A top Belgian lawyer will bring a court case against China's former premier Jiang Zemin on Wednesday, saying his crackdown on the Falun Gong spiritual movement broke Belgium's human rights law.
One of the plaintiffs in the case, Matthias Slaats, told Reuters on Tuesday a number of Falun Gong members in countries including Belgium, the United States and Australia were filing the suit for torture, crimes against humanity and genocide.
''We think we have a very strong file otherwise we would not proceed with the case,'' he said.
Their lawyer, Georges-Henri Beauthier, has represented the plaintiffs in Belgium's most notorious case, that against Marc Dutroux, who is to stand trial for abduction, rape and murder.
He also brought the first successful case under the human rights law, in which two Rwandan nuns were sentenced to between 12 and 20 years for their part in the country's 1994 genocide.
The Belgian parliament watered down the law earlier this month after suits against U.S. President George W. Bush and key U.S. officials soured relations with the United States.
Under the reformed law, only Belgians or long-term residents of the country could bring a legal action, and only within strict conditions and international immunity rules.
Practitioners of the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual movement commandeered China's main television satellite twice this week, the Chinese government said Friday.
Sino Satellite, known commonly as SinoSat, was "taken over by illegal TV signals" transmitted by Falun Gong at 9:05 p.m. Tuesday and at 8:23 p.m. Wednesday, the Ministry of Information Industry said.
The action prevented Chinese audiences from watching programs on China Central Television and China Education Television, among others, the government said.
Though the government's Xinhua News Agency did not detail what was transmitted during the intervention, Falun Gong members in the past have sent programs about their movement and the abuses they say it endures.
Falun Gong representatives in the United States say that hacking is the only way they can circulate their message within China.
"(Falun Gong) practitioners in China have discovered a nonviolent means - one that harms neither people nor equipment - to break through the information blockade and let the people see programs that openly show the human rights violations happening in their own country," Falun Gong spokesman Erping Zhang said last week in a release posted on the group's Web site.
The Chinese government banned Falun Gong in 1999 as a threat to public safety and calls it an "evil cult."
The movement has attracted millions of followers with a mix of traditional Chinese calisthenics and doctrines drawn from Buddhism, Taoism and the ideas of its founder, Li Hongzhi, a former government clerk.
Since it was banned, thousands of its followers have been detained by the Chinese government. Activists abroad say scores have died in police custody from beatings or mistreatment.
Former Chinese president Jiang Zemin, or rather a padded cardboard box wrapped in a black T-shirt that is representing him in effigy, is getting a lecture on the details of human immolation: "We all know that hair is one of the first things that burn on a human body," says a woman, called as a witness in a mock trial yesterday at the West Front of the Capitol.
This little fact about self-immolation matters at the moment because the Chinese government has accused the Falun Gong spiritual movement of (among many other crimes) inciting its members to burn themselves in protest. Falun Gong members, who met in Washington over the past few days to mark the fourth anniversary of a brutal repression that began under Jiang's rule, deny the charge. And in yesterday's mock trial they produced a videotape they claim shows, among other inconsistencies, a self-immolation victim whose hair isn't burning the way one might expect. Conclusion: The self-immolation incident, which was widely broadcast (with devastating effect on Falun Gong's popularity) on Chinese television, had nothing to do with Falun Gong and may have been set up, misrepresented or somehow faked.
Four years into the struggle between Falun Gong and the Chinese government, there is a sense that this has become an insular squabble, charge and countercharge, claim and rebuttal, all of it becoming rather too internecine for casual observers to sift the facts from the chaff. At a meeting in the Rayburn House Office Building on Monday, Falun Gong practitioners argued that the Chinese government's repression has extended its long reach to the United States. They say Chinese officials hire thugs and illegal immigrants to intimidate, threaten and beat up Falun Gong believers. People told of vandalized apartments, arson, and ominous calls from Chinese consulate officials to hotel proprietors, newspaper publishers and anyone else who hosts, or supports, or helps Falun Gong spread its message.
