CESNUR - Center for Studies on New Religions directed by Massimo Introvigne

"S Korea deports Falun Gong pair"

by John Sudworth ("BBC," August 12, 2009)

Seoul, South Korea - South Korea has sent two members of the Falun Gong spiritual group back to China after they had their applications for political asylum turned down.
A further 31 Chinese nationals also face the risk of deportation following a court ruling that they cannot prove that they face persecution back home.
Falun Gong, which combines meditation with Buddhist-inspired philosophy, is banned in China
The movement's members say they face arrest and abuse in China.
South Korea deported the two Chinese members of the Falun Gong spiritual group in July after they lost their battle for refugee status.
In March this year South Korea's Supreme Court upheld a ruling denying asylum to a group of more than 30 Falun Gong members.
It said that they could not prove that they had been persecuted in China and nor could they show that they had played leading roles in spreading Falun Gong teachings.
Their supporters claim that South Korea is acting under pressure from the Chinese government and that the actions make a mockery of Seoul's condemnation of China's forced repatriation of North Korean refugees.
But a ministry of justice spokesman denied any political interference, saying that the government cannot grant asylum without clear evidence of the risk of persecution.
Campaigners for the two Falun Gong members sent home so far say that they have been unable to make contact with them.
They say two other members of the group are being held in an immigration detention centre in South Korea and are in imminent danger of being repatriated.

"Chinese official: Beijing has won the battle against Falun Gong"

("AsiaNews," July 22, 2009)

Beijing, China - China has won the battle against Falun Gong, the practice of which has now been eradicated. This according to an official from an association close to the Communist government, who boasts the "success" of the campaign launched in 1999 by Jiang Zemin to uproot the cult considered "illegal" and "subversive”.
Li Anping, of the China Anti-Cult Association - a movement of volunteers that has government support - said that people have understood the “true nature of the movement” and that it “is [now] impossible for them to organize mass activities”. Beijing, however, is maintaining a low profile on this issue, the official newspaper makes almost no mention of the campaign of repression against Falun Gong.
Abroad, activists and followers of the movement have organized marches and demonstrations to remember the violence of the Chinese government. The Falun Gong Information Center, an organization based in New York, denounces the killing of 3 thousand followers and tens of thousands of cases of torture.
In recent days the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) reported the arrest of three lawyers in north-eastern China, for their defence of Falun Gong followers. The detentions occurred between July 2 and 8. They are Ruping Liu, Wang Ping and Wang Yonghang and their fate is shrouded in silence. Commenting on these reports, Renee Xia, international director of CHRD, expresses "concern", stressing that “these actions could signal a gradual deterioration of the situation, for lawyers who fight for human rights in China”.
Falun Gong is the practice of meditation and physical exercises inspired by Buddhist and Taoist traditions, with care paid to gymnastics and breathing, the quest for health, immortality, peace and harmony. On 25 April 1999 over 10 thousand followers demonstrated peacefully in Beijing against the violation of their rights. In July 1999 - at the suggestion of the then President Jiang Zemin - a fierce persecution against the group, which counted about 100 million followers in China, began. The movement was branded as a "heretical organization" and "a threat to social and political stability”.

"Falun Gong followers rally in D.C."

("The Washington Times," July 20, 2009)

Washington, USA - Falun Gong practitioners and their supporters gathered on the Mall on Sunday to observe the 10th anniversary of a Chinese crackdown on the spiritual movement.
Organizers said thousands of people were participating in quiet meditation early in the afternoon
A rally and concert were planned for later Sunday and were also expected to draw thousands. Several people who said they and their relatives were persecuted by the Chinese government for their beliefs were expected to speak.
Falun Gong has attracted millions of followers since its founding in 1992 with its program of traditional Chinese calisthenics and philosophy drawn from Buddhism, Taoism and the often-unorthodox teachings of founder Li Hongzhi. Its followers claim no political agenda.
Falun Gong has no roster of members, but by 1998, its practitioners were estimated by Chinese officials to number about 70 million within China.
The drive by China's Communist Party leaders to obliterate the spiritual sect has left a human toll ranging from the deaths of followers in custody to the self-exile of others and the beatings of their lawyers.
The group says at least 3,200 of its members have been tortured to death by the Chinese government. It cites Wang Lixuan, who had to watch her 7-month-old son die in front of her after he was hung upside down. Then police broke her neck and crushed her skull.
The April 25, 1999, protest, which involved an estimated 10,000 practitioners at the Communist Party of China headquarters in Beijing, alerted the communist government to the group's strength and wide appeal.
The demonstration was intended to show how Falun Gong believers had learned compassion, forbearance and tolerance, said one of its practitioners. But the size and discipline of those who gathered unsettled the communist leadership, ever wary of independent groups that could threaten its authority. Two months later, the group was labeled an "evil cult" and banned.

