Taipei City Mayor Ma Ying-jeou yesterday publicly called on China to treat the Falun Gong religious sect with mercy and halt the crackdown on the group's members.
Ma is the second prominent political figure in Taiwan, after Vice President Annette Lu , to voice support for the Falun Gong group.
"Freedom of religion is a universal value, as well as a basic human right," Ma said at an annual Falun Gong assembly. The Falun Gong movement is banned in China where it is viewed by the authorities as a nefarious cult, and thousand of its followers have reportedly been persecuted.
"I'm not afraid of irritating a certain government and regime by attending a Falun Gong's activity," Ma said.
He likened his open support for the Falun Gong to his attendance at the annual memorial to honor those who died in the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
"The value of human rights should be recognized across borders," Ma said.
"The unification of China and Taiwan cannot proceeded unless there is some redress in relation to the massacres."
Ma further said Beijing should recognize the pluralistic nature of Chinese culture and show tolerance for the differences that exist.
The China authorities should abandon their cruel suppression of Falun Gong members, since Beijing deems itself the successor of Chinese culture, the mayor said. Chang Ching-hsih, director of the Taiwan Falun Dafa Institute, said that Ma's presence at the assembly had nothing to do with politics.
"Falun Gong groups never interfere in political issues," Chang said.
"The Chinese government has been oppressing the Falun Gong movement for years, and 500 of our practitioners have died as a result. However, no member of the Falun Gong in China has ever advocated subversion of the Chinese authorities," Chang said.
But, Chang said that though the Falun Gong does not actively seek support from political figures, greater media exposure could help the movement's practitioners call attention to China's prosecution.
"Assistance from any quarter is welcome," Chang said.
Vice President Annette Lu, also convenor of a human rights consulting panel under the Presidential Office, has voiced her support for the Falun Gong.
On July 20 this year, which marked the third anniversary of the biggest crackdown on the movement by China, Lu delivered an audio taped address to the Falun Gong at a rally in Washington.
Eight members of the banned spiritual movement Falun Gong were sentenced to up to 13 years in prison for briefly taking over local television and radio signals in eastern China's Anhui province, the official Xinhua News Agency said Saturday.
The Hefei Intermediate Court upheld a lower court's decision to give the followers sentences of between five and 13 years, Xinhua said.
The Hefei said there was evidence the eight people bought tools and equipment which helped them take over television and radio signals May 31 to publicize the movement, Xinhua said, without elaborating.
At least 3,900 households were affected during the 30-minute takeover, during which pirate transmissions touting the benefits of the group were played, Xinhua said.
China has said such transmissions "disrupted the public order" and go against international communications standards.
A man who answered the telephone Saturday at the court in Hefei, Anhui's capital city, said no one was on duty and declined comment.
Falun Gong attracted millions of followers during the 1990s with its combination of calisthenics and philosophies drawn from Buddhism, Taoism and the unorthodox ideas of its founder, Li Hongzhi, a former soldier and government clerk living in the United States.
Followers say the practice promotes health and morality, and experienced practitioners can gain supernatural powers such as the ability to fly.
China's leaders banned Falun Gong in July 1999, fearing the group's size and organizational ability could challenge Communist Party rule.
Since then, thousands of followers have been detained. Most are freed after a few months, though a government official said earlier this year that nearly 1,300 had been sentenced to prison.
Falun Gong activists abroad say hundreds of supporters have been killed in detention. Chinese officials deny killing detainees but say some have died during hunger strikes or because they refused medical help.
Falun Gong members have hacked into local television feeds and broadcasts several times in recent months.
On Sept. 9, Xinhua reported that signals of a service designed to enable remote villages across the country to see broadcasts from China Central Television, or CCTV, the leading government-run network, were jammed.
Also in September, 15 people were convicted of breaking into a cable television system to show videos protesting China's ban on Falun Gong. They were sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.
Five years after Hong Kong's return to China, its capitalists are still capitalists and its freedoms are largely intact. But critics say a planned anti-subversion law is posing the worst threat yet to those liberties.
The legislation is supposed to protect national security, but pro-democracy politicians, human rights campaigners and others say Hong Kong's civil rights and credibility as a financial hub are at stake.
"In China, similar subversion laws are regularly used to convict and imprison journalists, labor activists, Internet entrepreneurs and academics," Brad Adams, the Asia executive director of Human Rights Watch, wrote in an open letter to Tung Chee-hwa, Hong Kong's government leader.
