by Kevin Platt ("The Christian Science Monitor", December 28, 1999)
BEIJING - China's Communist leaders are trying to use show trials and harsh sentences meted out to leaders of the Falun Gong spiritual movement to warn a range of political and religious groups not to challenge the party's authority.
But this strategy could backfire, says a Western official.
"The [Chinese] government might succeed in driving many religious and political activists underground, but die-hards could be driven to organize a new wave of protests" against the repression, adds the official, who asked not to be identified.
Beijing abruptly announced on Christmas Eve that four Falun Gong leaders would be tried two days later, and the rushed, one-day proceedings ended in convictions and jail terms of between seven and 18 years.
"The trial was very carefully managed at a very high level and timed to coincide with the Christmas holiday to minimize Western press coverage," adds the official. Western diplomats and rights groups that monitor China say the severity of the punishment and lack of legal safeguards in party-staged trials of Falun Gong are likely to infuriate millions of followers throughout China and the world.
"Many Falun Gong members have posted protest articles on the Internet, and the Communist Party itself says that the group holds demonstrations every day in Tiananmen Square," in central Beijing, says Frank Lu, who heads a Hong Kong-based rights watchdog agency.
"The world is watching in disbelief as the Chinese government is putting on a show trial to sentence innocent Falun Gong practitioners," the group says on its Web site. "The charges made against these people are fabricated, groundless, and are in violation of the Constitution of the [People's Republic of China] and of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."
The group, which claims 100 million members worldwide, with most followers in China, says it "is being brutally persecuted in China because the number of Falun Gong practitioners exceeds the membership of the entire Communist Party."
The outnumbered party, which has 60 million members, has orchestrated a crackdown in which "tens of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners suffered inhuman treatment like arrests, beatings, torture, [and] dismissal from school and work," the group says.
Li Hongzhi, the Falun Gong founder who lives in exile in New York and now heads the Chinese security bureau's most-wanted list, is similarly using the Internet to communicate with his outlawed followers. In a statement on the same Web site, Mr. Li says that "if the persecution continues, it could cause the people to lose confidence in the Chinese government and its leadership."
Li is calling for a dialogue with Beijing and says that if the crackdown continues, "human lives could be at risk."
"What would occur would be beatings, killings ... another Tiananmen incident," he warns. Li is referring to massive pro-democracy protests here in 1989, when Chinese troops and tanks were deployed in a violent crackdown whose casualty tolls range from several hundred to several thousand.
Security was tight around Tiananmen Square over the weekend, and dozens of suspected Falun Gong practitioners have been detained there in the last few days, says the Western official.
One of the main charges against the Falun Gong leaders involved "endangering state security" by organizing 10,000 followers to surround Zhongnanhai, the party's leadership compound, and overrunning Tiananmen in April.
The demonstration was the largest staged here since the 1989 crackdown on dissent, and Chinese President Jiang Zemin "ordered the security forces to prepare for a full-scale assault on Falun Gong," says a Chinese official.
But Falun Gong leader Li Chang, a senior police official at the time, and two of his co-defendants warned followers of the impending clampdown. They have been subsequently charged with "leaking state secrets."
"It's kind of Kafkaesque to be charged with releasing secrets on the campaign against Falun Gong" when the group was still legal in early July, says the Western official.
The four Falun Gong leaders were arrested days before the party abruptly banned the group on July 22, and the legislature later rushed through a law on "evil religions" to retroactively criminalize many Falun Gong activities.
Another major charge against the Falun Gong defendants is that the group counseled followers to improve their health through a series of breathing exercises and Buddhist meditation rather than through medical care.
"Falun Gong teachings led to the deaths of 1,400 Falun Gong members, and the leaders are therefore responsible for the unintentional killing of these followers," says Liu Nanlai, a legal scholar at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a government think tank.
Rights monitor Lu says the state "used fake evidence on this charge of unintentional homicide.... How can they prove that Falun Gong's leaders are responsible for these deaths?"
The Western official agrees. "There is only a very tenuous link, if any, between the leaders of Falun Gong in Beijing and practitioners throughout the country, and it's virtually impossible to prove the defendants unintentionally killed anyone," he says.
"This trial is meant to send a message to other religious groups, including Christians, and to the China Democracy Party that no organized protests will be tolerated," he adds.
But rights monitor Lu says the sentences, along with impending trials of another 200 senior Falun Gong leaders, "are angering not only Falun Gong followers, but also ordinary Chinese and legal scholars opposed to the crackdown."
by Erik Eckholm ("The New York Times", December 28, 1999)
BEIJING, Dec. 27 -- Most mornings in a large park in western Beijing, near the stone marker labeled Oasis of Life, hundreds of cancer patients practice ritual exercises as they try to harness the invisible forces of qigong to fight their disease.
"HAAA! HAAA!" shout those with lung cancer, trying to expel "bad" elements from their lungs as they take a stylized walk. Other patients simply stride in a deliberate way for four hours at a time, their arms shifting in a prescribed fashion.
A dozen newcomers circle around Yu Dayuan, a disciple of the Guo Lin school of anti-cancer qigong, named for the late master who developed it in the 1970's.
Many of the novices have already endured surgery or chemotherapy and been told that their cases are hopeless. They have come to learn how to mobilize the forces of qi that are said to reside in the body and the environment. They learn the trademark meditative walk, and they hear Mr. Yu's uplifting speech.