"Falun Gong seeks US support in Internet censor fight"

by Lucy Hornby (Reuters, July 20, 2009)

Beijing, China - Ten years after a government crackdown drove it underground in China, Falun Gong is trying to position itself to get U.S. government funds to help defeat Internet censors worldwide.
The spiritual group's efforts to stay in contact with its members in China spawned a sophisticated effort to evade Chinese censors, which has now expanded enough that it was used by Iranian protesters to get around government controls in June.
A decade since the crackdown began, Falun Gong has spread overseas. There it has taken on a more political agenda against the Communist Party of China, which in turn still fears its organisational power.
At the centre of the effort is the Global Internet Freedom Consortium (GIFC), made up of about 50 software engineers and Falun Gong practitioners, said Zhou Shiyu, a faculty member at Rutgers University in New Jersey and spokesman for the group.
"We started out to stop the persecution but we helped people in free societies, which we are very proud of, because we know the pain of people in these societies," said Zhou.
GIFC didn't get any the $15 million earmarked by the U.S. Congress in 2008 to support efforts to defeat Internet censors, in part because of Falun Gong's anti-China stance.
Possibly in an effort to counter that image, the "about us" section of GIFC's website doesn't mention Falun Gong -- a group better known for its protests in New York and Hong Kong with graphic illustrations of alleged torture than for its technical wizardry.
"There's a lot of politics over who gets the next allocation of Congressional funding," said Rebecca MacKinnon, who teaches journalism and media studies at the University of Hong Kong.
"Because GIFC didn't get the last round, they are fighting hard for this one."
Many students and tech-savvy youth bypass government Internet controls with virtual private networks and other work-arounds. But GIFC's vision is to allow even the non-savvy to break through China's controls, rendering them ultimately ineffective.
"Our goal is not this elite user. We want to make this massive and decisive, to tear down the wall," Zhou said
Political agenda
China began arresting key Falun Gong leaders on July 20, 1999. Two days later, it launched a propaganda blitz against the group, which it has banned as a "cult".
Some on the mainland still practise quietly, although others are subject to detention or harassment. Falun Gong says over 3,000 members have died in custody over the past 10 years.
The group, which had already used emails to organise followers in an unusual mass protest, began its Internet effort in late 1999, a few months after the crackdown.
"It became a cat-and-mouse game on the Internet," Zhou said.
By 2003, China set up its Golden Shield programme, to channel Internet traffic and aid monitoring and filtering content. GIFC's platform and other VPN providers have become necessary tools for Chinese seeking to circumvent the controls.
This summer, China backed down on plans to mandate all new computers come with Green Dam filtering software, which Chinese officials says combats porn. Rights groups said it potentially blocked any politically sensitive content at the user level.
Falun Gong's software, which is relatively easy to install, is available through a dynamic URL, making it more difficult for Chinese filters to identify and block. Once installed, it allows users to navigate to blocked sites without being detected.
Some technology specialists say GIFC's platform is not as transparent as competing software, and lacks privacy rules governing the user data that is collected.
GIFC estimates a million people a day use its software in China, and 400,000 in Iran. It is also popular in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Myanmar, Zhou said.
After GIFC launched a Farsi service, the surge in traffic crashed its servers. The group first suspended services to Iran, then decided to divert resources after the Tehran protests began.
"It's unfortunate, we have really run out of resources. We would like to help but we are limited," Zhou said. "People worked overnight just to keep it going."
No matter how fancy, no programme could get around China's Internet controls after July 5 riots in Urumqi, when Uighurs turned against the majority Han Chinese. China has simply cut off all Internet services in the region since then.