A Chinese Embassy spokesman denies it, but there's enough concern that Rep. Henry Hyde raised the issue of an attack on a Falun Gong practitioner in Illinois when the Republican met with Li Peng, a top Chinese official, last year. Li responded, according to sources familiar with the meeting, with a familiar line: Falun Gong is an evil cult.
If the hundreds of people in yellow T-shirts, sitting cross-legged in neat rows underneath yesterday's braising sun and rain, feel wounded, it's because "cult" is a label that sticks very easily. It was unveiled, in earnest, four years ago when large Falun Gong demonstrations in China so unsettled the Chinese government that it began an often-violent crackdown. But even if Jiang Zemin was on trial yesterday for the crackdown -- accused of torture, economic repression, even, say his accusers, genocide -- he has also managed to put Falun Gong on trial in the court of public opinion.
"Falun Gong has been outlawed by the Chinese government," says Sun Weide, spokesman of the Chinese Embassy. "The reason for this is that this evil cult has committed many crimes. It has caused over 1,700 deaths, including those people killed by Falun Gong practitioners, including people who have burned themselves."
These kinds of charges (vigorously denied and mostly unsubstantiated), and especially the word cult, can sow confusion and suspicion, followed by a befuddled indifference, among outsiders.
Cult is a word without much use outside the realm of religious mudslinging. Falun Gong certainly doesn't qualify in the limited, pernicious sense of the word: It does not coerce obedience, brainwash its members, gouge them for money or compel worship of its founder, Li Hongzhi. It doesn't wear down their egos, then build them up in the new image of the spiritually transformed. Most of the writings of Li Hongzhi, who now lives in the United States, are expressly apolitical. The basic Falun Gong motto, "Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance," couldn't be less threatening.
But Falun Gong isn't just about these pleasant generalities. Its specific beliefs about how the body works, how science intersects with spirituality, and the benefits of practicing Falun Gong, are more controversial. Practitioners generally describe Falun Gong as a fusion of traditional Buddhist and Taoist elements, but there is a strong overlay of what -- from a skeptical, outsider's point of view -- reads like pseudo-science. Li Hongzhi's basic text, "Zhuan Falun," frequently claims that modern science has found evidence to support spiritual claims; for instance, that humans have a "third eye" that can be opened through spiritual practice.
He also uses science to make claims about his own spiritual powers.
"I have also been tested, and the detected radiation of the generated gamma rays and thermal neutrons was 80 to 170 times more than normal matter," he writes, though this is a rare moment of self-aggrandizement.
Michael Yang, a Falun Gong practitioner and a medical doctor trained in both Western and Eastern traditions, says that there is no particular obligation of any practitioner to believe everything in precisely the same way. As a psychiatric resident with Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, he says he has seen the benefits of Falun Gong with patients. But he has also heard the caricatures of Falun Gong from its critics.
"Aliens, supernormal abilities," says Yang, a bit wearily. "I don't need to defend [Li Hongzhi] for that."
Conversations with several Falun Gong members suggest that a spectrum of belief -- that some people believe after a fashion and others just believe -- is perfectly acceptable within Falun Gong. That means, even though it is not considered a religion, that faith in Falun Gong is a lot like faith in any other spiritual system. Part of the challenge is figuring out one's personal relationship to the miraculous, the unlikely and the irrational.
As for the popularity of Falun Gong among some intellectuals and scientists, Robert Oxnam, a former president of the Asia Society, speculates that the desire to join the Falun Gong movement -- to be part of one of the most serious challenges to China's authority since the protests of Tiananmen Square -- may help override doubts about the particulars of practice.
"It is a little bit like what happened in the 1960s in the United States," he says. People signed on to movements and worried about the full implications of it all afterward.
As for the Chinese government, its motivations for the repression are equally multifaceted. Two theories are generally advanced. One is about numbers, the other is about history.
The numbers theory says that any group that grows too large - at its height, Falun Gong claims it had 70 million to 100 million believers - in China will be swatted down. At the mock trial, a witness argues that Jiang was petty and jealous, that he "felt threatened by the ability of [Falun Gong] practitioners to gather in such large numbers."