"Don't worry," he says. "Even if you didn't have cancer you'd die some day. There are benefits to being a cancer patient: your family will take good care of you and give you nutritious food."
"But the negative side," he adds, "is that you have to go through surgery, and you may die."
This thriving anti-cancer movement, replete with the testimonials of cured patients, is one of hundreds of variants of qigong (pronounced chee-goong) that continue operating in China, even as the authorities pursue their harsh crackdown on one prominent offshoot, Falun Gong, and step up their scrutiny of the others.
The official acceptance of some qigong sects while others are crushed is part of a two-decade, often tortuous effort by the government to distinguish supposedly scientific, beneficial qigong from practices that are labeled superstitious and then curbed. Officially branded as a superstitious "evil cult," Falun Gong was banned in July. On Sunday, four leaders were given stiff prison sentences for, among other charges, allegedly telling ill followers that they could dispense with conventional medicine.
Since the campaign to eradicate Falun Gong began, attendance in the anti-cancer group here in Yuyuantan Park has dropped off sharply, Mr. Yu, himself a long-term cancer survivor, made a point of saying, because people fear attracting the attention of the police.
But the group has patrons high in scientific circles, avoids making broad spiritual claims and has not held anything like the illegal demonstrations that got Falun Gong into trouble, and Mr. Yu continues to proselytize without being bothered.
While the concept of qi forces, or vital energy, is ancient and pervasive in China, the term for the exercises, qigong, was first widely used in the 1950's, and the movement blossomed only as political controls relaxed in the 1980's and 90's.
From the beginning it presented the Communist authorities with a conundrum.
"Officials wanted to promote what they considered to be a truly Chinese science," said Nancy Chen, a medical anthropologist at the University of California at Santa Cruz who has studied qigong groups. "They wanted to retain the best qualities of qigong, and they believe that it really does have healing properties. What they wanted to control was the simultaneous possibility of widespread social movements."
Whether the situation is parallel or not, tense officials are well aware that mystical cults in the past have erupted into huge, disruptive political forces, like the Taiping Rebellion of the mid-19th century and the Boxers at the turn of the 20th century.
The official campaign against Falun Gong, which began only after members staged a huge illegal demonstration in Beijing in April, is the latest and most publicized of several crackdowns on sects of qigong, Ms. Chen said. The banned groups all had messianic leaders who, like the founder of Falun Gong, were accused of fostering cults and gained large followings, she said.
The distinctions between supposedly valid and bogus forms of qigong are blurry, because every sect has masters claiming what by Western standards are supernatural powers. But ongoing groups like the anti-cancer club in the park are especially careful now to limit their claims.
"Ours is a scientific path, not a superstitious one," Mr. Yu said in a conversation in the park, rattling off figures for the thousands of his students who he said had survived their cancers. He made a point of saying that patients were urged to combine Western and traditional Chinese treatments with their qigong.
While many doctors here who are trained in Western medicine scoff at the medical claims, qigong has had influential supporters, and some senior political leaders over the years have consulted qigong masters.
The country's most famous scientist, Qian Xuesen, who returned from the United States in the early 1950's to help develop China's missiles and nuclear weapons, has long been a proponent of qigong, writing in the 1980's, for example, "Truly top-class qigong masters really do have some physical paranormal powers."
Recently President Jiang Zemin made a public visit to Mr. Qian, now 88 and bedridden, to elicit his endorsement of the crackdown on Falun Gong as a fake.
A key patron of the Guo Lin anti-cancer sect is Feng Lida, a politically well connected, Soviet-trained medical doctor who is deputy director of the General Navy Hospital in Beijing. In an interview Dr. Feng, 74, explained that at first she had been skeptical, but that in the late 1970's, when she saw what she felt were amazing recoveries of patients with cancer and infectious diseases, she became intrigued by qigong.
Dr. Feng invited some prominent qigong masters to conduct experiments in which they used their hands to direct qi forces at test tubes of bacteria. They were able to raise and lower the bacterial levels at will, she said, pulling out chart-laden publications as evidence.
Then the masters tried to alter the growth of cancer cells, she said, and although the effects were weaker and took more time, they, too, were detectable. "These experiments told us that it is really science," Dr. Feng said in her Beijing office, next to photographs of her shaking hands with President Jiang, the legislative leader Li Peng and the late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. "Qigong is a Chinese treasure."
Dr. Feng now hopes to spread qigong, along with good nutrition and attention to crucial details like sleeping with one's head pointed to the north, in alignment with magnetic fields, as a low-cost way to meet the country's health care needs.
Around the Oasis of Life marker in Yuyuantan Park, the mood is surprisingly cheerful as cancer patients who have completed their long walks chat and exchange tips. It is clear that if nothing else, the qigong club acts as a kind of support group for the seriously ill.
"We try to create a joyous atmosphere," Mr. Yu said. "We call this building group resistance. If a patient becomes desperate, no medicine can cure him."
Mr. Yu went on to explain elaborate theories about how the walking exercises and meditation free the flows of qi energy and blood through the body, strengthening defenses against disease. He described the 10 different shouts that are prescribed for various forms of cancer, which function, he said, "as a kind of exchange with the outside world."
Among the regulars are several longtime survivors and total believers in the power of qi.