The issue has exploded into Hong Kong's biggest political battle since the last months of British rule in 1997, when many were predicting a crackdown on free speech and politics. No such crackdown materialized, but what seems ominous to some is that while the Hong Kong government is saying it wants to consult the public about the law, Beijing's top representative here, Gao Siren, has said the protests will have no effect.
Opponents accuse Beijing of pressuring Hong Kong.
"It's a serious breach of one country, two systems," said opposition lawmaker Cyd Ho, referring to the government arrangement established when Hong Kong rejoined China on July 1, 1997, with guarantees of its freedoms and autonomy.
Hong Kong's government insists constitutional protections of free speech, media and religion are inviolate, but many here fear the new law could be used to muzzle dissidents and bring the tiny territory more tightly under Beijing's thumb.
"Perhaps they will use it against a few people to silence the whole community," said Law Yuk-kai, director of the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor.
The law is to give police broader powers to investigate crimes against the state, some of them carrying up to life in prison. But the problem is, the public hasn't seen a draft text of the law, and until it's published, U.S. Consul General James Keith said last week, "it will be hard to either confirm or dismiss worst-case scenarios."
Some predict officials will target the Falun Gong meditation sect, outlawed in mainland China as an "evil cult" but still free to practice in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong officials said that won't happen, and both Tung and Secretary for Security Regina Ip insist that once the law takes effect it will be clear that freedoms are not under threat.
But the United States, Britain and Canada are among the nations raising questions, and many here doubt the "trust me" approach.
"Talk is baseless," said Falun Gong spokeswoman Sharon Xu. "It's not legally binding."
Journalists fear charges of stealing state secrets could be applied to any publication of information that hasn't been officially released. Some executives are concerned they could get in trouble for doing business with Taiwanese companies whose bosses advocate formal independence from China ? a concept that Beijing regards as secession.
Other business people worry about the free flow of financial information ? crucial to Hong Kong as a market center.
Some analysts say Hong Kong's 6.8 million people are being dangerously split.
Demonstrations by both sides have drawn crowds in numbers rivaled only by the annual commemorations of the 1989 bloodshed at Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
Pro-Beijing forces seem to be asserting themselves by calling for national unity and suggesting that to oppose the law is unpatriotic. A rally Sunday of tens of thousands of people was full of nationalistic appeals for the legislation. One red banner said: "Why don't you support the law if you are not subverting the country?"
Under the terms of the change of sovereignty, Hong Kong is legally required to enact anti-subversion legislation banning treason, sedition, secession, theft of state secrets, activities by foreign political groups and ties between such groups and their Hong Kong counterparts.
The Hong Kong government has issued a paper soliciting public views on the new law, and plans to pass it by July.
Ma Lik, a prominent pro-Beijing politician, says many opponents of the law are the same people who raised alarms about the Chinese People's Liberation Army marching in after the handover and throwing its weight around.
In fact, the troops have stayed discreetly inside their barracks, while Hong Kong has buzzed along with its capitalist ways, freewheeling press and frequent protests, he said.
When Janet Xiong wears her yellow Falun Gong T-shirt on the streets of Chinese New York, she said, she can be pretty sure she will be greeted by averted eyes, cold stares and even taunts.
She blames the Chinese government. Ms. Xiong and other followers of the Falun Gong spiritual movement said the authorities in Beijing have brought their propaganda war against it to New York by planting defamatory articles in Chinese newspapers and waging a campaign of harassment over the past several years. They said they have been excluded from parades and Chinese-language radio stations and subtly threatened.
The movement has responded with a well-coordinated campaign of its own. It has filed a lawsuit against several Chinese-language newspapers and scheduled a news conference for today, to coincide with a lecture series and a photo exhibit about Falun Gong at a SoHo gallery, Locus Media. The lawyer representing the practitioners, Sam P. Israel, owns the gallery. His wife, Maya Israel, is handling their public relations.
The conflict has turned New York into a stage of the increasingly sophisticated and bitter public relations war between the Chinese government and the movement, which has been crushed in China and has moved much of its efforts here. The battle exists in other Chinese communities in the United States, but the issue is more acute in New York. The movement's founder, Li Hongzhi, now lives here; China's United Nations Mission and Consulate provide a critical mass of government presence; and Chinese officials ? targets for Falun Gong demonstrations ? rarely bypass New York during visits to the United States.
