headed for Hong Kong, but other major summits in recent years, ranging from last month's Summit of the Americas in Quebec to the 1999 Siege of Seattle, have been hit by violent protests.
The forum's major theme is "Next Generation Asia" with sessions on topics such as human rights and globalisation, China's development plans for its western provinces and future growth industries in Asia.
Jiang's visit on May 8 is expected to draw massive protests from local members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which is banned in China but legal in Hong Kong, a special administrative region of the communist mainland since Britain pulled out in mid-1997.
Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa has been under pressure from Beijing to supress the group, which has been labelled an "evil cult" by Chinese leaders.
However, he would draw fierce international criticism if he stops legal assemblies by the group, especially since the government will market itself as an open and free international business center to conference participants.
The government's handling of Falun Gong protests could test the "one country, two systems" concept guaranteed by China which gave Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy for 50 years after the handover.
Falun Gong and other groups would be "free to demonstrate within the law," Rowse said. "I hope they will make their point in such a way that is compatible with the good order of the community."
He added that "appropriate security measures" would be taken, but declined to elaborate on them. He did, however, say that there would be some disruptions to traffic flows around the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.
The conference will cost the Hong Kong government about HK$9.7 million, with about HK$4.68 million (US$600,000) paid directly to Fortune, a publication of media giant AOL Time Warner, as a sponsorship fee, Rowse said.

"UN rights group tells of concern over Falun Gong "

by Bryan Lee ("Hong Kong Mail," May 3, 2001)

Members of a United Nations rights committee were said yesterday to have expressed concern at Hong Kong's treatment of the Falun Gong and to have taken ``very seriously'' the right of abode issue.
Their views were related by members of a Hong Kong delegation who attended a meeting of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Geneva.
Returning to Hong Kong last night, Frontier Legislator Emily Lau Wai-hing said the committee had spent ``plenty of time'' discussing the Falun Gong issue.
She said one member in particular had expressed concern at Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa's recent ``aggressive'' remarks on the sect banned as an ``evil cult'' by Beijing.
She said the committee felt peaceful protests by the sect should be permitted even during President Jiang Zemin's visit next week.
Ms Lau said Secretary for Home Affairs Lam Woon-kwong, who led the government delegation to the meeting, had told delegates the Falun Gong could carry out any activities in Hong Kong within the law.
Mr Lam had said, however, that ``there were people'' who did not view the sect as a religious society which is what it is registered as under the Societies Ordinance.
``He did not identify those people but we all know that is Tung Chee-hwa,'' Ms Lau said.
She said the committee member, from Egypt, had also worried about the detention of Hong Kong academics on the mainland.
There were fears that the SAR could not protect its citizens on the mainland.
Another delegate, Ngan Siu-lai of the Hong Kong Parents' Committee, said many committee members had accused the SAR of violating the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights by continuing to separate cross-border families.
She said members had taken the abode issue very seriously.
Human Rights Monitor director Law Yuk-kai, who also attended, said that if the SAR government ignored the committee's recommendations it would damage its international image.
The committee will release its report on economic, social and cultural rights in Hong Kong on Friday.
The Hong Kong delegation included included 10 government officials and about 20 non-government representatives.

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


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