A member of the banned Falungong spiritutal sect died after 10 months of torture and maltreatment in prison in northeast China, the group's New York headquarters said.
Ju Yajun, a 33-year-old farmer from Yuquan in Ahcheng city, Heilongjiang province, was arrested on October 11 last year when he went to Beijing to appeal for the right to practice Falungong, the Falun Dafa Information Center said in a statement Saturday.
He was detained at Ahcheng city number two detention centre where he was give short rations and repeatedly beaten, the group said.
Ju was released after three months but rearrested a month later, beaten and sent for one year "re-education through labour" in Changlinzi labour .
campIn the labour camp Ju was tortured and suffered scabies and went on a series of hunger strikes. He was forcefed while on hunger strike.
"The prison guards are ordered to forcefeed any Falungong practitioners on hunger strikes to keep them alive in the hopes that, by prolonging their torture, they may be eventually coerced to abandon their beliefs," Falun Dafa spokesman Adam Montanaro said.
"This policy is horrifying. Still, these Falun Gong practitioners resort to hunger strikes because it is the only way left for them to protest the injustice while adhering to the principles of non-violence."
On October 18, Ju's throat swelled up and the plastic tube could not be inserted. On October 21 he was sent to the prison hospital and was returned that night unconscious.
On October 24 he was returned still unconscious to his family in Yuquan, who took him to hospital. Ju died on October 26 without regaining consciousness after 36 hours of emergency treatment in Harbin City Medical School Number Two Hospital, the group said.
The Falungong centre said the death brought to 312 the total number of Falungong practitioners who have died in custody since the group was outlawed in July 1999.
Reports of deaths are difficult to verify, but independent human rights groups have been able to confirm more than 150 deaths so far.
China considers Falungong, which combines Buddhist and Taoist teachings with breathing and meditation exercises, a threat to social stability and a challenge to its authority.
Jason Wang knew all about the crackdown against Falun Gong members back in his native China, but he never thought practicing the exercise and spiritual routine would cause him trouble in Houston.
He was wrong.
When the University of Houston graduate student needed to get his passport renewed earlier this year, he says, the local Chinese Consulate held it for months and then refused to renew it. Consular officials asked whether he was a member of Falun Gong and encouraged him to give up the practice, Wang said.
Without a valid passport, Wang may be forced to leave the United States before finishing his studies, which he says would subject him to persecution back home.
Local Falun Gong practitioners say Wang's problems are part of a much larger campaign against their practices. After cracking down on Falun Gong in China, the Chinese government appears to be quietly using its consulates to work against the movement on American soil.
"It's international persecution," alleges Wang, 38, who sometimes joins Falun Gong demonstrations in front of the Chinese Consulate along with his wife, Gina Wei.
In recent months, the local consulate also held passports of other members, and news reports suggest practitioners have had trouble at the consulates in Scotland. Falun Gong members allege in a report that the Houston consulate pressured a local Chinese language paper, the Southern Chinese Daily News, into discontinuing Falun Gong advertisements -- a claim Publisher Wea Lee would not discuss.
Chinese diplomats in the United States also have pressured the mayors of Seattle and other cities to rescind proclamations praising Falun Gong and its founder, Li Hongzhi. China banned Falun Gong in July 1999, calling it a dangerous cult.
Based partly on the ancient Chinese exercise program known as qigong, Falun Gong teaches that the body contains an inner energy wheel, or falun, that can be channeled through exercise to bring healing. But what concerns the Chinese government most is the way the movement has infused the exercise program with a spiritual and moral element based on books by Li that teach truthfulness, benevolence, tolerance -- and a belief in aliens.
A spokesman from the Chinese Consulate did not return phone calls. But articles available on the consulate's Web site make it clear the government intends to work aggressively against Falun Gong both at home and among Chinese living in the United States.
"The fight against the Falun Gong cult by the Chinese government and people has constituted an important part of the battle against cults worldwide," said Wang Yusheng, secretary-general of the China Anti-Cult Association, according to one article. Wang said China would like to join a "global struggle" against cults.