"They are trying to stop us," said Ms. Xiong, 48, a researcher for a city agency who arrived in the United States in 1988. "They are trying to make people believe that this is really something bad or harmful to the community, and that if you can't stop it, something dangerous is going to happen," she said.
Peter Kwong, the director of Asian-American studies at Hunter College and a professor of sociology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, said he had noticed the campaign. "The Chinese handling of the Falun Gong issue is giving China a black eye internationally," he said. "So what the Chinese press outside China tries to do is build their credibility, or justify why they are doing it."
At the heart of the lawsuit are scores of articles in The China Press, which the practitioners say hammers away at Falun Gong as an evil, dangerous cult. The suit says that the newspaper is controlled by the Chinese government, and charges defamation and denial of civil rights.
According to translations filed in court, the China Press articles have compared practitioners to the Ku Klux Klan and the Branch Davidians, accused them of taking pleasure in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, called them mentally ill and implied that they had been behind killings in China.
The Chinese consul general, Zhang Hongxi, did not immediately respond to a request for an interview. A subordinate, stressing that he could not speak officially, said the charges were a "totally sheer fabrication" and that anti-Falun Gong activities were organized by individuals, not the consulate.
Floyd Abrams, the newspaper's lawyer, said the articles were protected by the First Amendment because they reflected opinion. "They claim a violation of the right to worship, but what is really involved here is old-fashioned criticism of their views," he said. Mr. Abrams also said that the newspaper was neither owned nor controlled by the Chinese government; rather, he said, it is financed locally.
Falun Gong combines slow-motion exercises, meditation and the healing theories of its founder, Mr. Li. The government banned the movement in 1999 after its popularity grew formidable, seeing it as a threat to Communist rule and sending thousands of members to labor camps. Supporters said that more than 100 practitioners have died in police custody.
In New York, Chinese officials have denounced Falun Gong. In July, an ambassador named Zhu Qizhen spoke at a gathering called "Seminar on Combating Falun Gong in New York." According to the consulate's Web site, Ambassador Zhu called the movement "a source of terror" and said no responsible government could "sit idle" in the face of such a cult.
At least 12,000 demonstrators marched on Sunday to protest a planned anti-subversion law they fear will undermine Hong Kong's freedoms and put the territory more firmly under the thumb of mainland China.
"We don't want darkness to fall on Hong Kong," said Lee Cheuk-yan, a legislator and union leader, as the protesters advanced to Hong Kong government headquarters, waving signs, chanting and popping balloons.
Many sang the civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome" in the peaceful demonstration.
Police said 12,000 people had turned out, while organizers put the number at 25,000.
The march was enormous by Hong Kong standards ? rivaled in recent years only by the crowds that turn out each June 4 to commemorate China's bloody crackdown on protests in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Ever since Hong Kong was returned from British to Chinese sovereignty in July 1997, it has been required by its mini-constitution to outlaw subversion, sedition, treason and other crimes against the state.
The government recently began work on the legislation. Critics say officials are going too far ? apparently to please Beijing ? with a law so loosely written it would let the authorities trample on people's freedoms or ban groups the government doesn't like.
Hong Kong Secretary for Security Regina Ip has dismissed such concerns as groundless, saying the territory's laws also protect civil liberties, and that will not be changed.
Many here don't believe the government.
"I don't want Hong Kong to become like China," said Philip Cheung, a 48-year-old civil servant who joined Sunday's demonstration.
"The rights we have are not guaranteed in the future," grumbled a 25-year-old bank clerk, Sam Ho.
The demonstrators formed a line several people deep that stretched for 6 kilometers (3.5 miles).
Since Hong Kong's handover, free speech rights have been guaranteed under a government arrangement dubbed "one country, two systems," and there are hundreds of demonstrations every year, mostly involving dozens of people or fewer.
The size of Sunday's demonstration indicated massive discontent among ordinary Hong Kong citizens over the bill, which the government hopes to pass by July.
The Hong Kong Security Bureau said the protest proves the government's contention that local civil liberties are intact.
"Today's rally bears testimony to the freedom of expression and the right to demonstrate which are enjoyed by Hong Kong residents," the bureau said in a statement. "These rights and freedoms are guaranteed."
