WASHINGTON - A Falun Gong practitioner who was barred from entering Hong Kong ahead of the visit of Chinese President Jiang Zemin said Tuesday immigration officials carried her to an office by her hands and feet to wait for nearly 11 hours for the next plane out.
"More than 10 persons just came and grabbed me and my hands and feet... and carried me to the office," Shi Wei, a housewife in Arlington, Virginia, told Reuters outside the Chinese embassy in Washington.
Shi said she was one of at least four Falun Gong practitioners who were detained with her hands taped together in an office of the airport overnight May 6. Early Monday, she was bundled in a blanket and taken to a plane to be sent back to the United States.
"When I ask why I was detained they never give us the reason," she said. When she pressed officials, "they said we don't know, we just came to work and your names are in the system."
The Falun Gong is legal in Hong Kong but since 1999 has been banned in China, which rules the territory under a "one country, two systems" formula giving it special rights after the end of British rule in 1997.
Chinese President Jiang Zemin Tuesday addressed some 700 business leaders and politicians at an economic conference in Hong Kong while some 400 Falun Gong members staged protests at five sites blaming him directly for the crackdown.
The strictly controlled protests were a rare instance of China's communist leaders being challenged on Chinese soil, and were seen as a major test of Hong Kong's post-handover freedoms.
CONNECTED TO JIANG'S VISIT
Shi said she was sure what happened to her had something to do with Jiang's two-day visit to Hong Kong.
She said an official at the airport told her: "Well you cannot go this time (but) it doesn't mean that you cannot go later, next time, because every time the situation's different... And I ask why and he said for security reasons."
Human rights groups said immigration officials have barred at least 100 suspected Falun Gong followers from the United States, Australia and Taiwan from entering Hong Kong in recent days to stop them from joining the protests.
The Falun Gong movement, whose leader Li Hongzhi lives out of the public's view in New York, said in a news release the Hong Kong authorities' actions were an example of how Jiang was trying to expand his crackdown.
"Jiang seems to pay no regard to the damage this may cause to the 'one country, two systems' policy, nor to the damage this will do to the image of Hong Kong," it said.
China has labeled Falun Gong, a practice that combines meditation and exercise with a spiritual doctrine rooted in Buddhist and Taoist teachings, as an evil cult.
Dressed in a yellow Falun Gong T-shirt and looking wan, Shi spoke as a handful of followers meditated in bright sunlight in a small park outside the Chinese embassy.
She said it was her own idea to go to Hong Kong when she heard Jiang was coming, leaving her husband, a fellow practitioner, and child in the care of friends. Two friends from other U.S. cities joined her, she said.
"In China Jiang Zemin persecutes the innocent practitioners... They cannot speak out, so (if) I have a chance to speak out I have to do that," she said.
BEIJING - Falun Gong adherents in Beijing over the past few days distributed leaflets around the Chinese capital condemning Chinese President Jiang Zemin as the ''chief criminal'' behind a 20-month crackdown on the sect.
The pages, stuffed in private mailboxes and slipped under car windshield wipers, describe torture endured by detained followers and ''miraculous'' events associated with Falun Gong practice.
They appeared on the capital's streets as Jiang prepared to attend an economic conference in Hong Kong from Tuesday.
Much of the material was taken from Falun Gong's official Chinese Web site at www.minghui.ca, which has been increasingly difficult to access in recent months as China's Internet firewall monitors stepped up technologies to control which Web sites are available in China.
Falun Gong sites, like most major foreign news sites, have long been ''firewalled,'' but continued to be accessible via proxy servers to savvy Internet users. Beginning early this year, however, access even to obscure proxy sites began to be blocked, often within a few minutes of a successful connection.
The only sure way to access blocked sites is to make an international call to a foreign server -- making it prohibitively expensive for most Chinese browsers.
A series of leaflets containing material from the Minghui site were distributed in February but stopped appearing after Beijing police shut down a makeshift printshop and arrested 37 Falun Gong adherents for ''using a cult to obstruct justice'' March 1.