"Falungong gather for city protest"

by Achara Ashayagachat ("Bangkok Post," July 17, 2009)

Bangkok, Thailand - About 100 Falungong practitioners will gather in Bangkok today to condemn a decade-long ban imposed on the sect by the Chinese government.
They will gather at Banjasiri Park to condemn the Beijing government and hold a candlelight service to remember their colleagues who died from torture and suppression by Chinese authorities.
The gathering is part of a worldwide Falungong campaign.
In 1999, Falungong practitioners staged the largest and most protracted protest in China since the Chinese democracy movement of a decade earlier.
The protest prompted the Chinese government to outlaw the Falungong sect and carry out a campaign against its practitioners.
China has always sought diplomatic and police cooperation from Thailand to ensure that at least there will be no Falungong protests in front of its embassy in Bangkok and during visits by high-ranking Chinese officials.
Meanwhile, Thai Muslims plan to condemn China's harsh action against ethnic Muslim Uighur people in the Xinjiang region after their recent clashes with Han Chinese.
The Bangkok-based Muslim for Peace Group has urged the Chinese government to exercise restraint. Northern Thai Muslims will gather at Chang Klan Mosque in Chiang Mai before handing a petition to the Chinese consul-general in the northern city today.

"China's 10-year campaign to crush Falun Gong drives movement underground"

by Alexa Olesen (AP, June 20, 2009)

Beijing, China - Now entering its second decade, China's relentless drive to obliterate the Falun Gong spiritual sect has left a human toll ranging from the deaths of followers in custody to the self-exile of others and the beatings of their lawyers.
Saturday marks the 10th anniversary of a protest by an estimated 10,000 practitioners who stood silently around the Communist Party leadership compound in Beijing, alerting the government to the group's strength and wide appeal.
The April 25, 1999, demonstration was intended to show how Falun Gong believers had learned compassion, forbearance and tolerance, said practitioner Bu Dongwei in a telephone interview from the United States, where he fled six months ago.
But the size and discipline of those who gathered unsettled the communist leadership, ever wary of independent groups that could threaten its authority
Two months later, the group was labeled an "evil cult" and banned, its leadership arrested, and a campaign launched to forcibly reconvert millions of believers. Anyone practicing Falun Gong or even possessing materials about it could be arrested.
Followers say the crackdown cost the lives of 3,200 practitioners, including 104 last year.
The government says some Falun Gong followers have died in detention because of hunger strikes or refusing medical help. But it denies any have been intentionally killed.
U.S.-based spokesman Levi Browde said since 1999 the group has recorded more than 87,000 cases of torture and estimates that anywhere from 200,000 to 1 million practitioners have been detained for various lengths of time.
Though less visible now that Falun Gong has been driven underground in China, the crackdown remains as vicious as ever, he said.
"The brutality continues and the systematic nature is the same and may have escalated a bit," Browde said.
At a highway off-ramp on the outskirts of Beijing, Yu Qun, a non-practitioner, reluctantly met an Associated Press reporter to show pictures and tell the story of her younger brother, Yu Zhou, a folk musician and a practitioner who died last year in police custody.
Tall and musically gifted, Yu Zhou studied French at the elite Peking University and later lived a Bohemian existence in China's capital with his wife, an artist and poet.
"Really happy, funny. He really liked people, whether they were strangers or people he knew well ... He had a gentle personality and was always thinking of other people," she said, cradling a small collection of his snapshots in her lap.
Yu, 41, and his wife were stopped, allegedly for speeding, as they drove home from a concert. Police detained the couple after finding CDs and printed material about Falun Gong in their car.
Ten days later, Yu Qun was called to the detention center's hospital. Her brother had died but authorities were unclear about the cause. More than a year later, the case remains unresolved.
Yu Zhou's wife, Xu Na, is serving a three-year sentence at a reeducation through labor facility.
The Chinese government contends Falun Gong brainwashes people into believing the practice can cure them of illness. It also alleges the movement convinced several members to self-immolate at Tiananmen Square in 2001, where a mother and her 12-year-old daughter died.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said at a regular press briefing Thursday the movement was harmful because it caused "illness, disablement and even death of many innocent people," but she did not give specifics.
"The Falun Gong cult violates human rights by controlling people's minds," Jiang said. "We encourage the entire society to help those practitioners who have been taken in."
Falun Gong attracted millions of followers in the 1990s with its program of traditional Chinese calisthenics and philosophy drawn from Buddhism, Taoism and the often-unorthodox teachings of founder Li Hongzhi, a former government grain clerk who now lives in hiding overseas. Organized by volunteers, the group claims to have no political agenda.
International human rights groups, the United Nations and numerous Western governments have criticized China for its crackdown, particularly its reeducation through labor, a system that allows authorities to imprison practitioners without trial.
In recent years, a handful of Chinese lawyers have begun taking Falun Gong cases. Cheng Hai, a self-trained Beijing lawyer represents Yu Zhou's wife and family, as well as six other practitioners. He says he was beaten earlier this month while trying to visit the home of another Falun Gong client.
"In China, a lot of people feel it's not worth fighting for their rights because they are so likely to fail," Cheng said. "They don't know that the big victories are won by adding up many, many small wins and actions."
Bu, the practitioner who took part in the 1999 demonstration, was sent to a labor camp for 2-1/2 years after a search of his home in 2006 turned up Falun Gong books.
In November, Bu and his young daughter boarded a plane for the United States, knowing if he stayed he would continue to be persecuted. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Los Angeles.
"I hope I can go back. I am sure I will go back soon after, you know, the Communist Party is over," he said.