He Kaifeng, a spry 65-year-old who worked as an engineer, said cancer in her lungs and abdomen was diagnosed 18 years ago. She had chemotherapy, she said, but then developed an intestinal problem and had to be fed intravenously for four months.
"The doctors gave up on me," she said. So she started practicing Guo Lin qigong, learning from the founding master in Purple Bamboo Park nearby.
"At first, I was so weak that I often had to lie down on the bench as I exercised," Ms. He said, recalling the four hours of walking each morning. "I never dreamed that I would survive very long." Now she helps teach qigong to others as she continues modified exercise herself.
Zhou Hangyu, 31, was only in his second week of practice the other morning. A building designer with a construction company, he was told earlier this year that he had lung cancer. He had surgery in July, he said, and chemotherapy and radiation, but the cancer has spread ominously into his liver.
Mr. Zhou said he had heard about the group in Yuyuantan Park from a fellow patient in his hospital ward and decided to give it a try.
"I'm still just learning how to do it, and I haven't felt any beneficial effect yet," he said. "But the group spirit provides good support. They are all really determined to resist cancer."
by Michael Laris ("The Washington Post", December 27, 1999)
BEIJING, Dec. 26- A Chinese court sentenced four top organizers of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, all members of the ruling Communist Party, to prison terms of up to 18 years today following a nine-hour trial.
Li Chang, a former official at the Ministry of Public Security who has been vilified in China's state-run media as Falun Gong's ringleader in China, received the longest sentence, and former Railways Ministry official Wang Zhiwen was given a 16-year term. Two other defendants were sentenced to 12 and seven years.
Those sentences, announced at a Beijing court after a trial that the defendants' relatives called unfair, were the stiffest meted out to members of the group since it was outlawed last July. They were among the longest sentences given any political or religious dissidents since the 1989 crackdown on democracy demonstrators in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.
The severity of the sentences reflects the ruling Communist Party's alarm at the tenacity and effectiveness of Falun Gong. The emergence of such a large, highly organized and disciplined group shocked China's leaders, who view the success of their own revolution in 1949 as a lesson about the potential power of mass movements.
The government released a statement today saying that Li, Wang and the two others had been found guilty of using a cult to "obstruct justice, causing human deaths in the process of organizing a cult and illegally obtaining state secrets." The state secrets count could have resulted in the death penalty, and the government statement pointedly labeled Li's 18-year sentence as "lenient."
President Jiang Zemin appears to be baffled by the depth of commitment to Falun Gong and the lack of international support for China's crackdown on the group. Jiang said the group has been responsible for the deaths of 1,400 followers, most of whom he said rejected needed medical treatment or committed suicide.
The defendants' relatives said their loved ones should not be blamed for those deaths. "It's absolutely unjust," said Li Zhechen, Li Chang's son, in an interview in Beijing. "People are free to believe what they want. It's not like they held a knife to people. . . . It's not a cult. It's a belief."
He said the court simply rejected any evidence offered by the defendants or their lawyers that the judges did not agree with. "He has worked arduously on behalf of the Communist Party for so many years," Li Zhechen said of his father. "He can't take all the responsibility for Li Hongzhi," the New York-based founder of Falun Gong, who is China's most wanted man.
A spokesman for Li Hongzhi in New York called today's proceedings a "show trial." State-run television showed the four defendants looking calm and showing little remorse.
According to Frank Lu Siqing, spokesman for the Hong Kong-based Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China, it was no accident that the people sentenced today are all Communist Party members. Many top Chinese officials--including members of the Communist Party's ruling Politburo, active and retired military officers and police officials--practiced Falun Gong, and the high-profile trial may be intended to serve as a warning of the consequences of their continued refusal to break with the movement. Many continued to practice Falun Gong's prescribed spiritual and physical exercises in their homes after public displays were banned.
Falun Gong's leaders insist that they have no political ambitions. Adherents--said to number in the millions--believe that cultivating an "orb of energy" in one's belly through the exercises promotes physical and spiritual health and supernatural powers--a belief that has attracted large numbers of people disillusioned with Chinese society.
Members have an intense reverence for "master" Li Hongzhi, a fact that has added to the concerns of China's rulers, who are unwilling to tolerate even a perceived challenge to their monopoly on political power. Chinese observers said the government has overreacted against the peaceful Falun Gong movement, and "turned something small into something big." While Li Chang, 59, is not related to Li Hongzhi, he was seen as the founder's main contact in Beijing, sources said. In addition to Wang, 50, Li's two other codefendants were Ji Liewu, a manager in a metals firm, and Yao Jie, a female real estate broker, who were sentenced to 12 years and seven years respectively.
According to the official New China News Agency, the four were convicted of organizing protests outside government offices around the country, including 78 demonstrations with more than 300 participants and a silent protest by 10,000 people who surrounded the Chinese leadership's Beijing compound last April. That event led to the government decision to crush the movement.
In addition, the four were found guilty of illegally profiting from the publication of Falun Gong books and posters, which were said to have earned $5.4 million. The government also said it discovered "37 separate items of secret state information" in their homes and that the leaking of the unspecified information caused "serious consequences," the news agency said.
The fact that Li Chang had previously worked within China's security establishment made him an even more significant target. China's security agencies were embarrassed that they had no advance knowledge of the April gathering, as well as by continued sit-ins over the past several months at Tiananmen Square. During today's trial, two dozen people believed to be Falun Gong followers were removed from the square.