The protest snarled traffic in the city center in the late afternoon, but appeared to be winding down peacefully early Sunday night.
"Use your courage and stand up," some activists shouted, amplifying their message with loudspeakers mounted on a truck. Others displayed a mock guillotine calling the anti-subversion law "a knife above Hong Kong people."
Pro-democracy politicians and human rights activists opposed to the law have been joined by some in the business community who fear the exchange of some financial information could theoretically be targeted and wreck Hong Kong as a business center.
Wealthy newspaper publisher Jimmy Lai marched on Sunday, saying the law was "like an invisible, tightening collar."
Religious activists and members of the Falun Gong spiritual sect ? which is outlawed in mainland China as an "evil cult" although it remains legal in Hong Kong ? were also out in force.
Complaining about a lack of Chinese progress, Amnesty International exhorted American diplomats Friday to set specific goals and demand the release of political prisoners during a new round of human rights talks in Beijing next week.
"We remain deeply concerned by the lack of progress," the London-based organization said in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. "Without progress on these fundamental topics the effectiveness of the dialogue remains in question."
The meeting Monday in Beijing is part of a periodic series of human rights exchanges held by China since the mid-1990s with the United States, the European Union and other governments. Activists say such meetings produce little, while muting official criticism of China. U.S. and other officials release few details of their talks.
Amnesty cited a wide range of outstanding issues despite past talks with Washington, including torture in prisons and crackdowns on Internet dissent and the Falun Gong spiritual group.
Beijing routinely rejects human rights criticism as interference in its affairs. But it has carried on such dialogues since the mid-1990s with the European Union, the United States and other governments, and in recent years has shifted its public tone to acknowledge progress is under way ? though on China's terms.
Amnesty called on U.S. diplomats to tell Chinese officials that human rights will be an "integral part of the political dialogue" with Beijing.
"The U.S. government should the specify the overall aims, concrete objectives and time frame," its letter said. "Benchmarks for progress should be identified and complemented with a clear time frame for the achievements of these objectives."
The group said it sent a copy to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Lorne Craner, who will represent Washington at the Beijing talks. Craner is head of the State Department's human rights bureau.
The letter asked U.S. officials to convey a list of specific requests.
They include the release of Rebiya Kadeer, a prominent Muslim businesswoman imprisoned for sending newspapers to her activist husband abroad, and dissident Xu Wenli, who is serving a 13-year prison term and is reported to be suffering from Hepatitis B.
Amnesty said it recognized that engagement with China is a long-term process, and that "dialogue may not produce major changes in the short term."
However, it said that in some cases abuses have worsened, such as a recent Chinese crackdown on Internet use in which it said at least 30 people have been arrested on vague subversion or state-secrets charges.
Amnesty also complained of imprisonment, torture and sometimes death in the government's crackdown on independent Christian churches, Falun Gong and Tibetan, Muslim and other ethnic minority activists.
China has been accused recently of misusing the international campaign against terrorism to crack down on peaceful pro-independence sentiment in Tibet and among Uighurs, a Muslim minority in the northwestern Xinjiang region.
"Thousands of Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns remain in detention, while ethnic Uighurs, many of them Muslims, are falsely accused of being `separatists' or `terrorists,'" Amnesty said. "Many have been executed after secret trials."
Beijing has for the first time in a quarter century named a Politburo member to head the Ministry of Public Security.
Former party boss of Sichuan Province Zhou Yongkang last weekend took charge of China's 1.6 million-strong police forces.
The unusual appointment has underscored the central leadership's commitment to fighting crime and related problems including subversion and cult-related activities.
State media reported on Tuesday that Zhou had replaced Minister of Public Security Jia Chunwang, who will soon be made head of the Supreme People's Procuratorate.
The last time that a minister of public security was accorded Politburo status was in the mid-1970s, when former Communist party chairman Hua Guofeng doubled as police chief.
Moreover, newly promoted member of the Politburo Standing Committee Luo Gan will remain Secretary of the party's Political and Legal Affairs Commission, the country's highest organ in charge of police and judicial work.
The official People's Public Security Paper quoted Zhou as saying the authorities would crack down hard on efforts by "enemy forces within and outside China" to infiltrate, subvert and sabotage public order.