"Arrests at demo against Chinese leader in Slovakia: report"

(AFP, June 18, 2009)

Bratislava, Slovakia - Slovak police detained nine people on Thursday after a scuffle broke out during a human rights protest against visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao, a local news agency and witnesses said.
SITA news agency quoted a police spokesman as saying authorities had detained "nine people, including six Slovaks and three citizens of the People's Republic of China."
According to the news agency, a woman holding a poster with text promoting the Falun Gong movement - which is outlawed in China - had to be treated by medics after being pushed to the ground.
Slovak Falun Gong Association chairman Peter Tatarko told the agency that a group of supporters welcoming the president pushed the woman.
Police were not immediately available for comment.
A witness claimed "attackers" tried to tear down the human rights activists' posters.
"The Slovak police detained the protesters instead of the attackers," Juraj Kusnierik told AFP.
Eduard Chmelar from Amnesty International Slovakia, who said he witnessed the incident, told AFP one of the protesters "hurt his head and had to be taken to hospital, and a woman from the Falun Gong Association with a head injury was treated on the spot."
Bratislava's City Hall had banned the rally planned by six non-governmental groups including Amnesty International, the Falun Gong Association and Friends of Tibet Society, officially because the square in front of the presidential palace was reserved for the president's office, said Chmelar.
The six NGOs called on top Slovak officials to discuss human rights with the Chinese president.
Hu arrived on Thursday from Moscow for a two-day visit to Slovakia, his first ever. The former communist country is his only stop within the European Union.
Falun Gong, loosely based on Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian philosophies, was founded in 1992. The sect grew in China to include tens of millions of followers in 1999, prompting the government there to ban it as an "evil cult."

"Chinese rights lawyers face limbo over registration"

by Chris Buckley (Reuters, May 31, 2009)

Beijing, China - Chinese lawyers taking on contentious human rights cases face limbo from Sunday after authorities did not approve an annual registration step the lawyers said was being used to stifle their work.
The dispute comes days before the 20th anniversary of the June 4 crackdown on pro-democracy protests in 1989. Rights lawyers are among the groups the ruling Communist Party has sought to contain at this sensitive time.
The 18 or so lawyers whose work may be stymied belong to a loose network of advocates who have challenged the government over deaths in prison and labor-reeducation camps, farmers stripped of their land, children sickened by toxic milk powder and other sensitive cases.
The annual registration required by government rules is usually a routine step that must be completed by May 31. But the lawyers facing effective disbarment said they appear to have been punished for taking on contentious clients, including members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual sect.
"All of the lawyers I know who haven't passed (the registration) are rights defense lawyers, so it looks like the authorities want to send a warning signal," said Jiang Tianyong, a Beijing-based lawyer who, among other causes, offered to represent Tibetans accused of crimes in riots in March last year.
He and six other lawyers interviewed said judicial officials have never expressly linked their registration problem to their rights advocacy.
"We think it may be because this year is so sensitive and we lawyers who don't follow orders are considered a threat," said Jiang. "But these things are never said so bluntly."
Xiao Lizhu, the official at the Beijing Bureau of Judicial Affairs in charge of registering lawyers, declined to comment on the rights lawyers. Li Bingru, secretary-general of the Beijing Lawyers Association, which helps administer the registration also refused to comment. "This is none of your business," he said.
Over the past decade, many rights activists have turned their energies to grassroots causes, challenging officials through court cases, public petitions and - when censorship allows - domestic media coverage.
Most of the lawyers interviewed said they were likely to receive the registration stamp eventually, but they were unsure whether they will be allowed to work until then.
"This seems to be a selective thing, more a warning than a permanent thing," said Zhang Kai, a rights lawyer who said he did receive the registration stamp after lobbying officials.
Lawyers who have not passed said they would continue working until told otherwise by officials.
Wang Yajun, preparing for a court hearing in northeast China on Monday about a member of Falun Gong, said he was unsure whether the court would accept his credentials.
"Our rights defense work ... will be threatened," said Li Xiongbing, another Beijing lawyer.
"If we've violated any laws, then we should be prosecuted. But this is just a covert form of punishment," he said.

