"Heavy Chinese police presence deters sect protests"

("Reuters", October 29, 1999)

A display of brute force by Chinese police appeared on Sunday to have quelled an extraordinary week-long series of protests by defiant members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.
Beijing's Tiananmen Square bustled with Chinese of all ages strolling and sightseeing in bright autumn sun where two days earlier plainclothed security officials kicked, beat and dragged protesters away by the hair.
Members of Falun Gong, outlawed by decree in July, staged silent protests all week outside the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square, where the top committee of China's parliament on Saturday passed a law outlawing cults.
Police did nothing on Sunday to stop tens of thousands of citizens and tourists from enjoying the Tiananmen sights and posing for photographs in front of Mao Tse-tung's portrait. But authorities took no chances in the wake of the National People's Congress passage of the anti-cult law. The huge crowd was riddled with uniformed and plainclothed officers who kept an eye out for Falun Gong followers and foreign journalists.
Law calls for hefty prison terms The law, which calls for hefty prison terms for convicted offenders, left no doubt that Falun Gong would be shown no mercy.
It called on law enforcement authorities "to be on full alert for cult activities and smash them rigorously in accordance with the law," the official Xinhua news agency said.
Convicted organizers would be liable to jail terms of three to seven years and for serious offenses, including recruiting, seven years would be the minimum, Xinhua said.
On Saturday, police detained several dozen Falun Gong members on the square, most of whom readily confessed their allegiance and walked calmly to waiting police vans.
Tough law called government duty The Communist Party flagship newspaper hailed the law as a "powerful legal weapon to smash evil cultist organizations, especially Falun Gong."
"Evil cults are a cancer in society and an international phenomenon which no responsible government can tolerate," said the People's Daily commentary on Sunday.
China officially branded Falun Gong a cult on Thursday and the new law is expected to pave the way for a harsh crackdown.
Many Falun Gong practitioners have been rounded up and the trials of prominent leaders are expected to begin soon.
China accused 13 sect leaders this week of stealing and leaking state secrets. Although state secrets can be almost anything not officially made public, the crime can carry the death sentence.
Xinhua said on Sunday that on October 19, Beijing police arrested four key Falun Gong members -- Li Chang, Wang Zhiwen, Ji Liewu and Yao Jie -- on charges ranging from undermining the law to stealing and leaking state secrets.
Falun Gong -- a mixture of Buddhism, Taoism, meditation and breathing exercises -- claims 100 million members worldwide. Beijing says two million is more accurate.
Followers deny Falun Gong is a cult, insist it is no threat to the Communist Party, which has 60 million members, and say they are baffled at the crackdown on people striving for self-improvement.
China denies persecution Beijing denies persecuting them, saying China is a country ruled by law. But it says the movement "seduces, brainwashes and blackmails," and vowed to show no mercy.
"Cult organizations that have destroyed normal social orders and stability through illegal gathering, led to the deaths of practitioners, and rapes of women and swindled money should be dealt with severely," Xinhua quoted the law as saying.
Hundreds, possibly thousands, of Falun Gong members have come to Beijing, usually by car to avoid identity checks at railway stations and airports. They stay in safe houses to avoid similar checks at hotels.
In April, more than 10,000 of them suddenly turned up to squat outside the Chinese leadership's Zhongnanhai compound close to Tiananmen Square to demand official recognition for the sect.
The protests jolted authorities, who began a campaign to vilify the group and arrest its leaders.
Members follow the teachings of their U.S.-based leader, Li Hongzhi, who preaches salvation from a world corrupted by science and technology. Li is fiercely anti-gay.

"Falun Gong Protests Intensify"

by Charles Hutzler ("Associated Press", October 29, 1999)