Chinese government representatives clearly expect to have some influence over Chinese living in the United States.
"With regard to the Falun Gong practitioners in the U.S., I consider it their own business of what they do and what they believe in as long as they abide by the local law," Zhang Hongxi, the Chinese consul-general in New York, said in a speech posted on that consulate's Web site. "Of course, if you still hold the Chinese passports, that is, if you are still Chinese nationals without being naturalized U.S. citizens, you have dual obligations, you must abide by both the Chinese and the U.S. laws."
Joseph Vail, a law professor at the University of Houston and former immigration judge, said it is not unprecedented for foreign governments to exert influence over their citizens living in the United States.
"You hear of these cases occasionally," said Vail, citing the Iranian and Salvadoran governments, which allegedly worked undercover to pressure immigrants here in decades past.
With its emphasis on meditation and well-being, Falun Gong was not a phenomenon anyone expected to cause a stir in China. The movement grew rapidly in China during the 1990s, reaching out to more than 70 million people, according to its adherents. Practitioners do not consider it a religion -- it claims no deity and builds no temples.
But after 10,000 adherents protested in Beijing in 1999, the government decided to crack down. Chinese officials say Falun Gong encourages practitioners to hurt or even kill themselves. The human rights group Amnesty International has criticized the government for rounding up and detaining Falun Gong practitioners, estimating that as many as 300 of them have been killed while in government custody.
Falun Gong might not have been political before the crackdown, but the actions of the government galvanized practitioners in opposition to Beijing. In the United States, practitioners distribute pamphlets that tell of the "brutal repression" in China and contain graphic photos of adherents said to have been beaten, raped or killed by Chinese authorities.
The local Falun Gong Web site prominently lists the hours of the demonstrations in front of the Chinese Consulate on Montrose, which take place every day.
"People don't do Falun Gong to stick their thumb in the eye of the Chinese government," said local practitioner Dianna Roberts. "They do it to feel better.
"On the other hand, we want the persecution in China to stop."
Jason Wang's case may be typical. The Chinese native came here in 1996 to study superconductivity, and his wife came with him, getting her master's degree in electrical engineering from UH.
The two have a young son who is a U.S. citizen. Wei applied for, and was denied, asylum.
Wang and Wei never practiced Falun Gong in China. They took it up in 1997, after seeing a flier on a bulletin board at UH. Wang said the exercises helped him get over a severe eye strain he used to suffer while reading.
But after they saw the way the Chinese government moved against Falun Gong, Wang and Wei became more political.
Their family car now sports a large illuminated sign on top calling for the end to China's "state-sponsored terrorism against Falun Gong."
Tim Bourget is stretching, trying to empty his mind and open his energy channels in a ''standing stance'' exercise, the first of the night: ''Buddha Showing 1,000 Hands.''
He seeks the same flowing force of energy and inner peace that have attracted millions to the practice of Falun Gong, now banned in China.
Bourget is of a new breed of Falun Gong practitioner in the United States. He's not Chinese. He's not a scientist or a student. He's not even one of the human rights activists drawn to the movement because of reports of the violent persecution of its practitioners in China.
Bourget, 38, is a carpenter from Worcester. And though he's an anomaly among Falun Gong practitioners in the United States right now, that might not be the case for long.
Even as Falun Gong has dropped from mainstream news, its practice in the Boston area has grown. In Cambridge, a four-hour Friday night meeting in a fluorescent-lit classroom at Massachusetts Institute of Technology draws up to 80 people a week - a number up sharply from a year ago.
In regular attendance at the Friday night MIT meetings, which feature group practice of the five core exercises followed by several hours of reading and discussion, are a high school English teacher, a hairdresser, and the owner of a company that lays wall-to-wall carpet.