"Chinese lawyers say they were beaten, detained"

by Christopher Bodeen (AP, May 14, 2009)

Beijing, China - A Chinese lawyer says he and a colleague were detained and beaten by police while visiting the family of a man who died under suspicious circumstances in a labor camp.
Zhang Kai said he and Li Chunfu were meeting with the family of Jiang Xiqing in the western city of Chongqing on Wednesday afternoon when more than two dozen officers entered the home, demanded identification papers, then kicked and beat them.
The two were taken to the local precinct station where they were interrogated before being released after midnight with a warning not to represent the family, Zhang said.
"We were beaten up and insulted, but we never got a real explanation from police as to the reasons for our detention," Zhang said in a telephone interview.
Recent months have seen an upswing in detentions, harassment, and attacks on lawyers involved in sensitive cases, while rampant abuse of detainees has led the nation's top investigative body to order a clamp down on torture and beatings.
Human rights groups also reported that Jiang had followed the banned Falun Gong spiritual practice, something Zhang and Jiang's daughter, Jiang Hong, would neither confirm or deny.
Authorities have relentlessly persecuted practitioners of the meditation sect since banning it as an evil cult in 1999. Followers say the crackdown has cost the lives of 3,200 practitioners, including 104 last year.
Despite such intimidation, a growing number of lawyers have agreed to represent sect followers or their families, a trend met with further violence and harassment. Beijing lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who took on several politically charged cases, including alleged persecution of Falun Gong practitioners, has been missing since February and is presumably in police custody.
Zhang said Jiang Xiqing died on Jan. 28, allegedly of a heart attack, although his body showed broken ribs and other signs of a beating.
"The city prosecutor explained that his ribs were broken during the emergency treatment. But we believe that is totally not true," Zhang said.
Reached by phone, Jiang Hong said authorities had not even told them why her father was being detained when they took him away in May of last year.
"They've never told us anything," Jiang said.
Calls to Chongqing police headquarters rang unanswered Thursday.

"China Still Presses Crusade Against Falun Gong"

by Andrew Jacobs ("ocala.com," April 28, 2009)