The government has acknowledged detaining at least 35,000 members since the ban was initiated five months ago.
by Elaine Kurtenbach ("Associated Press", December 27, 1999)
BEIJING (AP) - Police questioned and detained several dozen people in heavily guarded Tiananmen Square today, one day after authorities sentenced four key organizers of the Falun Gong spiritual movement to up to 18 years in prison. About five people attempted to raise a banner in protest but were quickly stopped by uniformed and plainclothes police stationed in the square, the site of frequent protests by the group since the communist government outlawed it five months ago. Police questioned many other visitors to the vast plaza and led several dozen into waiting blue-and-white police vans. Security also was tight during Sunday's one-day trial, the most significant case against the group since the ban was announced. There were no obvious protests near the courthouse, although police questioned two women and led them away.
Judges found the four Falun Gong leaders guilty of organizing and using a cult to undermine laws, causing deaths and illegally obtaining and disseminating state secrets, state-run media reported. Li Chang and Wang Zhiwen were sentenced to 18 years and 16 years in prison, respectively - among the harshest sentences given to political or religious dissenters in China this decade. Ji Liewu and Yao Jie were sentenced to 12 years and seven years, respectively. ``I'm extremely angry,'' said Wang Xiaodan, Wang Zhiwen's 20-year-old daughter, who now lives in the United States.
The government's ``inflexibility, its inability to recognize its mistakes, makes people furious.'' Falun Gong preaches a mixture of slow-motion meditation exercises and ideas drawn from Buddhism and Taoism said to promote health and morality. In seven years, it has attracted millions of followers in China and abroad. The government has decreed the group a public menace and a threat to Communist Party rule, contending that its unorthodox practices - especially a recommendation that followers forgo medical treatment - have led to the deaths of more than 1,400 people. State-run television showed the three men and Yao, the only woman among the four, looking calm and displaying little remorse. All had lawyers and family members in attendance, according to media reports.
Judges in the trial ruled that the defendants ``organized and used the Falun Gong's evil cult organization to spread superstition and heresies and to deceive people, causing deaths,'' the Xinhua News Agency said. Xinhua said Li, Wang, Ji and Yao set up a chain of command and ``plotted or directed'' 78 protests, including an April 25 demonstration attended by 10,000 followers. Judges also found the four guilty of stealing 37 state secrets and illegally netting more than $54 million in profits from proselytizing sessions and sales of Falun Gong literature. Presiding Judge Ma Zirong said Li and Yao received lenient sentences for having confessed to various crimes and shown repentance, Xinhua reported. In a statement Sunday, Falun Gong activists in the United States condemned the proceeding as a ``show trial'' that proved that ``in this day and age there is no rule of law and spiritual freedom in China.'' Li, 59, was a leading official in the computer bureau of the national police ministry; Wang, 50, was an engineer in a materials company under the Railways Ministry; Ji, 36, was the manager of a Hong Kong subsidiary of a state nonferrous metals company; and Yao, 40, headed the party committee of a large Beijing real estate company.
("Agence France Presse", December 27, 1999)
HONG KONG, Dec 27 (AFP) - A Hong Kong human rights body Monday expressed fears the territory would end its policy of tolerance towards the mystical Falungong group following the jailing of four key members in Beijing. Frank Lu, head of the Information Centre of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China, said he was concerned China's crackdown on Falungong might soon spread to Hong Kong.
Falungong is tolerated in Hong Kong under the "one country, two systems" concept which guarantees Hong Kong's autonomy following its handover to China from Britain two years ago. So far Hong Kong authorities have taken a low-key approach to dealing with the group's followers in the territory. A mass rally by Falungong supporters was allowed to take place here earlier this month and passed off without incident. But Lu said he feared the Hong Kong government's policy towards Falungong could soon change, after complaints from the territory's representatives in China's parliament.
"I know that some National People's Congress members were unhappy with the Falungong conference in Hong Kong and they have told the Hong Kong government that similar events should not be allowed to take place in Hong Kong again," Lu said. "But Falungong members in Hong Kong are not breaking any laws, so they should be left alone," he added. Lu was speaking a day after four key Falungong members were sentenced to between seven and 18 years in prison after being convicted of seeking to overthrow the state in Beijing. Li Chang was sentenced by the Number One Intermediary Court to 18 years while another, Wang Zhiwen, received 16 years. Ji Liewu was sentenced to 12 years, and a woman, Yao Jie, to seven years. Lu said the stiff sentences were evidence of how seriously China was taking the movement and compared the jail terms to those handed down to pro-democracy campaigners following the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989.
"I wasn't surprised (by the length of the sentences) because the charges were very serious," Lu told AFP. "China is treating the Falungong members as seriously as those involved in the Tiananmen Square movement in 1989," he added. But Lu said he doubted whether the heavy sentences handed out to the Falungong four would act as a deterrent to other members across China. "I have spoken to several Falungong members and they are very angry and upset by this but they have promised to keep fighting and fighting," he said.
The Chinese government banned the Falungong on July 22 and has viewed the group as the biggest threat to communist authority since the 1989 Tiananmen democracy protests. The group, which practices breathing and meditation exercises, advocates clean living and high moral values and boasts a worldwide membership of some 100 million. More than 35,000 Falungong members have been detained by Chinese police since the group was banned, but most have been released after undergoing "education" by Chinese authorities.
by Conor O'Clery ("Irish Times", December 27, 1999)
CHINA: A Chinese court yesterday sentenced four leaders of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement to up to 18 years in prison.