Bourget, who was introduced to Falun Gong by ''a girl on the beach'' two months ago, describes his attraction to the spiritual movement - and subsequent growing indifference to the Christian faith he grew up with - as more inner compulsion than intellectual decision.
''It just felt right for me,'' Bourget said recently, while the assembled group in the next room read aloud from Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi's main text, ''Zhuan Falun.''
''When I practice, I feel the energy, a flowing force of peace,'' Bourget said. ''I'm a Christian, but I feel that to practice Falun Gong I really have to practice that as my only belief, so I've kind of put my Christianity on the back burner.''
The spiritual exclusivity that many practitioners say is essential to fully reap the physical and mental health benefits that have attracted perhaps as many as 100 million Chinese to Falun Gong may help explain why China's Communist government banned the movement in 1999. China deemed Falun Gong a dangerous cult whose ''energy healing'' beliefs precluded some followers from seeking modern medical care.
Many US politicians have spoken out against China's crackdown, and have openly welcomed Falun Gong practices here.
Falun Gong, which Li established in 1992, is an adaptation of ancient Chinese religious ritual that was banned in China during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. It uses exercise and study to help practitioners find their kinder and healthier inner selves. Falun Gong, which loosely translates as ''the law of the universe's energy,'' does not involve any worship.
Practitioners say Falun Gong is not a cult and that they have been targeted in China because the movement was attracting huge numbers of followers disenchanted with the austere values and social safety net failures of the Communist Party. The party, practitioners say, supported the traditional Eastern, or qigong, philosophies of master teacher Li until he grew too popular.
Merle Goldman, a faculty researcher at Harvard's Fairbank Center for East Asian Research, says that in the United States, the movement appeals ''mainly to highly educated Chinese people who want to feel better about themselves, to satisfy some kind of a spiritual need.''
That demographic, she says, could be about to experience an influx as more Americans learn about a ''cultivation practice'' that, unlike popular alternatives such as tai chi and yoga, promises to guard against health problems and in which instruction is always free, as ordained by Falun Gong tenets.
That was a major selling point for Riordan Galluccio, who says, ''I thought enlightenment should not be something you're charged for.''
Galluccio, 34, lives in West Roxbury and didn't want to pay, and couldn't afford to pay, to be a better person.
''Since I was about 18, I was really interested in Tibetan Buddhism and Taoism,'' he said.
Like other Falun Gong practitioners, Galluccio hopes for both better health and a calmer life. And he believes the five essential exercises expel bad qi, or energy, into the universe, and harness good qi into the body.
Michael believes that too, and for the last five months has been rising daily at 4:30 a.m. to devote an hour to the Falun Gong exercises before he goes to work. Michael, a laborer who asked that his last name not be used because he fears losing work if employers believe he has joined a cult, says he has turned to Falun Gong for health and strength, the same reasons that unemployed and aging Chinese do.
''I can't afford to be hurt, and I can't afford to get angry,'' said Michael, who is 59, lives paycheck to paycheck, and has no health insurance. He says the meditation-like exercises ease his aches and give him focused spurts of energy.
''At this point in my life I have to do whatever I can to be better, to work better,'' he said. ''I'm hanging on by a string ... But for me, it works.''
Followers of the Falun Gong movement vowed Tuesday to keep flying banners denouncing the Chinese government's crackdown at a sit-in protest Monday outside Beijing's liaison office in Hong Kong, even though the police had warned them to remove the banners.
A spokeswoman for Fulun Gong said that the protest had begun on Sept. 24 and would continue. Some of the banners were removed Saturday by the Hong Kong authorities, but the protesters replaced them.
On a blustery, cold November morning, a group of seven people is huddled on the grass outside Collins Circle at SUNY Albany, listening to faint music from a portable stereo system. While the wind may be icy, the practitioners remain immobile, breathing deeply, trying to achieve peace of mind.
These are practitioners of Falun Gong, a Chinese exercise and meditation method. Literally meaning, "the Practice of the Wheel of the Dharma," Falun Gong was originated in China by a former government clerk, Li Honghzi, who published his ideas in 1992.