Falun Gong targeted
Zhou, 60, also indicated the police would target the Falun Gong spiritual movement as well as illegal activities by terrorist and separatist groups.
Moreover, the new police chief pointed out more work would be done to defuse "contradictions within the people," a code word for instability caused by disgruntled elements such as laid-off workers.
Political analysts in Beijing said it was rare that two Politburo members would handle the law-and-order portfolio.
They said this reflected the deteriorating internal security situation, which was expected to worsen in the wake of growing unemployment among urban and rural workers.
Zhou, believed to be close to National People's Congress Chairman Li Peng, is also slated to become First Political Commissar of the People's Armed Police, a para-military force often used to quell internal disturbances.
During his tenure as the No. 1 official in Sichuan, Zhou was believed to have played a role in cracking down on underground, pro-independence Tibetan groups within the western province.
Fifteen Falun Gong followers have died recently either in police custody or shortly after being released from detention centres where they were tortured, the outlawed spiritual group's New York office said yesterday.
Police at several detention centres where the victims were kept refused to comment.
However, a police officer at the Mishan City Detention Centre in Heilongjiang province confirmed that one of its Falun Gong inmates had died. "She died at a hospital," the officer said.
Liu Guiying, 43, was detained in March for publicising the persecution of Falun Gong, the group said.
After being detained, police tried to transfer her to the notorious Wanjia Labour Camp, but the camp turned her away because she showed symptoms of hypertension. Liu was instead transported back to a detention centre where she died in police custody on October 24, the group said.
Other cases cited by Falun Gong could not be immediately confirmed.
One of them, Li Hongwei, died on October 7 at a detention centre in northern Liaoning province, and family members said his corpse was covered with injuries from electric shocks, the group said.
Gai Liu, 60, from central Henan province, was arrested in September and two nights later was sent to a hospital and died shortly afterwards, the group said.
Police reports claim that the cause of death was related to disease, but Liu's relatives found a deep knife wound on her wrist.
Li Fenghua, a 44 year-old Falun Gong practitioner from Heilongjiang province, was taken into custody and sent to a labour camp for one year where she endured severe brainwashing and later fell into a coma. She never awoke and died on November 8, the group said.
Li's relatives presented her case to a court, but it refused to accept any cases related to Falun Gong.
The group said Kang Ruizhu was detained and taken to a brainwashing class last year where she was handcuffed to a tree for one week. She later managed to escape but was again detained in October and went on a hunger strike to protest at her illegal detention.
On October 27, police and local officials indicated that Kang had died, the group said.
The Buddhist-based Falun Gong has long said its practitioners who are sentenced to labour camps face torture and abuse on a daily basis.
Many practitioners have died in the camps, either from excessive forced labour, torture and abuse, lack of adequate nutrition and medical attention, or a combination of factors, the group said.
China banned Falun Gong as a so-called "evil cult" in 1999 and has since jailed or detained tens of thousands of practitioners.
HONG KONG - The Hong Kong government has secretly agreed with Beijing on parts of a planned anti-subversion law that some fear could crush people's freedoms here, a prominent opposition figure charged Thursday.
Lawmaker Martin Lee said Hong Kong and Beijing's "consensus" on the timing of the law and at least some of what it contains raise questions about the legitimacy of an ongoing public consultation the government here has promised.
"How genuine can this consultation be?" asked Lee, who has long been the territory's most prominent opposition figure but stepped down Sunday as chairman of the Democratic Party because of term limits.
Hong Kong's government has repeatedly said the public is being adequately consulted on the anti-subversion law, required under the territory's mini-constitution that was agreed upon by Britain and China before the 1997 handover.
Asked about Lee's comments on Thursday, Hong Kong officials noted that Secretary for Security Regina Ip has said it was only logical for Hong Kong to consult with Beijing on matters involving national security but that the technical and legal details will all be handled locally.
Lee said he has tried but failed to get answers on everything Hong Kong and Beijing have allegedly agreed on.
Lee accused Hong Kong officials of bending to Beijing's wishes by trying to make the law "compatible" with mainland China's laws against subversion, treason and sedition. He argued that Hong Kong has its own legal system with no need for similar laws.
"We drive on the left of the road, they drive on the right," Lee said in an address to foreign correspondents.
"If every law were compatible, where do you have one country, two systems?" Lee asked, referring to the government system put in place when Britain returned Hong Kong to China five years ago.
