BEIJING - China plans to invite the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture to visit for the first time "quite soon", in a sign it was serious about stamping out the problem, European Union representatives said on Friday.
It was not immediately clear if the Rapporteur, who monitors progress in abolishing torture worldwide, would be allowed the same access to prisons he is accorded in other countries that have ratified a U.N. anti-torture convention.
"Apparently, contacts have been taken and plans are on the way for a visit quite soon by the Rapporteur on Torture. They have agreed in principle," said Michael Goblet D'Alviella, an EU representative in China for a regular human rights dialogue.
He did not give details of when or under what conditions the torture envoy would visit China.
The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, British law professor Sir Nigel Rodley, has been seeking to visit China for more than two years, but Beijing had agreed only to a "friendly" visit, diplomats said.
"This is an encouraging sign," one Western diplomat said. "It's been in the pipeline for a while."
"The question is on what terms he will visit -- would he have access to prisons? China wanted something more limited."
Rights groups have said torture and ill-treatment are common in China, despite being outlawed, and are rooted in endemic legal and institutional deficiencies.
The EU group, which met with representatives from the Chinese Foreign Ministry for the rights dialogue, said China had given other signs it was serious about ending torture.
"We heard, with great satisfaction, from the mouth of a judge with very high-level responsibility a very encouraging personal rejection of the principle of torture," Goblet D'Alviella said.
He said an experiment in China's northeastern province of Liaoning giving suspects the right to silence was also positive because the widespread notion that suspects or criminals were required to give confessions had been a cause of torture.
Goblet D'Alviella said torture would also be the subject of a seminar in December in Belgium that was part of a series the EU hold with China as part of its human rights dialogue, which began in 1997.
OTHER TOPICS DELICATE
During the rights dialogue the EU group also raised concerns about Beijing's respect of minority cultures and religions, particularly in Tibet and Xinjiang, and the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, but saw no change in the Chinese stance on any of the issues.
China has called for international support for its campaign against Muslim ethnic Uighur militants struggling for an independent state in the northwestern region of Xinjiang as part of the global war on terrorism.
"The current context of the post September 11 events makes a discussion in this respect quite delicate and we basically insisted for the respect of the religious and cultural rights of the people in that region," Goblet D'Alviella said.
Human rights groups have accused Beijing of using the war on terror to persecute all Uighur separatists and the EU asked China to distinguish clearly between violent and non-violent groups.
The EU representatives said China was also considering inviting the U.N. Special Rapporteurs for education and religious intolerance, but gave no timeline.
BEIJING - The Falungong spiritual group said Saturday a 25-year-old member died shortly after being detained while being driven to a police station, with police saying she had jumped from the moving car.
Li Jing, a student at Jilin Business College for Professional Training in northern Jilin province, died on October 11 while being driven from Qiqihar city to the police station in Changchun, the Falun Dafa Information Centre said in a statement from its New-York headquarters.
She was in the custody of two policemen from the Xian Square police station in Changchun who said she "jumped" from the car and was killed, the centre said.
An official at the police station told AFP Li had died, but said she jumped out of the car.
"Her family already came to claim the body. ... I can't provide any information about the case," he said.
Li was recently freed a year early from a three-year term in a labor camp, where she was sent in November 1999 for repeatedly traveling to Beijing to appeal to the government to lift the ban on Falungong.
It is unknown why police had once again detained her.
The US-based Falungong centre said the death brings to 300 the total number of Falungong practitioners who have died in custody since the group was outlawed as an "evil cult" in July 1999.
The group claimed sources inside the Chinese government said the death toll is well over 1,000.
Reports of deaths are difficult to verify, but independent human rights groups have been able to confirm more than 150 deaths so far.
The Falungong group said it was unclear whether Li was trying to escape or was forced from the vehicle against her will.
More than 40 percent of the Falungong practitioners for whom the government has provided a cause of death are said by police to have "jumped" or "fallen" from vehicles or high locations, the group said.
"Police have routinely attributed every death of a Falungong practitioner to either 'natural causes' or 'suicide,'" the group said, calling the explanations unconvincing.
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.
Before it was outlawed, independent estimates put the number of followers of the group, led by US-based guru figure Li Hongzhi, in the tens of millions.
After the ban, the group's members repeatedly carried out protests in Tiananmen Square, but these have tailed off in recent months as Falungong members said many practitioners are avoiding open affilation with the group for fear of reprisals.
CANASTOTA - Wind-driven rain clicked against the bright, yellow raincoat of Ying Zhu about noon Wednesday as she continued her path down Route 5. Zhu and four other women carried signs - "S.O.S Global Awareness Walk" - as they took their steps.