The history argument makes a parallel between Falun Gong and the Boxer and Taiping rebellions in 19th-century China. Both had spiritual, mystical components. According to scholar Frank K. Flinn of Washington University in St. Louis, the "Chinese authorities have never underestimated the power of the religious component to motivate the masses."
Both the numbers and the history argument may have truth to them. But there seems more to it, something about Falun Gong that suggests a "perfect storm" argument as well. Falun Gong was introduced to the public in 1992 when China was suffering the ups and downs of moving towards a more capitalist system. Old social safety nets were becoming frayed. The Internet soon made it easy to spread new ideas. And Falun Gong dealt with old spiritual crises - such as envy and resentment - that had taken on new meaning as economic inequity became more pervasive.
Li Hongzhi's writing also suggests a mechanics of moral exchange that makes Falun Gong particularly resilient. Virtue, he says, is a material white substance that surrounds the body like an energy field in another dimension. Virtue can be exchanged, almost like a commodity.
"While one person is here swearing, with this swearing, a piece of virtue from his own dimensional field leaves and goes to the other person," he writes. "The more he swears at him, the more virtue he gives him."
In Christianity, the meek will inherit the Earth, but who knows when, and in what fashion. With Falun Gong, the meek are constantly racking up the virtue lost by those who oppress them; suffering replenishes them.
Around 11 a.m. yesterday, before the mock trial began, a little breeze came over the Capitol lawn, a short burst of music sounded from a loudspeaker, and suddenly a crowd that had been milling around, standing for pictures, distributing signs, was quiet. From hubbub, silence and as if on cue, people were seated, hands together, faces serene.
There's something uncanny about large groups of people doing things in precise, orderly ways. Falun Gong may have terrified the Chinese government not so much because of an explicit threat to its control but because it moved and operated by mysterious, immanent principles that mystified officialdom.
Those principles would probably mystify the U.S. politicians who have signed on to the defense of Falun Gong over the years, and the tourists who stop by the edges of the protest meeting yesterday. But, here, under the shadow of the Capitol, the people's right to do mystifying things is not being abridged. And the more mystifying those things are, the more impressive that right is.
WASHINGTON - Chinese prison authorities force-fed an American Falun Gong member who went on hunger strike last week, the State Department said on Tuesday.
U.S. citizen Charles Li, a member of the banned spiritual movement, is serving a three-year sentence after a Chinese court found him guilty of sabotaging television broadcasts.
Li told U.S. officials on July 16 that he intended to go on hunger strike in protest at his treatment.
"We understand he was force-fed on July 17 and that he resumed eating normally on July 18," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told a daily briefing.
"Our consulate general in Shanghai has inquired as to the methods employed in force-feeding and we are awaiting a response from Chinese authorities," he added.
On Friday the United States complained to China about the treatment of Li, who is from Menlo Park, California, and is also known as Chuck Lee. The State Department said he had been forced to attend anti-Falun Gong study groups but gave no other details of his complaints.
China branded Falun Gong an "evil cult" in 1999 after thousands of followers shocked the government with a mass protest around the Beijing leadership compound near Tiananmen Square, demanding official recognition of their faith.
The group combines a mixture of Taoism, Buddhism, traditional Chinese breathing exercises and the ideas of its founder, Li Hongzhi.
HONG KONG - More than 1,200 Falun Gong supporters rallied in Taiwan and Hong Kong Sunday, calling for an end to China's persecution of the sect.
Peaceful demonstrations marked the fourth anniversary of Beijing's ban of Falun Gong, a meditation sect declared "an evil cult" by the Chinese government in 1979, Voice of America reported.
About 200 protesters in yellow shirts walked through downtown Hong Kong and held a meditation session in front of the government headquarters, VOA said.
In Taiwan, about 1,000 people marched in the southern port city of Kaoshiung. Organizers called on the international community to help stop the persecution of its members on mainland China.
The sect claims more than 700 of its members have been tortured to death, but the government has denied mistreating the prisoners.
Falun Gong remains legal in Hong Kong, even though it has reverted from British to Chinese rule.