Based on the teachings of Taoism, Buddhism and Honghzi's ideas of spiritual energy, the meditation practice spread like wildfire through Communist China.
By 1999, enough people were actively practicing Falun Gong to scare the Beijing government, which banned the practice, declaring it a cult and accusing its members of brainwashing others. News reports soon spread of practitioners being jailed, beaten and, sometimes, killed for their practices.
In Albany, Falun Gong's practitioners don't have to worry much about being roughed up by a disturbed government. Probably the most they have to fear is an unleashed dog sniffing them out on a Saturday morning at the University at Albany's campus.
But even that is a long shot.
Most people walking their dogs or jogging by on Saturday morning on the university campus probably wouldn't even notice the group sitting quietly in the center of Collins Circle.
Local members Five of the seven regularly practicing members come from mainland China while two, Helena and Sam Cheng, come from Taiwan.
Only three speak English: the Chengs and Shirley Wu, a Chinese immigrant who joined the group in June this year after moving to Albany from Dallas, Texas.
Wu said the group itself is a year old, begun by the Chinese ex-patriates last November. By day Wu works as a post-doctoral physics fellow at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She began practicing Falun Gong in China in 1993 after her mother sent her a book about the subject.
She took up the practice seriously in spring of 1994 when she moved to Dallas, Texas, to do graduate work in physics.
Since then Wu has become a devoted practitioner, meeting with her group Saturday mornings and practicing for two hours.
For such a controversial exercise, Falun Gong is remarkably quiet. In fact, almost nothing happens.
Doing it The practitioners sit cross-legged, listening to tranquil pre-recorded Chinese music, similar to what you would hear in a Chinese restaurant, for the first hour of practice.
While listening to this music, they clear their minds and meditate for a full hour.
"When we do the meditation we try to clear our minds without thinking anything, without any mind intention - just try not to think of anything," Wu said.
After an hour of meditation the group rises and begins performing the basic five exercises of Falun Gong. The exercises are calm, slow, stretching positions and are based on ideas in Eastern religion and mysticism.
To novices, the exercises may resemble those done in the ancient practice of Tai Chi. However with only five movements, Falun Gong is much easier to learn. "Falun Gong is much simpler in the movements than Tai Chi itself," Wu said.
She added that the fundamental difference between Tai Chi and Falun Gong is that Falun Gong heavily advocates spirituality. "We emphasize [the] spiritual," she said.
Practitioners believe in connecting with a universal spirit, or cosmos through their practices. The exercises were developed along Hongzhi's theories that spiritual energy has its source in the abdomen. The slow, stretching exercises are developed to increase power and energy there.
The mystical belief of the founder, referred to as "Master Li" by his followers, is that cosmic, spiritual energy rotates circularly inside a person's stom- ach. Positions have names like "Buddha Showing a Thousand Heads," "Penetrating the Two Cosmic Extremes," and "The Great Heavenly Circuit." And if the exercises and studies of the practice are quiet and calm, it's because the three pillars of Falun Gong philosophy are "Compassion," "Truth", and "Forebearance".
These concepts are explored more fully in the group's Tuesday evening sessions where they read about Falun Gong and what is required of its practitioners, known as Falun Dafa.
While spirituality is a key focus in the Tuesday evening study sessions and Saturday morning exercises, Wu and her friends are political too.
In late October, the group hosted three Falun Dafa from Montreal Canada who were engaged in a protest march to New York City where they intended to hand a letter of protest about Falun Gong repression to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Anan.
"I was detained for 33 days [in China] just because I practiced Falun Gong in Canada," said Ying Zhu, one of the walkers, on a recent Saturday morning in Albany.
Zhu explained that she had gone back to China to visit relations when she was arrested. "This is state-sponsored terrorism," she added of her experience.