Those flyers also attacked Jiang and likened the government's crackdown on the sect to Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution.
The more recent flyers say 190 practitioners have been killed in Chinese jails, many cases of which have been confirmed by human rights groups and foreign media.
China's strict media control prohibits coverage of any such police abuses, however, and carries only the message Falun Gong is an ''evil cult'' that destroys the lives of its followers.
Practitioners, meanwhile, have kept up an underground campaign to counter that image by staging regular protests in Beijing's landmark Tiananmen Square, installing stickers, leaving graffiti with messages such as ''Falun Gong is good'' and supplying content for clandestine Web sites and radio broadcasts that decry the crackdown.
Li Hongzhi, a former trumpet-player from north-east China, is known as "Living Buddha" to his devotees. The authorities in Beijing also have a few names for Mr Li. They have branded him the leader of an "evil cult" and a dangerous charlatan and have ordered his arrest.
China says practitioners have been brainwashed
Mr Li's crime, as far as Beijing in concerned, is to have founded the Falun Gong spritual sect, which has presented the Communist Party with its most brazen challenge in a decade.
Falun Gong combines slow meditative exercises with Mr Li's homespun philosophy and teachings loosely drawn from Buddhism and Taoism.
It claims to have attracted about 60 million followers in China since emerging eight years ago.
But its phenomenal growth and ability to organise protests has alarmed the Communist Party and prompted a draconian crackdown.
Some of Mr Li's pronouncements are certainly unconventional, some would say just plain strange.
He believes aliens walk the Earth and he has reportedly said he can walk through walls and make himself invisible.
Mr Li says that he is a being from from a higher level who has come to help humankind from the destruction it could face as the result of rampant evil.
But while his ideas may be bizarre, his followers claim to uphold high moral standards. Falun Gong's three guiding pronciples are Truthfulness, Benevolence and Forbearance.
Western cult investigators appear uncertain as to whether Mr Li is the benign leader of a quasi-religious martial art or the figurehead of a far more sinister organisation.
But the Chinese authorities, who outlawed the movement in July 1999 have no such doubts.
Followers are regularly arrested
They have blamed him for the deaths of thousands of followers, saying he has stopped people seeking medical help. Mr Li says he has never done this.
He has also been accused of embezzling donations, an allegation he hotly denies, and stirring up social unrest.
But despite the crackdown on his followers, it is unlikely Mr Li himself will ever be arrested.
Three years ago, Mr Li moved to the United States and he now lives in New York with his wife and daughter.
Mr Li, a tallish, thickset man, was born in Jilin province, north-east China, but his date of birth is somewhat controversial.
Widely read: Falun Gong books sell worldwide
The authorities have accused him of backdating it from 7 July 1952 to 13 May 1951 so he could share the birthday of Buddhism's founder, Sakyamuni.
Mr Li says the date was misrecorded in the first place and points out that millions of other people must share the same birthday as Sakyamuni.
"I have never said I am Sakyamuni," he said in one interview. "I am just a very ordinary man."
But in another interview with Time magazine he implied he was anything but ordinary.
Asked if he was a human being from earth, he replied: "I don't wish to talk about myself at a higher level. People wouldn't understand it."
The self-styled spiritual leader says he started learning a special form of the Chinese martial art, qigong, at age four from a Buddhist master, and completed his training at eight.
Advice from the master: Classes can be downloaded
Qigong is a martial art which combines meditation and breathing exercises andis believed to tap the practitioner's inner strength.
At 12, Mr Li says he was discovered by a Taoist immortal who taught him Taoist practices.
However, the Chinese media says his childhood was a good deal more mundane.
Teachers and classmates reportedly remember him as an unexceptional student whose only talent was for playing the trumpet.
At 17, the young Li went to work on a People's Liberation Army stud farm, according to state media reports.
Subsequent jobs included a trumpeter in a police band, a guesthouse attendant and a grain store clerk.