Beijing, China - In the decade since the Chinese government began repressing Falun Gong, a crusade that human rights groups say has led to the imprisonment of tens of thousands of practitioners and claimed at least 2,000 lives, the world’s attention has shifted elsewhere.
The drive against the spiritual group has eliminated its leadership, decimated the ranks of faithful and convinced many Chinese that the group is an “evil cult,” as the government contends. But 10 years on, the war on Falun Gong remains unfinished.
In the past year, as many as 8,000 practitioners have been detained, according to experts on human rights, and at least 100 have died in custody. Among them were Yu Zhou, 42, a popular Beijing musician, and Cao Changling, the 77-year-old vice director of a paper plant in Wuhan, whose bruised body was returned to his family by the police last summer just as China was reveling in the glory of the Olympic Games.
In recent months, scores of practitioners have been given long prison terms, including Zhang Xingwu, a retired physics professor from Shandong Province who last week was sentenced to seven years after the police found Falun Gong literature in his apartment, according to family members.
The continued crackdown highlights the difficulty of eradicating a movement whose adherents stubbornly cling to their beliefs, but it also provides a window into the psyche of an authoritarian government that, despite its far-reaching power, remains deeply insecure.
From the outset, the group, which at its peak claimed to have millions of followers around China, insisted that it wanted only legal recognition, not political power. But the country’s top leaders were alarmed by the group’s ability to attract a devoted following from so many citizens - from retired functionaries to pimple-faced college students.
The decision to ban the group entirely was made after 10,000 Falun Gong adherents staged a silent protest outside the gates of Zhongnanhai, the Communist Party’s leadership compound in Beijing, to complain about reports in the state-run media that the group said were defamatory. Security forces apparently had no advance knowledge of the demonstration, which took place on April 25, 1999, and they began treating the group as a threat to national security.
“Even a soccer team with an organization like Falun Gong might have produced the same reaction,” said T. Kumar, the Asia advocacy director for Amnesty International.
Although the propaganda juggernaut has eased in recent years, Falun Gong remains a toxic subject in China. Few academics will speak about it on the record, and the Internet is scoured clean of information that might be construed as sympathetic to Falun Gong, an amalgam of Buddhism, mysticism and qigong, the traditional exercise regimen that remains broadly popular here.
For the Falun Gong devotees who practice in secret, the only glimmer of hope has come from a small but growing number of lawyers who have dared to take on their cases. Even if the legal efforts have mostly come to naught, until recently Falun Gong detainees were denied even the right to a lawyer.
Last week, Jiang Yu, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, reiterated the government’s long-held stance that Falun Gong warrants suppression because it emphasizes meditation and the paranormal over modern medicine. “The Falun Gong cult violates human rights by controlling people’s minds,” he said in response to a reporter’s query.
Among experts based outside the country, there is broad consensus that the government’s efforts have not done much to advance its own interests, at least internationally, where it has been dogged by allegations that it uses torture to crush believers into submission.
‘The excesses and the savagery have really lowered the quality of the government and harmed its reputation abroad,” said Jerome Cohen, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and an expert on Chinese law. “They’re paying a high price for the cruelty to these people.”
According to Falun Gong followers and Chinese lawyers who take on their cases, that cruelty continues unabated.
Among those swept up in the purge were Yu Zhou, the musician, and his wife, Xu Na. They were stopped for speeding in January 2008, according to their lawyer. After the police found Falun Gong materials in their car, both were detained. Ten days later, Mr. Yu’s sister was told that he was gravely ill, the result, she was told, of a hunger strike complicated by diabetes. His sister, Yu Qun, says her brother did not have diabetes. She contends that he died at the hands of his captors.
The family’s efforts to investigate Mr. Yu’s death have been thwarted by the police and prosecutors, who refuse to allow an autopsy or even issue a death certificate.
Ms. Xu, who is a well-known poet and painter, was given a three-year term.
“I don’t understand why this happened to them because they didn’t do anything to break the law and they weren’t promoting the group,” Ms. Yu said.
According to former detainees and human rights organizations, Falun Gong detainees are frequently subjected to harrowing abuse, particularly those who refuse to swear off their faith. Bu Dongwei, 41, a longtime adherent who spent three years in a labor camp, said he was forced to share a room with about 30 people, most of them petty thieves and drug addicts who were encouraged to abuse the Falun Gong detainees.
Mr. Bu, a trained geneticist, left China in December and now lives in Los Angeles.
While the group’s initial goals were official legitimacy and an end to persecution, the ceaseless campaign against them has radicalized many adherents, especially those living outside China. In cities around the world, Falun Gong devotees - and their offbeat re-enactments of torture and gory visual aids - have become a common sight. The group has dedicated itself to the demise of the Communist Party, which has complicated the lives of adherents inside China.
Falun Dafa, the organization that oversees the movement from its headquarters in New York, is led by Li Hongzhi, a former grain clerk who began spreading his mystical brand of qigong in 1992 but fled China before the crackdown began. Once known for charismatic preaching, he has spent much of the past decade living a reclusive life in Queens.
David Ownby, the author of “Falun Gong and the Future of China,” said that Mr. Li and his followers may have made a tactical mistake by massing in Beijing, but that the Communist Party erred by interpreting their actions as a threat to its rule.
“If either side had played their cards more intelligently, Falun Gong could have been co-opted by the government,” said Mr. Ownby, who is a professor of East Asian studies at the University of Montreal. He added, “This horrific loss of life could have been avoided.”