The system is intended to leave Hong Kong people in control of Hong Kong, with Western-style civil liberties and capitalist business rules intact, while Beijing handles matters such as foreign affairs.
Lee said the "most evil part" of the law, expected to take effect by July, would let Beijing certify political groups in the mainland as threats to China's national security, and applying that label to people in Hong Kong with no way for Hong Kong to challenge it.
"They can strike down any organization in Hong Kong with a certificate," Lee said.
He held out the Falun Gong meditation sect, outlawed as an "evil cult" in China but legal in Hong Kong, as a likely target.
The Hong Kong government has said it has no intention of using the law against Falun Gong.
HONG KONG - A Hong Kong man arrested for carrying Falun Gong materials into mainland China faces trial there Friday, according to fellow members of the spiritual group who worry authorities will make an example of him.
"They've already decided he's guilty. They're deferring to the wishes of senior Chinese leaders," said Kan Hung-cheung, a Hong Kong-based spokesman for Falun Gong, a spiritual movement outlawed in the mainland as an "evil cult."
Suen Chung-man was detained while trying to cross from Hong Kong into the border city of Shenzhen on May 14, when the Chinese authorities found in his luggage 100 video compact discs showing Falun Gong activities, said his wife, Wong Am.
Mainland police then raided a home Suen keeps in Shenzhen and seized 1,000 more Falun Gong VCDs, Wong said.
The Falun Gong remains legal in Hong Kong and frequently protests against Beijing's often-deadly crackdown in the mainland.
Suen, 47, was scheduled to face trial Friday in Shenzhen, Wong said, adding that her lawyer predicted Suen's case would take less than a day and end with a prison sentence of at least five years.
The Falun Gong released what it called an official letter from Shenzhen police, saying that Suen was arrested for allegedly "obstructing law enforcement through evil cult activities."
A telephone call to Shenzhen police's Longgang branch, which issued the letter, went unanswered Thursday afternoon.
BEIJING - Exhibiting their usual sensitivity over topics considered taboo, Chinese authorities intermittently blacked out broadcasts by CNN and the BBC on Sunday on satellite feeds to hotels and foreign compounds in the capital.
The brief, strategically deployed disruptions were apparently intended to limit exposure to issues or comments considered politically explosive, although most ordinary Chinese lack access to such international news channels.
The disruptions came as Communist leaders hold a weeklong party congress that is expected to anoint a new generation of leaders, as senior leaders led by 76-year-old President and party secretary Jiang Zemin step aside. Security for such events is intense, and state-run local media have been instructed to limit controversial or negative news.
Authorities blocked CNN file footage of an interview with dissident Fang Jue and a brief mention of Falun Gong, banned by the government in 1999 as an "evil cult," during a feature about the search among Chinese for spiritual solace amid the country's mad rush for material wealth, said CNN's Beijing bureau chief, Jaime FlorCruz.
He said the blacked-out segment, which lasted about 10 seconds, contained a mention that Falun Gong had attracted millions of followers before it was banned and showed footage of its members going through their exercise-meditation routines.
"At the same time, we've been allowed to broadcast using a videophone from Tiananmen Square," FlorCruz said Sunday night. "We've been lobbying for that for months and we got permission. In a way, it was a breakthrough for us."
Chinese authorities were outraged in April 2001 that CNN used its videophone to broadcast, live, the departure of American crew members detained on China's Hainan island after a U.S. spy plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet.
There were also reports that segments or parts of segments of BBC news broadcasts directed at Beijing viewers also had been blocked out since the congress began Friday.
Government censors can do that because of a delay of several seconds between the time the signal is received by the government's satellite, Sinosat, to the time it is relayed to earth stations and viewers in hotels and compounds for foreigners.
Sinosat carries state-run China Central Television and all other channels licensed for broadcast in China. The government recently required all foreign satellite broadcasts in China be carried via Sinosat.
The Chinese government bans public dissent and has sought to extend controls over state-run media to include news obtained over the Internet.
A Falungong practitioner claims that her husband has been taken hostage by Beijing police after she filed a lawsuit against China's leadership for human rights abuses.
Chinese asylum seeker Jennifer Zheng Zeng, 36, who lives in Melbourne with fellow Falungong members, said Friday she feared for the safety of her husband Cao Jianwei whose whereabouts were unknown.