The small group has carried the signs since their walk began in Montreal Sept. 14. They will continue to walk and test the elements until Nov. 5, when they expect to reach the United Nations building in New York City.
"We have a long walk but it's worth it," said Zhu, who described the trek as being designed to raise awareness and garner support hoped to eventually lead the U.N. to call upon the Chinese government to end its "crack down" on practitioners of Falun Gong.
Falun Gong, she described, is not a religion but a philosophy of refining the body and mind through exercises and meditation. She said more than 100 million people in 40 countries practice the form, which is based on the principles of "truth, compassion and forbearance."
According to Zhu, Chinese officials began targeting practitioners with a ban on the practice in July 1999. She tells of recent incidents in which two practitioners were thrown out of the fourth floor of a building by police officers and another movement in which more than 100,000 people were placed in a forced labor camp.
Walkers contend that after the U.N. Human Rights Conference failed to pass a resolution condemning China's human rights record, the killings continued. Campaign organizers say 74 deaths have been reported in the past three months.
"Along the way, we gather signatures and we will give them to the U.N.," Zhu explained. "We are asking the U.N. to stop China from doing evil."
Zhu said the people she has met on the walk have been supportive.
For example, in the Oswego County village of Sandy Creek, Zhu said, village trustees passed a resolution of support for the cause. During a stop in Syracuse, Zhu said, a number of signatures were collected on petitions at Syracuse University, and Syracuse Mayor Matt Driscoll was also supportive.
Zhu said food and even shelter has been offered along the way.
"In Sandy Creek we asked for a place where we could set up a tent and a priest came out and said 'Why don't you stay in the church?'," she said. "We really appreciate the support."
On Friday, Zhu said, the group plans to stop in Utica for a press conference in front of city hall.
"We just want the truth to come to people all over the world," Zhu explained. "We are sure this power can end persecution."
Bowing to political pressure, the Board of Supervisors rejected a resolution expressing deep concerns about China's persecution of Falun Gong practitioners.
Sponsoring Supervisor Chris Daly walked out in disgust after the 8-3 vote Monday.
"The facts are pretty simple," he said. "We're not commending Falun Gong, we're denouncing human rights violations. I was disappointed with a few of my colleagues who ducked doing the right thing and I think they know it."
The bill's rejection may well have resulted from the political weight of Rose Pak, director of the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, who organizes a two-week trek to China every year with Mayor Willie Brown. She was the first one at the podium during public comment.
"This board respects one of the most sophisticated cities in the nation, if not the world," she said. "Are you prepared to endorse a group that equates homosexuality with murder?"
Pak went on to compare the Falun Gong with cult leaders like David Koresh, the infamous leader of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas.
She badgered Supervisors Leland Yee and Gavin Newsom from behind the gallery railing throughout the debate.
The rejection may also have resulted from the harsh words of Wang Yunxiang, consul general of the People's Republic of China, who sent a letter to the board saying that Falun Gong was a "cult against human beings, society, science and religion."
Not only has Falun Gong disrupted family life, he said, it has caused troubles in Chinese society. He said the human rights reports about persecutions are unfounded.
"Not a single person has been killed or persecuted because of Falun Gong," he said. "U.S.-China relations are improving. Fighting against terrorists should be our common interest. This would not be beneficial to both sides."
Close to 100 passionate supporters of Falun Gong -- and opponents packed the Board of Supervisors Chambers and jumped into line to speak during the public comment period.
One woman, who opposed the resolution, broke into tears as she relayed that her younger sister died from tuberculosis, refusing medical treatment because she believed in Falun Gong.
Alicia Zhao also broke into tears as she urged supervisors to pass the resolution, saying that Chinese police put her in prison two years ago during a trip to China because she had dinner with a Falun Gong practitioner.
A large crowd lingered outside of the board chambers following the vote.
Sherry Zhang, a chemist speaking for the Falun Dafa Information Center, was disappointed.
She and other Falun Gong practitioners from throughout the Bay Area had gathered a petition with 40,000 signatures supporting their cause and faxed hundreds of letters to members of the Board of Supervisors, urging them to pass the resolution.
But in the end, supervisors decided that foreign policy was best handled by Congress, not the city.
The war on terrorism, trade, and other economic matters are expected to dominate President Bush's agenda when he arrives at this week's Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in Shanghai, China.
But several members of Congress also want the president to push for the release of an American doctor.
Dr. Chunyan Teng, an American citizen, was imprisoned by the Chinese for allegedly exposing the government's mistreatment of Falun Gong practitioners in Chinese government-run mental institutions.