Part of the problem for the Chinese government and others who try to regulate the practice of Falun Gong is the difficulty of learning how many people are practitioners. Because it is an informal, easy-to-learn practice, there is no telling how many people are Falun Dafa in secret, in their living rooms. If the practice is a cult as the government believes, bent on brainwashing its members, it is a very secret one.
Wu said that even in the Capital Region it is difficult to say how many people are practicing the exercises. The group regularly gives well attended workshops at places like Albany's Kripalu Center.
Some show up to their Saturday morning meetings, others stay home and practice.
"There is no membership so we don't know exactly," she said of the number of practitioners in Albany.
However many people study Falun Gong, it's the warmth of exercise and the feeling of being part of a universal spirit that keeps Shirley Wu coming back every Saturday morning - no matter how cold the weather.
"During the meditation you can actually feel the energy rotating in your body," she said. "Even though it's very cold outside it's warm inside in your body."
A Falun Gong demonstration on Penn Square on a sunny Saturday afternoon seemed to onlookers to be nothing more than a series of peaceful exercises. But doing the exercises would be dangerous had the group been doing them in China.
The group of about 15 Falun Gong practitioners from the Philadelphia area was in Reading to raise awareness of the persecution of practitioners in China.
The Chinese government banned Falun Gong in 1999, calling it a harmful cult. Thousands of practitioners have been forced into re-education and hard-labor camps, where some have been tortured and killed. The government claims all have committed suicide or died of natural causes.
Dr. Jingduan Yang said the communist government feels threatened by something that has attracted so many people. He said it is not a cult, noting it has no membership, no leader and no fees. Practitioners share information with interested people but do not pressure anyone.
James Li, a software developer, said he believes his brother Baifan was among those killed for refusing to renounce Falun Gong.
The day before he died, Baifan had called his parents, telling them he would be allowed to visit them for the first time since he was arrested 18 months before.
His mother went to the meeting place, but Baifan never arrived. Later police told her he jumped out of a 10th-floor window. The family did not believe the suicide story because they found no visible bruises on his body.
"From the Falun Gong principles, we're strictly forbidden from killing," Li said. "Suicide is a form of killing. I believe they murdered my brother."
Yang said it is difficult to believe the Chinese government feels threatened by such a peaceful practice.
He considers it a melding of his training in both Chinese and Western medicine.
Doing Falun Gong exercises make him feel healthy and energetic, enabling him to do a better job helping patients, he said.
Yang, a psychiatric resident at Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia, said the approaches of Chinese and Western medicine are different, but both assume diseases occur when body systems go haywire.
In Chinese medicine, acupuncture and herbal medicines keep energy flowing properly through the systems, he said.
Research in Western medicine shows that nearly 70 percent of all diseases are caused by bad lifestyles smoking, drinking, taking drugs, eating the wrong foods, dealing with stress and not getting enough rest, he said. So doctors treat behaviors as well as symptoms.
People who do the Falun Gong exercises and live by the principles of truthfulness, compassion and tolerance lose their bad habits, Yang said.
"It made sense from both Chinese and Western medicine," he said. "If you reduce stress, your systems will have a chance to adjust themselves. This totally alters lifestyles. Of course, you will be healthier."
BEIJING - China's crackdown on the Falungong spiritual sect has "retarded" its record on human rights, United Nations rights commissioner Mary Robinson said Friday.
Speaking at the end of a two-day visit to China during which she met President Jiang Zemin and other government figures, Robinson said some "positive developments" had been made in cooperation over rights issues.
However she issued a stark warning that there was still a long way to go.
In particular, she said, some rights had actually been eroded further during Beijing's campaign against Falungong, which she said had been accompanied by "sharp" curtailments of liberties.
"I think it has probably retarded progress in some areas of freedom of expression and freedom of association," she told a press conference.
According to rights groups, more than 150 followers of the Buddhist-influenced sect have died in custody since it was outlawed as an "evil cult" more than two years ago. Falungong adherents put the toll far higher.