The authorities say he only started studying qigong in 1988 and founded Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, four years later.
But classes and exercise areas rapidly sprang up across the country, and his first book, Zhuan Falun, the Falun Gong bible, became a bestseller when it was published in 1996.
By the following year Beijing considered the movement a significant enough danger to remove it from the official martial arts list. And in 1998, Mr Li left for the US.
But the organisation appears to have continued to grow, thanks in part to a comprehensive network of websites disseminating lectures, videos and handbooks.
NEW YORK - Every Sunday, in a quiet corner of Central Park, about a dozen people of many nationalities practice the gentle, graceful movements and breathing exercises of the Falun Gong spiritual group.
Though they are thousands of miles away from China, which spawned the practice and now outlaws it, many say they, too, feel the intensity of the Chinese government's suppression.
"We simply ask (China's President) Jiang Zemin to change his heart," said Julia Stein, a preschool teacher from Orlando, Florida. "The government and policemen in China who are torturing ... I'm really questioning if they're human anymore. I just wish they could overcome their fear as I have."
Chinese authorities banned Falun Gong in July 1999, after 10,000 Chinese practitioners staged a sit-in in April in front of Beijing's Zhongnanhai leadership compound protesting against attacks by some of China's state-controlled newspapers.
Beijing has since cracked down on what it calls an "evil cult" that brainwashes followers and aims to overthrow the government.
Falun Gong officials say more than 190 members in China have died in police custody and thousands are in labor camps. China has acknowledged that a handful of practitioners have died in custody but says they committed suicide or died from natural causes.
Practitioners in New York and elsewhere say there is nothing sinister about the teachings of Li Hongzhi, the former government official from Changchun, in Jilin province, who preaches salvation from a corrupt world through meditation and the study of his texts based loosely on Taoism and Buddhism.
THREE TENENTS FOR LIVING
Li, who lives in secluded exile in New York, teaches three tenets for living: truthfulness, benevolence and forbearance. These rules have guided Stein, 26, and other practitioners, as they like to be called, to publish free newsletters, march in protest and travel around the world to lobby for their rights.
Falun Gong practitioners meet seven days a week at 13 different locations in New York. In the United States, it has groups in 36 states.
Stein, who grew up in Evansville, Indiana, said she came to Falun Gong when she decided to take control of her life. She said she used to smoke cigarettes and party all the time, had bad acne and had started to try alternative medicine when she "stumbled" upon Falun Gong just over a year ago.
"I was studying New Age stuff and creating my own self-pity party," said the now fresh-faced Stein, who traveled to Geneva in March to lobby on behalf of Falun Gong at the United Nations. She also flew to New York at her own expense for a Falun Gong parade in Chinatown on April 21.
Like many other practitioners, Stein believes Li helped change her life and has now chosen to help spread his teachings by selling his books for $13 to those who ask for them.
But no practitioner profits materially from Falun Gong, said Lupe Martinez, a Spanish-language interpreter in New York who says Falun Gong mysteriously discovered her more than three years ago.
Martinez, whose family left Mexico city for Chicago when she was a child, said she traveled to India, Nepal and Thailand after dropping out of college, looking for "the perfect guru." Years later, while working as massage therapist in Hawaii and elsewhere in the western United States, Martinez said she had a vision that presaged her introduction to Falun Gong.
'TRANCE ON THE MASSAGE TABLE"
"One of my clients went into a trance on the massage table and started to do the movements," she said, referring to the five sets of Falun Gong exercises she later learned were "designed to open up all the energy channels in your body."
"No one really fulfilled me and gave me all the answers I have until I found Master Li," Martinez said.
But talk of gurus, visions, trances, and energy channels have fed the Beijing-backed anti-Falun Gong propaganda machine outside of China. Beijing's leaders have requested that Li be extradited to China on criminal charges.
At the Falun Gong march in New York's Chinatown, about 100 hecklers backed by the United Chinese Association of New York trade group handed out flyers featuring graphic photos of disemboweled bodies alleged to be Falun Gong members gone mad.