She believed his arrest was related to her legal action against Chinese President Jiang Zemin because her husband is not a Falungong practitioner.
"I can't imagine any other reason for his arrest except to keep him as a hostage to threaten me," she said.
China, which brands the movement a dangerous cult, has jailed or sent to labor camps tens of thousands of adherents since it banned the movement in July 1999.
On October 21, Zeng was one of seven plaintiffs from six countries who filed a lawsuit with the UN committees on torture and human rights which was timed to coincide with Jiang's visit to the United States.
Another lawsuit was filed against Jiang by Falungong supporters in the US Federal courts during his visit.
Mrs. Zeng's nine-year-old daughter had been staying with elderly grandparents after police raided the couple's home on October 25, taking computers and arresting her 40-year-old husband.
The couple's friends in Beijing had been unable to locate Cao, a former manager of a Beijing University education investment company.
Mrs. Zeng heard of her husband's arrest through her parents-in-law.
"The police didn't tell them where he was taken to or on what ground he was arrested," she said. "We have no information about where he was detained and why he was taken away."
The couple came to Australia on a business trip in September last year.
Zeng's husband returned while she stayed behind, seeking refugee status because she feared she would be imprisoned for being a Falungong member if she went back to China.
In June, 2000, she was sentenced without trial to one year in a forced labour camp where she said she was subjected to shock treatment and worked 21 hours a day making toy rabbits for Nestle.
Nestle earlier this year said it did not use forced labour to produce its toys.
Zeng, who holds a bridging visa, said Australian immigration authorities refused her request to fast-track her application so that she could eventually bring her daughter to Australia.
HONG KONG - Hong Kong's tough talking security chief vowed on Wednesday not to use a planned anti-subversion law to outlaw the controversial Falun Gong spiritual movement as long as it behaves.
Falun Gong is banned in China, which took back control of Hong Kong from Britain in 1997. Despite a high degree of freedom guaranteed to the territory, human rights groups fear Beijing will press the local government to make the same move.
"We have not done that (banned Falun Gong) because we have not perceived any grounds for doing so," Security Secretary Regina Ip told journalists at a meeting to discuss the measure.
"Yes," Ip replied when asked if Falun Gong would be left alone if the group behaved in future as it does now.
Beijing has branded Falun Gong an evil cult and has arrested many members.
Its members have held regular peaceful protests in Hong Kong, though police often confine them to restricted areas. Followers are allowed to do special meditation exercises in public, but foreign members have been barred from the territory.
Beijing wants the anti-subversion law put in place quickly to prevent foreign forces from subverting the mainland.
However, rights groups say it is a powerful weapon that could be used to crack down on anyone critical of China or groups Chinese leaders do not like.
The constitution of Hong Kong requires it to enact the law to prevent acts of subversion, sedition and treason against, or secession from, the mainland.
The proposed law has quickly polarised Hong Kong since being unveiled late last month.
Pro-Beijing groups have backed it but lawyers, academics, rights and democracy groups bitterly protest some of its broader principles as giving the government and police too much power.
Chinese Vice Premier Qian Qichen set off more controversy at the weekend when he said the measure had the support of most Hong Kong people and criticised opponents as having "devils in their hearts", a reference to a guilty conscience or something to hide.
His comments provoked protest from newspapers and pro-democracy politicians, who accused Qian of bullying Hong Kong into accepting the legislation.
Ip, who appeared daily at public forums to explain the measure, was heckled by hundreds of students this week when she said a majority of Hong Kong people supported it.
BEIJING - The Taiwanese authorities should investigate and stop the Falun Gong cult from interfering the SinoSatellite (SINOSAT) system and prevent such incidents in the future, a senior official said here Wednesday.
Li Weiyi, spokesman for the Taiwan Affairs Office of China's State Council, said that at a press conference on Sept. 25, experts revealed signals by the illegal Falun Gong cult had severely affected program transmission from China Central Television (CCTV) and China Education TV Station (CETV).
The Taiwanese authorities were responsible for investigating the incident, since the source of the illegal TV signals had been traced to a position in Taipei city in Taiwan, said the spokesman.
However, at 10 a.m. on Oct. 24, illegal signals again began attacking transmissions from the SINOSAT 2A transmiter, he said. Later, they attacked the 2A and 3A transmiter repeatedly until 5 p.m. on Oct 29. Specialists had confirmed after monitoring and analysis that the source of the illegal signals was in Taipei.