The severity of the sentences, meted out by a judge at the Intermediate People's Court in western Beijing, shocked diplomatic observers in the Chinese capital.
The trial was closed to the public and the foreign media, and the streets around were sealed off by police who questioned passersby. The four defendants, arrested on July 20th, were charged with stealing state secrets and causing people to die by refusing medical treatment.
They were also accused of masterminding a 15,000-strong protest by Falun Gong adherents outside China's leadership compound in Beijing in April. The protest was peaceful - the practitioners did not march, shout slogans or carry banners, and they asked only for state recognition - but their very ability to organise unnerved the communist government, which banned the seven-year-old sect in July as an "evil cult".
State media called the protest the most serious political incident since the 1989 student-led demonstrations for democracy in Tiananmen Square which were crushed by the People's Liberation Army. Falun Gong was also clearly seen as a major threat because it contained so many senior government officials.
Li Chang (59), sentenced yesterday to 18 years in prison for illegally obtaining state secrets and using a cult to undermine the implementation of the law and cause human deaths, was a former deputy director of the Public Security Ministry. Wang Zhiwen (50), who received 16 years, was a former Railways Ministry official.
Ji Liewu (36), who got 12 years, was a former manager of a state-owned non-ferrous metals company in Hong Kong. Yao Jie, a 40-year-old woman who worked at a real estate firm, received a seven-year prison sentence. All four are members of the Communist Party, the Hong Kong-based Information Centre of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China said.
The government maintains that 1,400 practitioners of Falun Gong died after refusing medical help when ill. The movement calls itself a "cultivation practice" which combines five exercises with concepts of Buddhism and Taoism.
It has no religious rituals, but members are told in the writings of its exiled leader, Li Hongzhi, that Falun Gong will cure ill health. Li Hongzhi preaches salvation from a decadent world and claims Falun Gong poses no threat to Communist rule.
The Hong Kong centre said the trial had been postponed twice, apparently due to international pressure.
In the first Falun Gong trial in China last month a court on Hainan island jailed four leaders for up to 12 years for "using a cult to violate the law". Meanwhile six leaders of underground churches in China's Henan province have been sentenced to labour camp for being criminals of an "evil cult", the Hong Kong rights group said.
In August the six defendants representing two Christian sects met to join forces, find a new direction, and appeal to the government for recognition, the centre said. Police invaded the meeting and arrested the group.
by Liz Sly ("Chicago Tribune", December 27, 1999)
BEIJING -- A Chinese court handed down stiff sentences of up to 18 years to four leading practitioners of the Falun Gong sect Sunday in the most prominent trial since summer's nationwide crackdown against the group.
A former deputy director of the Public Security Ministry, Li Chang, 59, received the longest sentence, 18 years, for masterminding the April 25 gathering of 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners outside the senior leadership compound of Zhongnanhai in central Beijing.
Wang Zhiwen, 50, a former Railway Ministry official, and Ji Liewu, 36, the manager of a metals company, were also accused of being ringleaders, and were sentenced to 16 and 12 years. Yao Jie, 40, director of a real estate firm, was identified as an accessory and received a 7-year sentence.
State television showed the three men and Yao, the only woman, standing passively in the court as the verdict was read after the one-day trial, held behind closed doors in Beijing.
The four were found guilty of having committed a "host of serious crimes," according to the official New China news agency, including "organizing and using the cult to obstruct justice, causing human deaths in the process of organizing the cult and illegally obtaining state secrets."
They were accused of collaborating with the sect's leader, Li Hongzhi, to organize the April protest, thereby "seriously disrupting the work of government organs, public order and the stability of the Chinese capital."
As leading members who had helped organize Falun Gong as a nationwide movement, they were also accused of organizing other demonstrations around the country, 78 of which "had participation of 300 people or more," the news agency said.
The four were arrested July 20 during an attempt by Falun Gong members to stage another protest outside Zhongnanhai to demand legitimacy for the sect. As practitioners converged on Beijing, thousands were detained, and on July 22 the government slapped an outright ban on the sect.
Since then, Falun Gong has become a thorn in the side of Chinese authorities, with its adherents attempting to stage more scattered protests, in Tiananmen Square in Beijing and elsewhere. Earlier this month, thousands of practitioners marched through Hong Kong, where protests are legal, and, on the day of Macau's return from Portugal, 30 or so practitioners were arrested for attempting to stage a demonstration in Macau.
A huge police presence in central Beijing headed off the threat of protests during the trial, which took place behind a strict security cordon at the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People's Court, the venue for most of the sensitive trials of dissidents over the past decade.
Police sealed off roads leading to the court and prevented foreign journalists from approaching the courthouse. At Tiananmen Square, around two dozen people were seen being hauled onto buses by police, but it was unclear whether they were Falun Gong practioners.
The trial was clearly intended to send a message to the nation to steer clear of Falun Gong, which combines Daoist and Buddhist religious precepts with traditional breathing and meditation exercises. While dissident trials are rarely mentioned in the Chinese press, state television broadcast extensive footage of the proceedings Sunday evening.