Some shouted obscenities in English at the 500 Falun Gong paraders who walked silently in their trademark yellow T-shirts, while others screamed through megaphones in Chinese: "Where is Li Hongzhi now?" and "Save yourselves!"
Li has not been seen in public since a Falun Gong conference in Michigan last December and has not granted an interview since August 1999.
"That was a good day not to understand Chinese," Stein said of the parade hecklers.
Asked if she feels that Li Hongzhi should bear responsibility for the alleged deaths of practitioners in China, Stein said, "He has given us so much already. It's really up to the practitioners to rectify this situation."
HONG KONG - Hundreds of members of the Falun Gong spiritual group, outlawed in mainland China, staged protests in Hong Kong on Tuesday, blaming visiting Chinese President Jiang Zemin personally for a crackdown on the quasi-religious movement.
Unfurling banners and executing their slow-paced exercises at police-approved sites, the Falun Gong demonstrations set the tone for a host of protests aimed at Jiang, who arrived at midday to attend an international economic forum.
"Jiang Zemin cannot shirk responsibility for the persecution of Falun Gong," said one banner, stamped with images of alleged Falun Gong members imprisoned in mainland China.
Accompanied by his wife and Vice Premier Qian Qichen, Jiang was welcomed by more than 100 children waving Chinese and Hong Kong flags. Beijing's chosen leader in Hong Kong, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, beamed deferentially nearby.
But the rest of Hong Kong promises to be less hospitable.
An array of groups will take to the streets to protest against Jiang and Beijing's policies, and more than 3,000 police have clamped a security zone around the conference center venue.
Over 600 international business executives and politicians, including former U.S. President Bill Clinton, will attend the Fortune Global Forum, which is focusing on China's development.
The protests are a rare instance of China's communist leaders being challenged on Chinese soil, and could pose one of the most serious tests to date to the large degree of autonomy granted to this former British colony when it returned to China in mid-1997.
Hong Kong officials have been at pains not to displease their new masters in Beijing but have also sought to preserve the financial center's freewheeling capitalist reputation and special status within China.
Fearing a blow to laws ensuring freedom of expression and religion, Hong Kong has resisted pressure to match the mainland in banning Falun Gong, which Beijing calls a subversive "evil cult."
Dressed in their yellow T-shirts, hundreds of Falun Gong followers exercised silently in several locations around Hong Kong.
"We call on Jiang to stop this unreasonable persecution in China," a spokesman for the group said.
Others taking to the streets on Tuesday include families of mainland Chinese fighting for residency rights in Hong Kong and democracy groups calling for the release of political prisoners and an end to China's one-party communist rule.
Determined not to allow the violent protests that have marred other world economic meetings in recent years, police have worked round the clock to seal off the harborfront conference venue and strictly control where and how many protesters could demonstrate.
Human rights groups said immigration officials had barred more than 95 suspected Falun Gong followers from entering Hong Kong in recent days to stop them from joining the protests. These included nationals from the United States, Australia and Taiwan.
U.S. NATIONALS BOOTED
The United States has asked Hong Kong to explain why some Americans have been turned away from Hong Kong since Sunday, a spokeswoman at the U.S. consulate said.
"We are concerned ... that these (immigration) procedures were apparently used arbitrarily to deny entry to some American citizens which could have the effect of limiting freedom of association and belief," she said.
Falun Gong has become one of Tung's severest headaches, with the group using Hong Kong's special status in China to criticize the Beijing leadership. Tung has struggled to balance Hong Kong's special freedoms with Beijing's determination to crush the group.
He recently accused Falun Gong of seeking to hurt Hong Kong's reputation and undermine its ties with Beijing by demonstrating during Jiang's visit this week.
Human rights groups say thousands of Falun Gong members have been sent to "re-education" camps and some have died in police custody. Beijing says the movement brainwashes members and is a threat to the central government.
Jiang addresses the forum on Tuesday night and leaves for home on Wednesday afternoon.