BEIJING (AP) - As police tackled them and dragged away at least one by the hair, members of Falun Gong stepped up their campaign of defiance today, petitioning Chinese leaders to end an intensifying crackdown on their banned spiritual movement.
Teams of plainclothes and uniformed police rushed about Tiananmen Square today, attempting to put a stop to five days of protests that until today had been largely quiet and peaceful. At least 50 people were taken from the vast square, some of them shouting at police as they were wrestled to the ground.
Police set upon a handful of university-age Falun Gong practitioners as they took out a letter beseeching the communist government for tolerance. Officers twisted one youth's arm, forcing him to double over, chased down another fleeing across the street and grabbed the hair of a third, pulling him into a clutch of police.
The renewed confrontations proved how undaunted Falun Gong followers remain despite a three-month ban on the once widely popular group and a fresh wave of repression ordered by the communist government.
Spreading a dragnet across Beijing, police have arrested at least 3,000 group members this week from every part of China except Tibet, a Communist Party source said on condition of anonymity. A directive issued Wednesday night, he said, ordered tightened security at government buildings, airports, railroad and bus stations in all major cities.
Falun Gong members had seeped into the capital in recent weeks on word that the government was preparing fresh measures to subdue recalcitrant followers. On the run as members of an outlawed group, they have slept in homes of sympathizers, at construction sites or any other place they can find.
``We've been forced to sleep on the streets, under bridges, along avenues, passageways, with the possibility of arrest at any time,'' said Qu Dehong, who with his wife and 11-year-old son, left their Jidong county home in the chilly northeast for Beijing nearly six weeks ago.
``People sleeping on the streets is only the tip of it,'' said Yang Chunguang, a 28-year-old clothes merchant from the northeastern provincial capital of Changchun. Too poor to buy bottled water, some are drinking out of toilets, using plastic containers found in the trash, he said.
Binding them together are a firm conviction in Falun Gong - a blend of slow-motion exercises and Buddhist and Taoist ideas believed to promote health and morality - and the tools of modern communications. Some carry mobile phones and pagers. They use the Internet to keep in touch with members in the United States, Australia and other countries.
Through e-mail and mobile phones, believers in recent days have tried to counter the police action by contacting foreign reporters, discarding an earlier reluctance to use the Western media.
``We know nothing good will come of being videotaped by foreign journalists. But we must do it to explain our teachings,'' said Yang. ``We are waiting for a fair airing of our views by the government.''
Chinese leaders, frightened by Falun Gong's popularity and flair for secretive organization, banned the group in July. Since then, thousands of rank-and-file members have been detained and forced to recant their beliefs. Dozens of organizers are believed in jail awaiting trial.
Chinese leaders this week initiated a new five-step campaign to eradicate the group by early next year, the Communist Party source said.
As the first step, the party newspaper People's Daily ran a stinging front-page diatribe officially branding the group ``an evil cult'' instead of just an illegal organization. At a weeklong session, senior legislators prepared a law that would lengthen prison sentences for members and organizers of cults.
After its expected adoption Sunday, courts throughout the country will be told to use the new law in trials against leading members, the party member said. He added that once the ringleaders are put away, investigators will turn to secondary members.
One organizer, Xu Xinmu, could go on trial as early as next week in Shijiazhuang city for ``revealing state secrets'' by passing on information on the crackdown to other members, a Hong Kong-based human rights group reported. Officials at the city's Qiaoxi district court said they knew nothing about the case.
Also in Hong Kong today, about 60 Falun Gong practitioners gave the city's government a letter demanding that Beijing stop vilifying the group. Falun Gong is not banned in largely autonomous Hong Kong.
The Falun Gong members want Hong Kong to pass the letter to the Chinese leadership.
A spokeswoman for Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa said it will be relayed to Beijing.


"Tiananmen Square still under police siege after Falungong protests"

("AFP", October 29, 1999)

BEIJING, Oct 29 (AFP) - Beijing's Tiananmen Square remained under tight police surveillance Friday after a week of protests by the banned spiritual group Falungong. Scores of police coaches circled around the outskirts of the massive square in the centre of the Chinese capital while plain clothes officers continued to mingle with civilians monitoring potential demonstrators.
"I was tapped on the shoulder by a policeman who asked me if I was a follower of Falungong," said Ding Yan, who said she was from Hebei in northern China.
"I said yes and he dragged me into his van," she told AFP.
Ding Yan, arrested on October 17, said she had been beaten by the police but managed to escape during her transfer to a detention centre.
"It is very easy for the police to arrest us because we do not put up any resistance," she said.
"They cannot believe it. They have been told that they must arrest criminals but they realise we are completely harmless."
Falungong followers from across China have been arriving in Beijing all week to register their opposition to draft legislation, being discussed by a standing committee of the Chinese parliament, which would give authorities increased powers to crack down on "heretical cults."
Arrests of Falungong members in Tiananmen Square have run into the hundreds.
Falungong was officially banned on July 22, three months after 10,000 followers demonstrated here in the biggest protests seen since the 1989 democracy protests, which ended in the Tiananmen Square massacre.
The group says at least 10 of its followers have been beaten to death in police custody since July.
"Some were arrested during the demonstrations. Others have been followed home by plain clothes police then arrested," said Cai Mingtao, a young Falungong follower who arrived in Beijing at the beginning of the week.
Followers of Falungong say they are ready to defy the authorities' attempts to repress their movement, which has been the subject of a stepped-up campaign of condemnation from the official media this week.
"If beating me removes your hatred for Falungong, I am ready to take your blows," Ding Yan said she had told her police captors.
The members believe that this kind of determination will persuade the authorities to abandon their attempts to suppress the movement.
"They are not happy about arresting us -- they themselves tell us they are only obeying orders." said Ding. "One officer even wanted to return to me works by (Falungong guru) Li Hongzhi that he had confiscated.
"I told him to keep them to read to real criminals."
China's branding of Falungong as a "heretical cult" has raised fears that this week's arrests herald a harsher crackdown against the movement which advocates breathing and meditation exercises and moral living.
The communist government considers Falungong as the biggest threat to political stability since the 1989 democracy protests.
The first trials of Falungong members are expected to begin next week, in the northern city of Shijiazhuang, Hebei province.
As some Falungong followers have been charged with "leaking state secrets" they could face the death penalty, human rights groups fear.

What Is Falun Gong? See "Falun Gong 101", by Massimo Introvigne


CESNUR reproduces or quotes documents from the media and different sources on a number of religious issues. Unless otherwise indicated, the opinions expressed are those of the document's author(s), not of CESNUR or its directors.

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