In what appeared to be a typical Chinese trial, three uniformed judges presided, a panel of uniformed prosecutors sat to the right of the judges and a panel of defense lawyers sat to the left. There is no trial by jury in China.
The accused sat in the middle of the court, and the television footage from time to time showed them addressing the court. A giant video screen was lowered during the proceedings to show footage of the protests they were accused of masterminding, and the New China new agency's account of the trial said they had been given the chance to present evidence in their defense, though it did not say what that was.
Falun Gong says its motives are apolitical and maintains that its exercises are aimed simply at achieving spiritual and bodily health.
But China clearly believes the group's intentions are more sinister, and the four were also accused of trying to organize other gatherings "in an attempt to oppose the government for a long period of time," New China said.
The news agency said police had found "37 separate items of secret state information" at the homes of the accused, but did not elaborate. The group was also accused of responsibility for the deaths of 1,400 people who refused to seek medical treatment for their ailments because of their faith in the healing power of Falun Gong.
In November, two weeks after a new law approved tough penalties for cult members, four other Falun Gong leaders were sentenced to between 2 and 12 years in prison by a court in the island province of Hainan.
No other trials are known to have taken place, but human-rights groups say as many as 2,000 Falun Gong practitioners have been sent to labor camps under a Chinese law providing for sentences of up to 3 years of "re-education through labor" without trial.
by Henry Chu ("Los Angeles Times", December 27, 1999)
BEIJING--After months of official denunciation and the harshest political campaign in a decade, four alleged ringleaders of the outlawed Falun Gong meditation group were tried, convicted and given lengthy prison sentences here Sunday for stealing "state secrets," organizing a cult to obstruct justice and causing deaths.
The jail terms ranged from seven to 18 years--a sign of how seriously the Communist regime views Falun Gong as a threat to its rule of the world's most populous country.
The toughest sentences exceeded even those handed down earlier this year to political dissidents who tried to organize a pro-democracy opposition party. The official New China News Agency announced the verdicts late Sunday after the trial, which started early in the morning amid heavy security on the west side of the Chinese capital and lasted just one day.
Foreign reporters were kept back, and some onlookers at the courthouse and downtown in Tiananmen Square were carted off by police. It was not immediately clear whether those taken away were Falun Gong practitioners, who have proved tenacious in their protests during the 5-month-old ban on their group.
Authorities alleged that the four defendants masterminded an April 25 protest that brought out 10,000 Falun Gong followers to surround the government leadership's compound without warning.
The daring sit-in stunned top officials, who subsequently ordered the most aggressive political crackdown since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. The two men who were handed the lengthiest terms are themselves former government officials.
Li Chang, 59, a onetime deputy director of the Public Security Ministry, was given 18 years in prison, while Wang Zhiwen, 50, a former railway official, received a 16-year sentence.
The other defendants were Ji Liewu, 36, the manager of a state-owned metals company, and Yao Jie, 40, an employee of a real estate firm. They were sentenced to 12 and seven years in prison, respectively. All four were accused of obstructing justice.
Other charges included obtaining and leaking state secrets, conducting illegal business and causing the deaths of people who were allegedly duped by Falun Gong's teachings on healing and other tenets.
The mystical sect blends traditional Taoist and Buddhist beliefs and preaches kindness, virtue and a conservative moral code in conjunction with breathing exercises designed to channel a person's qi, or life force.
The group's leader, Li Hongzhi, who commands a worldwide following from his home in exile in New York City, also has predicted the end of the world and claimed to have supernatural powers, such as the abilities to levitate and become invisible. Estimates of the number of Falun Gong disciples in China range from 2 million to more than 60 million.
The Beijing regime is particularly concerned that many followers, like Li Chang and Wang Zhiwen, might hold jobs in government or be Communist Party cadres. Wang Fanglan, the wife of Li Chang (who is not related to Li Hongzhi), said her husband's lawyers argued that he intended no harm. "He had no motive to kill or cheat anyone," she said in a telephone interview.
The attorneys also contended that Li's activities on behalf of Falun Gong occurred before the ban on the group was issued in July. Those arguments were rejected, but the New China News Agency reported that the court "decided to be lenient" toward Li and co-defendant Yao because he and she openly confessed to their roles in organizing Falun Gong. The defendants have 10 days in which to appeal, but any petition would almost certainly be turned down in such a high-profile, government-driven case. Since it ordered the ban, Beijing has kept up a stream of invective against the "evil cult," which the government says encourages unlawful activities and endangers people's lives.
Officials allege that 1,400 people have died adhering to Falun Gong's teachings by refusing medical treatment for serious illnesses or even committing suicide. The Clinton administration has expressed its concern over the ban, calling it a violation of human rights and freedom of religion, but Beijing regards the crackdown as a domestic affair.
"We have appealed to the Chinese government through thousands and thousands of letters to ask for a peaceful dialogue to resolve this issue," said Gail Rachlin, a spokeswoman for the group who is based in New York. "We've gotten no response at all." Falun Gong practitioners, who range from peasant farmers to college professors to elderly retirees, have embarrassed the Communist regime with their continued protests.
The demonstrations, often organized through the Internet, grew after the ban was issued and have ebbed somewhat, but a handful of followers routinely continue to show up in Tiananmen Square. Demonstrators are quickly hustled away by police wherever they crop up and are usually released after a short detention. Although there have been reports of deaths of a few followers while in custody, the government has tried to draw some distinction between suspected ringleaders and rank-and-file believers.