HONG KONG --Authorities blocked nearly 50 Taiwanese followers of Falun Gong from entering Hong Kong Monday, one day before Chinese President Jiang Zemin planned to speak at an international economic meeting, an activist said. A group of 15 Taiwanese that arrived in the early morning reported having no problems clearing immigration. But 46 Taiwanese who came later in the day were stopped at the airport, said Sophie Xiao, a Hong Kong-based spokewoman for the group.
Taiwanese follower Lin Shu-hwei told The Associated Press by mobile phone at Chek Lap Kok airport that seven or eight of the people in her group of 11 were detained and not allowed to go through immigration.
"They haven't given us any reason for detaining us. They have no right to do this," she said.
Earlier Monday, Huang Chun-mei, a Taiwanese traveling in a separate group, said she was blocked from entering Hong Kong.
"They're holding me and won't let me talk," Huang told the AP by mobile phone. "They've searched all my luggage."
Over the past two days, Hong Kong immigration officials have also blocked the entry of followers from the U.S., Britain, Australia, Japan and Singapore.
At least 110 Taiwanese were to fly to Hong Kong on five different flights Monday, and they planned to protest while Jiang speaks at the Global Fortune Forum on Tuesday.
"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," a statement said.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton will also attend the three-day event.
Falun Gong spokeswoman Xiao said that the Taiwanese weren't wearing the yellow shirts popular with group members. She suspected that officials keyed them out because the Taiwanese followers were on a blacklist.
However, Hong Kong officials have said that such a list doesn't exist.
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 communist government, which is extremely suspicious of large groups that might challenge its monopoly on power, has banned Falun Gong. However, it is still legal in Hong Kong - where citizens enjoy Western-style freedoms of speech and religion that are holdovers from British colonial days.
In Taiwan, the group has thousands of followers who are allowed to practice freely. Last year, Vice President Annette Lu spoke at a large Falun Gong conference, and the group frequently purchases large advertisements that appear on the sides of city buses.
Authorities in Hong Kong have allegedly prevented seven overseas members of the Falungong spiritual movement from entering the territory ahead of a visit by China's President, Jiang Zemin.
A Falungong spokeswoman says an Australian, a Briton and five followers from America were stopped at Hong Kong airport, bringing to 15 the total of sect members who have been kept out since late last month.
An Australian Consulate spokesman confirmed that an Australian citizen from Melbourne had been denied entry and was waiting to be deported.
Separately, seven pro-democracy demonstrators attached themselves to a pole outside a convention center that will be used for an economic conference to be attended by Jiang, former U-S President Bill Clinton and top corporate executives.
The activists vowed to stay for 48 hours, but authorities waited less than two hours before cutting them free and carrying them away.
HONG KONG - Hong Kong, worried protests will upstage a visit by Chinese President Jiang Zemin this week, has deported eight foreign members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, a group spokeswoman and a rights body said on Monday.
Falun Gong, banned in mainland China since 1999, wants to use Jiang's visit to this special administrative region of China to protest against Beijing's crackdown on the quasi-religious group.
While Falun Gong is still legal in Hong Kong, the local government is trying to limit protests by it and other anti-Beijing groups and keep them well away from areas where Jiang will appear.
For Jiang, it will be a rare experience to face protests against his government and its policies on Chinese soil.
The Hong Kong government has declined to comment on the deportations, saying immigration officers turn various people back routinely and it will not comment on specific cases.
But Falun Gong and human rights groups said the Falun Gong practitioners deported since late April include members from the United States, Taiwan, Macau and Australia.
The Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights & Democracy said U.S. nationals Li Xiaobin and Xu Zhenmei were put on a flight to New York on Sunday afternoon after being refused entry when they arrived on Saturday night.
Hui Yee-han, a spokeswoman for the Falun Gong in Hong Kong, said: "We have had eight members denied entry so far and it's hard not to suspect that there is a black list."