Falun Gong is a popular spiritual movement in China, and while followers say it is simply an exercise and meditation movement, the Chinese government sees it as a threat to China's communist government.
In fact, Chinese President Jiang Zemin has accused Falun Gong leaders of trying to overthrow the Chinese government. He banned the movement several years ago.
Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, on Tuesday sent a letter co-signed by 60 House members to President Bush,, urging him to intercede on Teng's behalf.
Chinese authorities sentenced Teng to three years in prison in 2000 for "prying into and illegally providing state information to foreigners." She was tried and sentenced in Beijing.
"Dr. Teng documented the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China by videotaping the activities inside Chinese mental institutions, where Falun Gong practitioners are forcefully detained and subjected to both physical and psychological abuse," Gilman said in the letter to the president.
The letter concluded, "We request that you ask the Chinese authorities for the immediate release of Dr. Chunyan Teng and her return to the U.S., and that you express our nation's concern regarding the Chinese government's treatment of Falun Gong practitioners."
The White House had no comment on the letter.
Last Friday, China's official state media issued a statement accusing Falun Gong of lying when it claimed in a U.S. lawsuit that Chinese police beat two followers to death.
The suit filed in a New York court accused a senior provincial police official of killing the pair in custody.
But China denied that police abuse was to blame. Peng Min died last April, according to the Chinese, after he smashed his head on the bars of his cell, apparently in a suicide attempt. Peng had been in detention almost a year for organizing Falun Gong gatherings and producing and distributing sect promotional materials.
His mother, Li Yingxiu, died of a brain hemorrhage last April in a hospital, according to the government announcement. The Chinese did not say whether she had been in custody also.
"Lies will never save the 'Falun Gong' cult from doom. The attempt to stir up an incident has become a farce and ended in vain,'' the Communist Party newspaper People's Daily said.
The Falun Gong suit blamed Zhao Zhifei, deputy head of police in the central province of Hubei, for the deaths. Zhao was served papers at his hotel during a visit to New York in July.
Under U.S. law, foreigners accused of crimes against humanity or violations of international law can be sued in federal court if they are served a civil complaint in the United States.
As the San Francisco Board of Supervisors weekly meeting on Tuesday was about to begin, police officers and City Hall officials ordered everyone to evacuate the building there was a bomb threat.
Hundreds gathered in front of City Hall and waited until the building was searched. Nearly 45 minutes later, people were finally allowed to re-enter the building.
While the bomb scare could have been the fireworks of any other board meeting, this day was different. Over a hundred Falun Gong activists crowded into the legislative chamber to see whether a resolution urging the Chinese government to end persecution of Falun Gong practitioners would pass. There were so many people that some had to be transferred to another room due to lack of space.
However, no voting on the resolution took place, as Supervisor Leland Yee referred the resolution to the neighborhood services and parks committee.
"I think the issue of human rights is an important one, and I think it strikes a chord within all of us," Yee said.
Board President Tom Ammiano acknowledged the resolution at the beginning of the meeting and allowed 30 minutes for public comment. Only a few were able to speak and many were still snaked around the chamber's rear benches when the allotted time for public comment ended. The delay in the voting will allow many more speakers to be heard.
Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval refused to divulge how he would vote on the resolution, but said he understands that China's human rights record needs much improvement. He also pointed to the awarding of the Olympics to China this year because "we want that to help them improve."
Most of the public speakers were Falun Gong practitioners and adamantly called for this resolution to be passed, but there were also a few dissidents, calling Falun Gong a cult. They said Falun Gong members have high suicide rate. And they accused some members of killing family members and then justifying the acts by claiming the victims were demons.
The Falun Gong practitioners responded with personal stories of family members and friends who have been allegedly subjected to often cruel and torturous treatment by the Chinese government. Other speakers felt the Board shouldn't make a decision on the resolution. They believed it should be handled by human rights and religious organizations.
"The resolution is very significant because the people in China have no voice," said Sherry Zhang, the spokesperson for the Falun Dafa Information Center in San Francisco. "They exhausted all legal channels to get their voices heard, but in return, every time they try to appeal, they get arrested, tortured and even beaten to death. I think [international] pressure can really the Chinese government rethink what they are doing." With the prospect of Mayor Willie Brown going to Shanghai within the next several weeks, Zhang is hoping he will raise the issue of the Chinese government's human rights violations.
"Falun Gong has no political agenda and no interest in politics," Zhang said. "All we're asking from the Board is to support the most basic and the most fundamental human rights, religious freedom and freedom to believe."
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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