"No Falun Gong in Vietnam: official"

("The China Post," April 10, 2009)

Hanoi, Vietnam - The Falun Gong spiritual group, outlawed in China, does not exist in Vietnam despite a report to the contrary, the foreign affairs ministry said Thursday.
"At the moment, Falun Gong does not exist" (in Vietnam), Le Dung, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told a media briefing when asked to comment on a BBC report.
"Vietnam encourages all sports activities or activities to improve the health of the people. However, all the activities must be compliant with the Vietnamese regulations and laws."
Falun Gong, which is loosely based on Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian philosophies, was founded in 1992. The sect grew in China to include tens of millions of followers in 1999, prompting the government there to ban it as an "evil cult."
The movement has a fast-growing number of followers in Vietnam but the exact number is unknown, the BBC reported on its website this week.

"Falun Gong finds followers in Vietnam"

by Nga Pham ("BBC," April 07, 2009)

Hanoi, Vietnam - Labelled an "evil cult" and banned in China, the Falun Gong spiritual movement has found a new breeding ground in neighbouring Vietnam, with a fast-growing number of followers.
The exact figure is unknown, although some estimate it to be in the thousands. This is despite the fact that Falun Gong is not officially allowed by the Vietnamese authorities.
The regime clearly does not want Falun Gong to be another potential point of conflict in the already tangled bilateral relationship with China.
But organising meetings is becoming easier, and group meditation can now be seen in public locations.
In Thong Nhat Park in central Hanoi, a dozen men and women are united in a group breathing exercise, their arms tracing arcs through the early morning mist.
They look serene and undisturbed, but it has not always been the case.
Chinese propaganda against Falun Gong has made an impact, and Vietnamese official media still describes it as an illegal, reactionary religious sect.
"When I first started, it was extremely difficult to be a Falun Gong practitioner," recalls Tran Hieu, a 32-year-old architect.
"Nearly all of us got called in and questioned by the police, who wanted to know how we got involved and who brought Falun Gong to us. Some were so frightened they've quit," he says.
He has been practising Falun Gong for almost five years and describes its impact on his life as "nothing short of a miracle".
"I got married five years ago and was told by my doctor that it would be impossible for me to have children.
"But Falun Gong changed that, and I'm now a proud father of a son," he says.
Silent protest
Like many in Vietnam, Mr Hieu found Falun Gong on the internet and was attracted by the health benefits that the spiritual discipline promises.
On phapluan.org, a Falun Gong website in Vietnamese, members exchange similar extraordinary experiences. They can also learn more about the doctrine, as well as download the exercise manual
Founded by Li Hongzhi and introduced to the public in 1992, Falun Gong claims to have one hundred million practitioners in more than 80 countries.
Based loosely in Buddhist and Taoist teachings, Falun Gong offers meditation exercises and promotes the core values of truth, compassion and forbearance.
It was banned in China in 1999 after more than 10,000 of its members gathered at the Communist Party headquarters in Beijing in a silent protest against repression.
The spiritual movement was deemed by the Chinese leadership to be "the gravest threat to society for half a century."
But Mr Hieu says: "It teaches us to be good people, to live a correct and useful way - it's not a political movement."
Major embarrassment
Just last week, police in Ho Chi Minh City dispersed a gathering in a city centre park, questioned the participants and confiscated all their materials.
Some allege that China is pressuring Vietnam over Falun Gong.
In the past the Chinese government has reportedly asked foreign states to ban Falun gatherings.
Even in Hong Kong, where it is legal, there have been several occasions when Falun Gong tried to hold meetings in public places but was stopped by the local government, says Willy Lam, a lecturer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
But he says, unlike in mainland China, Falun Gong has never been able to come into mainstream Hong Kong society and is therefore "not a threat" to central government.
"In fact, the organisation has weakened and its numbers have gone down," Mr Lam says.
In his opinion, even Beijing no longer considers Falun Gong a major threat, and Vietnam does not need to be overtly nervous about the movement.
"I'm sure the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi is keeping watch," he says.
"But as long as Falun Gong members don't cause major embarrassment to the regime by, say, staging mass protests during foreign official visits, there won't be any bad reaction."
One long-time practitioner in Ho Chi Minh City says Falun Gong followers have been seeking to get the practice legalised for years - but to no avail.
"We need to prove [to the authorities] that we mean no harm to the society. But it seems to need more time," says Nguyen Nam Trung.
But with a number of contentious issues straining Sino-Vietnamese relations, including territorial disputes, it seems that right now Hanoi does not want to take any chances.