The government declined comment on Monday, though immigration director Lee Siu-kwong said on Sunday that the government did not have a "black list" of overseas Falun Gong members. The U.S. consulate in Hong Kong declined comment.
The group has set out two full days of protests from Tuesday, when Jiang arrives to open an economic forum.
Falun Gong -- a mix of Buddhism, Taoism and Chinese exercises -- plans to protest against China's crackdown with group meditation exercises, petitions and a candlelight vigil.
The protests, potentially embarrassing for Jiang, could also help define the limits on the territory's freedoms. Hong Kong was granted a large degree of autonomy after Britain returned the former colony to Beijing in mid-1997.
Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa accused Falun Gong in April of damaging the territory's interests and relations with Beijing by their planned protests during Jiang's stay.
The Falun Gong, which has seen many of its followers jailed and some die in Chinese detention, has been given the go-ahead by Hong Kong police to stage most of its events during the three-day Fortune Global Forum gathering.
But the group has been allocated locations far from the conference venue and its members are likely to be out of sight of Jiang and other leaders attending the conference.
"Police have been unreasonably strict. The locations are just too far away, and even with x-ray glasses and binoculars, people won't be able to see us," said Hui.
Police have thrown a tight security cordon around the venue at the harbor-front Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. They will deploy 3,000 officers to handle security, compared with 2,000 during the sovereignty handover ceremony in 1997.
Police have been checking sewers, bridges and the Hong Kong harbor for several days, looking for bombs and getting security barriers ready.
HONG KONG - The Falun Gong sect said Monday that 10 overseas practitioners have been barred from entering Hong Kong and accused officials of turning them away to hinder planned protests during a visit by Chinese President Jiang Zemin.
Hong Kong Falun Gong spokeswoman Hui Yee-han said two women - Briton Xia Ze and an Australian citizen whose full name was not yet known - were stopped at the airport early Monday and told it was for security reasons.
They were still being held at the airport around midday, but eight other people stopped over about the past week, including two from the United States, have all been deported, Hui said.
``We have every reason to believe there is a blacklist,'' she said.
An Australian Consulate spokesman confirmed that an Australian citizen from Melbourne has been denied entry to Hong Kong and was waiting to be deported.
The official, using customary anonymity, said he could not reveal any details about the woman's identity because of privacy concerns.
Hong Kong authorities have said no one has been stopped at the border because of Falun Gong membership.
Hong Kong Immigration spokesman Chan Chi-kin said the department would neither release official figures of the number of people refused entry into Hong Kong nor comment on individual cases.
About 15 Taiwanese Falun Gong followers, who were among 110 due to arrive on five different flights Monday, said they entered Hong Kong without any problems.
``Everything went smoothly,'' said Justine Huang, the leader of the Taiwanese practitioners.
They intend to demonstrate against Beijing's often-violent crackdown on Falun Gong in mainland China while Jiang is in Hong Kong for a 3-day global economic conference that begins Tuesday.
The spiritual group has accused Hong Kong police of ``trying to cover up different voices'' by only allowing the practitioners to practice their meditation exercises well away from the Global Fortune Forum.
The conference has drawn many dignitaries, including Jiang and Bill Clinton, and police have imposed tight security measures in and around the venue in the past few days.
Authorities said there will be 3,000 police on hand, compared with 2,000 when Britain returned Hong Kong to China in a massive handover ceremony in 1997.
While she complained that Falun Gong's meditation exercises will hardly be seen or heard by Jiang, Sophie Xiao, another spokeswoman for the sect, said the group will adhere to the guidelines set down by authorities during demonstrations.
``Of course they want to keep us away from the convention site. We will do our practice within the sites they require,'' she said.
Despite being outlawed and often severely suppressed in mainland China, Falun Gong is still permitted in Hong Kong - where citizens enjoy Western-style freedoms of speech and religion that are holdovers from British colonial days.
Falun Gong's plans to protest during Jiang's visit have created a delicate situation for the territory's government, which has escalated its rhetoric against the sect but taken no against it.
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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