Robinson also repeated a warning to China that she was concerned at abuses against ethnic Uighur Muslims in the far western region of Xinjiang, carried out in the name of the fight against terrorism.
She said she had expressed her concerns to Chinese leaders and that she had received reassurances only genuine terrorists were being targetted.
"All I can say is that the volume of complaints of extra-judicial killings, torture, ill treatment have risen significantly and I am concerned about that," she said.
As to a response, she said merely her comments were "noted".
China has repeatedly said its fight against separatists in Xinjiang, which borders Afghanistan, is part of the global anti-terror campaign and should be supported by the international community.
Rights groups argue violent separatists are in a minority and claim a crackdown in the region since the September 11 terror attacks on the US has mainly targetted peaceful dissidents.
Robinson additionally told reporters she had raised the cases of a series of individual prisoners, including Xu Wenli, China's most celebrated dissident, who has been in prison for 17 of the past 21 years.
"I drove home the point that when individual cases are raised in this context it is extremely important that there is evidence that they are being taken seriously and that there will be progress," she said.
On the tangled issue of a long-anticipated visit to China by the UN's special rapporteur on torture, Robinson warned Beijing that although a new official was taking over the post, there would be no change in policy.
The incumbent, Sir Nigel Rodley, is stepping down this month after failing to visit China during his eight years in office.
Beijing had invited him to visit, but negotiations over a trip were consistently bogged down on matters such as unfettered access to prisoners during jail inspections.
Robinson said she had stressed to her hosts that the new rapporteur should visit soon.
"I also explained that it would be necessary to have the same criteria as Nigel Rodley had been rightly saying would be necessary to carry out his mandate," she added.
Robinson attended a seminar on human rights education during her visit, and said such technical cooperation, though slow-moving, was "putting in place the structures that will make a difference".
This was the only way progress would be made, she insisted.
"You cannot change the human rights culture in China from the outside. It will only change if there is a Chinese political commitment to doing it."
Six Chinese members of the Falun Gong group, banned by Beijing, have applied to the Japanese government for refugee status, their lawyers and supporters said Monday. The six students and former students from China first arrived in Japan several years ago. Five have tried to return to China via Hong Kong or Macau between 1999 and this spring but were refused entry by Chinese authorities.
At a Tokyo news conference, the lawyers said that even if the six are allowed to return to China, they may be placed in custody or tortured.
Tadanori Onitsuka, one of the lawyers, said Japanese immigration officials have yet to interview the six Chinese even though more than six months have passed since they applied for refugee status.
Noting that Japan rarely grants Chinese nationals refugee status, Onitsuka said, "I want the government to think of the situation the six are in." Several thousand disciples of Falun Gong, a Buddhist-oriented meditation movement, are believed to be in Japan, the lawyers and the supporters said.
The Chinese police have uncovered a scheme by followers of the banned Falun Gong sect to broadcast the word of their spiritual master through hidden loudspeakers, the official media reported yesterday. Speakers attached to tape players operated by time switch or remote control have been planted near government departments and in parks, schools and other public places to broadcast instructions from Master Li Hongzhi, it said.
The report is a tacit admission that Falun Gong is still regarded as a serious threat, even through Beijing claims that most of its followers have severed their connections with it.
Xinhua said the police in Beijing and 10 provinces had raided "underground nests" where the speakers were secretly assembled. Gu Xiufang, a former "cult diehard" arrested in Beijing, allegedly confessed to obtaining detailed instructions from the Falun Gong website.
A Falun Gong spokesman in Hong Kong said the report was highly exaggerated.
"Beijing wants to create the image of us being a powerful organisation. Some of our supporters are doing this but on a very small scale: they are risking their lives."
Beijing says Mr Li's teachings have prompted more than 1,000 followers to commit suicide or self-immolation. Two weeks ago it tried to suggest that the Falun Gong might be responsible for an anthrax hoax.
The movement claims that more than 300 of its followers in China have been killed while in detention.
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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