"Three Men Set Themselves on Fire inside Car in Beijing"

by Maureen Fan ("Washington Post," February 25, 2009)

Beijing, China - Three men set themselves on fire inside a car in an expensive shopping district in downtown Beijing on Wednesday afternoon, police and state media reports said.
A preliminary investigation of the high-profile protest showed the men had come to the capital to file grievances with the central government, police said, in a common tactic that local governments often try to squash. Unnamed sources told the Reuters news agency that at least one of the men might have come from the restive Uighur minority in China's northwestern Xinjiang province. Xinjiang public security officials would not confirm the report, which comes as authorities step up security ahead of several sensitive political anniversaries this year.
At 2:50 p.m., a car with out of town plates pulled up to the southern end of the Wangfujing pedestrian street, a popular tourist spot, Beijing police said in a faxed statement. When police approached the suspicious-looking car, the interior suddenly burst into flames. Police put out the fire and sent two of the men to the hospital, where their injuries were said to not be life-threatening. A third man was taken away by ambulance, the New China News Agency said without elaborating.
Self-immolations in China have been used as political statements or last-resort protests by individuals upset that the government has not solved their complaints. In 2001, five people the government said were members of the banned Falun Gong sect set themselves on fire in Tiananmen Square, the scene of a deadly crackdown on student protests 20 years ago this June. Falun Gong denies that people who set themselves on fire are true followers. Three years ago, a man protesting not being paid set himself on fire in the same square, which is about half a mile from Wednesday's incident.
On Wednesday, a witness told Reuters they saw "some kind of incendiary device" explode as police wrenched open the door of the small grey hatchback, which had three Chinese flags attached to its roof.
The apparently limp body of a man pulled from the car was laid out on the street, the witness said, while police pulled a screaming woman from the passenger side. It was not immediately clear if the woman described by the witness was a fourth person in the car or one of the three people that police identified as men.
Police also removed blankets and cans from the back seat, according to the witness, who was passing by on a bicycle.
Chinese counterterrorism experts have warned that supporters of separatist movements fighting to end Chinese rule in Tibet and Xinjiang as well as Falun Gong adherents could stir up dissent and possibly turn to self-immolation and self-poisoning.
Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the World Uighur Congress, an exile group based in Germany, said he was trying to determine whether Uighurs were involved. "One thing I must say that the situation of Uighur people is too bad to be described. A crisis can happen at any moment. There are a lots of Uighur petitioners in other places, too, but the government calls the peaceful protests of Uighurs 'terrorism.' Uighur petitioners are discriminated against in Beijing; they can't even find a hotel to stay in."
Li Li, a spokeswoman for the Public Security Department of Xinjiang, said: "We have no information about the self-immolation attempt and there is no evidence that the three are from Xinjiang. All information should come from the local police bureau in Beijing.

"Chinese banknotes with 'hidden' Falun Gong messages"

("AsiaNews," February 04, 2009)

Beijing, China - The banned Falun Gong spiritual movement is countering China’s official censorship by printing messages on real renminbi banknotes and putting them back into circulation to mark the 10th anniversary of its banning.
Messages are in fine print, and the ink colour is very close to the original colour of the money, usually Five and ten - yuan notes - only by closely looking at them can the message be noticed.
The messages defend the group’s beliefs and ask the central government to stop persecuting its members.
Many such banknotes were found, especially in Yunnan and Sichuan.
The movement preaches mediation and spiritual and physical self-improvement, but is considered “evil” and dangerous by the government, which outlawed it on 22 July 1999. Followers can end up in jail and any kind of proselytising by them is severely punished.
This is causing real problems to those who end up with them because if they try to spend these banknotes they might be accused of spreading the Falun Gong message. Some people have had banks refuse to take them even though they are real banknotes.
Falun Gong followers are very creative in trying to counter censorship in other ways as well. Many DVD sold by street vendors have had pro-Falun Gong propaganda messages inserted in the middle of otherwise ordinary movies.
Official sources from the group have reported that persecution in China is responsible for the death of more than 3,000 followers, the torture of another 63,000 and the arrest of many hundreds of thousands.

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