But even the rank and file have been subjected to "study sessions" and pressure to recant their beliefs, measures that strike many Chinese as extreme and anachronistic. Many residents, however, also say they support the ban in general, citing government contentions of social and individual harm. Last month, four lower-level Falun Gong organizers in southern China were handed jail terms ranging from two to 12 years, setting the stage for Sunday's trial.
(by Ajay Singh and David Hsieh, "Asiaweek", vol. 25, no. 52, December 31, 1999 - January 7, 2000)
"About 1.78 meters in height, with slanted eyebrows, single-edged eyelids, a little bit fat." That was how China's Ministry of Public Security described Li Hongzhi, 47, the founder of Falungong, a sect that combines traditional Chinese qigong (breathing exercises) with meditation and Buddhist and Taoist precepts. In an all-points bulletin issued nationwide on July 29, police and border troops across the country were ordered to "make arrangements to track down Li's whereabouts and arrest him." The command, however, just wasn't practical. Li is a resident of New York City and China has no extradition treaty with the United States. So why were the security services after Li? Because they were embarrassed and worried by an incident three months earlier and wanted to show that they meant business. On April 25, Li had slipped into the country to organize a rally against the government. In what was the biggest unofficial demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests, some 10,000 adherents of Falungong staged a day-long silent protest outside the Zhongnanhai compound where Beijing's leaders live.
Early that morning, Premier Zhu Rongji strode out of his residence to meet Falungong representatives, looking highly irritated. He had returned from an official trip to the U.S. the previous night and had hardly slept. The Falungong demanded the release of five followers during an earlier demonstration in the city of Tianjin and the dismissal of the editor of a local youth magazine that had rebuked the sect's beliefs. Negotiations continued late into the evening and Falungong leaders departed with promises of a resolution. Within two hours, most protesters were bussed to the distant Beijing West railway station and given tickets home.
Until that dramatic day in April, few people anywhere had heard of Falungong. Since then, the sect has figured so often in international news that the word Falungong has popped up almost as often as kung fu used to in the 1970s. On July 22, Beijing surprised the world by outlawing the sect, accusing it of "spreading fallacies, hoodwinking people, inciting and creating disturbances and jeopardizing social stability." Officials branded Li a charlatan, banned his group's publications and launched a sweeping crackdown against its members. U.S. President Bill Clinton described the offensive as a "troubling example" of the government's action against those "who test the limits of freedom."
That Clinton should intercede on behalf of a sect that has no claim to dissidence only shows how influential Li is. A one-time foodgrains clerk from Jilin province, he began learning his art under qigong masters in 1988. Li formed the Falungong movement in 1992 and moved to the U.S. four years later. The sect's essential principles are contained in the "Wheel of the Law Breathing Exercise," Falungong's circle-shaped emblem, derived from a Buddhist symbol for the universe and its powers. Performing qigong is supposed to make the wheel turn, enabling practitioners to tap in to the energy pervading the universe. Further, Falungong is unique among qigong disciplines because it is portrayed as a holistic way of living rather than just an aid to good health. Li's book, Zhuan Falun ("Turning the Dharma Wheel"), the sect's bible, deals with such moral philosophical concepts as zhen (truth), shan (goodness) and ren (forbearance).
All this is unsettling - if not frightening - for the Chinese Communist Party, which remembers only too well how the Taiping Rebellion threatened the Qing dynasty in the 19th century. Then, as now, many Chinese disenchanted with rising unemployment and official corruption formed themselves into a quasi-religious group and, rallying behind a village school teacher and shaman, captured Nanjing. While nobody believes Li has the power to confront China's rulers in quite the same fashion, the fact is his disciples see him as a "living Buddha." He also has an astonishing capacity to spread his message. The Falungong has been known to mobilize followers through the Internet and is adept at using videos and publishing material as propaganda tools. Prior to the crackdown on the sect, Li's books could be found in most bookstores across China, even in state-run outlets such as Xinhua. His works are distributed worldwide in seven languages and taught in China by "cultivation groups" in nine-day classes free of charge. Before the purge, there were as many as 28,000 such groups in the mainland.
Falungong claims a membership of 60 million in China alone (the authorities insist the figure is about 2 million) and another 40 million overseas. Many of its disciples are retired people and other marginalized folk who turn to Li's teachings to fill a spiritual void in their lives. Quite a few are party members. Despite such a following, Li describes himself as "just a very ordinary man." But that's clearly not what he set out to be. According to an official probe, Li changed his date of birth from July 7 to May 13, which happens to be the day on which the Buddha was born.
by Erik Eckholm ("The New York Times", December 27, 1999)
BEIJING, Dec. 26 -- Three men and a woman accused of being top leaders of the Falun Gong spiritual movement outlawed by the Chinese government last summer were given prison sentences today ranging up to 18 years.
The severe sentences, issued by a Beijing court after a one-day trial, and their prominent announcement on national television tonight were clearly intended to show the authorities' determination to crush Falun Gong. Two of the sentences, for 18 years in one case and 16 years in another, were harsher than any given to leaders of the banned China Democracy Party last year, or of any other democracy advocate in the last several years.