The spokesman urged the Taiwanese authorities to promptly investigate the incident.
A team of Chinese professionals traveled to a residential treatment center in southeast Ohio to learn treatment techniques for dealing with Falun Gong, a controversial spiritual movement.
Five members from the Bejing-based Chinese Anti-Cult Association visited the Wellspring Retreat & Resource Center this week.
The center, 80 miles southeast of Columbus, is promoted as the only accredited residential-treatment center in the country for former cult members.
"We are very eager to learn from their experience in the transition of cult members. We feel that cults are a global problem," said Wang Yusheng, director general of the China Science and Technology Museum and vice president of the anti-cult association, which helps rehabilitate former cult members.
"I'm sure I will return home with a lot of new ideas about how to do our job better," he said.
Falun Gong combines Taoist and Buddhist ideas with exercise and meditation, and claims millions of followers. Li Hongzhi, who now lives in the United States, started the movement in 1992.
Practitioners describe it as an ancient, peaceful practice that improves physical and mental health. Critics call it a cult and portray its leader as an extremist. The Chinese government has outlawed the movement.
Wellspring founder and director Paul Martin, a psychologist who is a former cult member, said what some view as a religion, others call a cult.
"What we deal with here are groups that are destructive, that are very, very pathological. It's a con," Martin said.
He called the visit by the Chinese a "significant opportunity to advance the field of cult awareness."
HONG KONG - Shedding their yellow protest shirts for sequin-laced evening gowns, members of Falun Gong are taking to the stage for a variety show aimed at polishing their public image.
Banned as an "evil cult" in mainland China and just tolerated in Hong Kong, Falun Gong says its performances are also designed to showcase practitioners' talents and preach the group's message.
"The performance carries special significance in Hong Kong. It's not like in the West where people commonly sympathize with and accept Falun Gong," said Kan Hung-cheung, a spokesman for the group.
"We need to show the public that Falun Dafa is beautiful and good for mankind," Kan said, referring to the group's beliefs.
Since Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule five years ago, residents of this former British colony have retained many Western-style liberties denied to mainland citizens. Those freedoms allow Falun Gong members to practice and protest here ? but not without limits.
Earlier this year, 16 Falun Gong followers were convicted on obstruction charges for protesting outside a Chinese government office.
Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa has echoed Beijing's disapproval, dubbing the group an evil cult.
But the group is still allowed to hold public events. In addition to performances Thursday and Friday evening, members plan several demonstrations over the weekend, with police permission.
Hoping to improve mixed perceptions about the group, Falun Gong followers traded their usual protest garb of bright yellow T-shirts Thursday night for elegant evening gowns.
Top government officials were invited, but declined to attend, Kan said.
Against a light blue backdrop, a woman belted out in operatic fashion a song about an illiterate person who learned how to read after becoming a Falun Gong adherent.
The evening was an international affair ? devotees from Taiwan, Japan, the United States, Germany and France also performed.
The performances aren't intended as mere entertainment. Some numbers criticize the mainland's crackdown on the group, which Falun Gong members claim has killed more than 500 people. Chinese authorities have detained thousands of Falun Gong followers, releasing most after a few weeks, though officials say some have died from hunger strikes or refusing medical help.
It was unclear just how much public impact Thursday's event, held at a concert hall in a Hong Kong suburb, might have given that many in the audience of 500 or 600 people appeared to be Falun Gong members or supporters.
Falun Gong hosted a high-profile global conference in City Hall last January, much to the chagrin of pro-Beijing figures. This time, the group was told that downtown facilities were all full.
Phylomena Fung, a spokeswoman for the Culture and Leisure Services Department, said that Falun Gong's applications to use public facilities were treated no differently than those of other groups.
Falun Gong had several million followers in China when Beijing banned it as a threat to communist rule and public safety. Several hundred are thought to remain active in Hong Kong.
Members contend that their practice of meditation exercises and their unique philosophy, mainly based on Buddhism, promotes good health and morality.
What Is Falun Gong? See "Falun Gong 101", by Massimo Introvigne
"Falun Gong 101. Introduzione al Falun Gong e alla sua presenza in Italia" (in italiano), di Massimo Introvigne
FALUN GONG UPDATES
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