A civil lawsuit alleging domestic violence, false imprisonment and other abuses has been filed against the exiled leader of a Chinese spiritual movement whose disciples have numbered in the millions.
Hong Bao Zhang, 49, is being sued by Qing Xin Yan, a woman who claims she was Zhang's domestic partner of 12 years, and that she was the second in command in his Zhong Gong movement. Zhang is the founder and "master" of the movement that has claimed up to 40 million followers, according to experts in the China democracy movement.
Zhong Gong is reportedly the largest of the traditional Chinese "qi qong" organizations spiritual wellness groups that use meditation and breathing exercises to promote holistic health.
Yan now lives in Alameda County, where she runs the Chinese Federation Development Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes democracy and human rights in China, said her Oakland-based lawyer, Arthur Liu.
Yan's lawsuit seeks $23 million in general and punitive damages. The amount is high because the case also includes an alleged breach of contract, Liu said. The complaint says Zhang agreed to pay Yan her share of the tens and millions of dollars they made together.
"She was so instrumental in his success, she managed his businesses, she was the second- highest person in Zhong Gong," Liu said.
Yan is the second woman to recently accuse Zhang of physical and emotional abuse. He faces four felony charges for allegedly beating and imprisoning his housekeeper and personal assistant, Nan Fang He, 49, March 15 at his northeast Pasadena home. She also has filed a civil lawsuit against Zhang.
Zhang was arrested March 15 by Pasadena police and booked on felony charges stemming from the alleged beating. He was freed on $100,000 bond, and has a hearing scheduled for July 22 in Pasadena Superior Court.
Because of Zhang's immigration status, experts say a felony conviction could lead to Zhang's deportation to China, where he could be executed for crimes he allegedly committed there.
Zhang's criminal attorney, Mark Geragos, said there's "no truth' to the criminal charges against Zhang.
"I don't know of any accusation that's ever been proven that he's got any violent nature at all," Geragos said.
Yan and Zhang became domestic partners in April 1989 and Zhang allegedly started "abusing, threatening and torturing (Yan) physically and emotionally" in August 1990, the complaint said. In some cases, the complaint says that people witnessed the beatings, which have allegedly left Yan with permanent scars, injuries and emotional pain.
Liu said he has videotapes and pictures showing bruises and injuries to Yan's body after an alleged beating in Washington, D.C.
Yan didn't report the alleged beatings to the police because she believed "she was in the control of (Zhang) and she could never win fighting against him," the complaint said. "(Zhang) is a very powerful man with millions of followers and billions of dollars at his disposal. Yan has now reported the beatings to the Pasadena Police Department and has been interviewed by a detective," Liu said.
"Zhang has allegedly made, and continues to make death threats to Yan," Liu said.
"She's traumatized, she can't sleep at night, she's fearful," Liu said.
Attorney Matt Geragos, Mark Geragos' brother who represents Zhang in the civil cases, said he hasn't seen the Yan lawsuit, but he denies any alleged violence by his client.
"My view is that because of his popularity they find him to be an easy target," Matt Geragos said. "He's going to defend all of (the charges)."
According to Yan's complaint, filed June 26 in Pasadena Superior Court, Zhong Gong had numerous successful business ventures including hospitals, factories, travel agencies and universities.
Liu said Zhong Gong has provided Zhang with "billions and billions of dollars' worth of assets all over the world."
In 1999, the Chinese government started putting Zhong Gong followers in labor camps or prisons, so Zhang and Yan eventually fled, the complaint said. Yan obtained political asylum in the United States in July 2000 and Zhang obtained asylum in April 2001, according to the complaint. Powerful Washington figures, including Sens. Trent Lott, R-Miss., and Jesse Helms, R-N.C., were among those who successfully lobbied to offer Zhang asylum.
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
[Home Page] [Cos'è il CESNUR] [Biblioteca del CESNUR] [Testi e documenti] [Libri] [Convegni]
[Home Page] [About CESNUR] [CESNUR Library] [Texts & Documents] [Book Reviews] [Conferences]