Promising good health and spiritual salvation, the Falun Gong movement gained millions of enthusiastic followers since its founding in 1992. It was officially condemned and outlawed as an "evil cult" in July after it held unauthorized demonstrations, including one by 10,000 people who surrounded the Communist leaders' compound in Beijing in April.
That silent demonstration, and the evident appeal of Falun Gong across society and even among members of the Communist Party, seems to have touched a raw nerve in the secretive leadership.
All four of those sentenced today were party members, with the most severe term, 18 years, reserved for Li Chang, 59, an official in the Public Security Ministry.
Wang Zhiwen, 50, an engineer in a company of the Railways Ministry, wan sentenced to 16 years.
The convictions, said an announcement tonight by the official New China News Agency, involved charges of "organizing and using the cult organization to undermine the implementation of laws, causing human deaths by organizing and using the cult organization, and illegally obtaining state secrets."
A dynamic offshoot of Chinese qigong, which is said to harness invisible forces to promote health and well-being, Falun Gong has been popular among retirees and middle-aged women, who gathered in urban parks to practice its slow, meditative exercises.
But the membership of officials and party members was a sign of the broad appeal that so frightened the national leadership.
The others convicted today are Ji Liewu, 36, a manager of a Hong Kong subsidiary of a government metals company, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison, and Yao Jie, 40, leader of the Communist Party committee of a large real estate company in Beijing, sentenced to 7 years.
The television news tonight said Ms. Yao had received a lighter sentence because she had only been an accessory to the "principal culprits" and had expressed "sincere remorse."
It said that Mr. Li had also been repentant and that his 18-year sentence was lighter than it might otherwise have been.
All four were accused, previous accounts in the official press said, of being key organizers of the surprise demonstration by more than 10,000 members around the leadership compound in Beijing on April 25.
Mr. Li, who was a deputy director in the computer bureau of the Ministry of Public Security, or police, and Mr. Wang are said to have played especially important roles, plotting with the group's founder, Li Hongzhi. The founder lives in exile in New York but has admitted that he visited Beijing quietly just before the April protest.
The peaceful but brazen gathering in April was a protest against what followers believed was the growing persecution of their group.
But it also showed the group's capacity to mobilize people from various provinces, right under the noses of the police. That shocked Chinese leaders, who were already worried about threats to social stability from unemployed workers and angry farmers.
That demonstration and other smaller ones in various cities led the government to outlaw Falun Gong on July 22 as, in the words of one editorial, "a cancer on the society and a scourge of the people."
The group was soon accused of causing the deaths of more than 1,400 followers by convincing them to reject modern medicine. Its founder was said to harbor plans to undermine the government and the Communist Party, which he has denied.
Officials say more than 150 Falun Gong members have been formally charged with crimes so far, but only a few have gone to trial and today's prosecutions are likely to be among the most important.
Unknown hundreds of followers have been sent without trial to labor camps for "re-education," while thousands, including many who converged on Beijing this fall to protest the banning of the group, were temporarily detained or harassed.
A warrant is out for the arrest of Li Hongzhi, the former government clerk who founded Falun Gong in 1992, offering a new blend of qigong, Buddhism, Taoism and his own theories for harnessing cosmic powers. Since he moved to New York in 1998, he has communicated with his growing global movement through Internet sites as well as networks of personal contacts.
Mr. Li's writings say that his movement offers the best path to a healthy body as well as personal salvation, and suggests that practitioners may attain supernatural powers. He condemns drinking, smoking, homosexuality and the corruption of modern society.
His theories gained a quick following, especially among insecure laid-off workers and retirees in Chinese cities, who are often obsessed with their health.
Spokesmen for the founder in New York said today that he was unavailable for comment. But the spokesmen, Gail Rachlin and Erping Zhang, issued a statement condemning today's proceeding as a show trial that was reminiscent of "the grim time of the Cultural Revolution" and showed "the Chinese government's unwillingness to respect its own Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."
They repeated Li Hongzhi's calls for dialogue with the Chinese government.
Some Chinese, including relatives of people who became preoccupied with Falun Gong, have expressed reservations about the group and the devotion to Li Hongzhi shown by some fervent followers.
Still, many people here have been puzzled by the ferocity of the government's campaign to crush the group, which has included televised recantations by former members and relentless, increasing official vilification.
But the authorities seem to have been surprised and angered that despite the banning of the group and intense propaganda describing it as dishonest and dangerous, thousands of devoted followers have remained defiant. Risking their homes and jobs, many sneaked into Beijing this fall and tried to mount protests in Tiananmen Square.
The Communist Party, though it has loosened control over many aspects of personal life, guards a monopoly on politics and does not allow independent social organizations. Political experts say the leaders may feel that they have no choice but to crush a looming movement like Falun Gong.
Today, security was tight around Tiananmen Square, where dozens of Falun Gong followers were detained in the course of the day. No large demonstrations were successfully mounted. The police also cordoned off the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People's Court in the western part of the city, where the brief trial was held.
Each defendant had a lawyer, but convictions are certain in such politically charged trials.
Only one relative of each defendant was allowed in the courtroom, and they were warned not to speak with the press. The daughter of Wang Zhiwen, who was sentenced to 16 years in prison, spoke by telephone today from San Antonio, Tex., where she moved two years ago with her mother.
"I'm just really shocked," said the daughter, 20, a student who said she had practiced Falun Gong for many years.
"How can this kind of thing happen to the people around you?" she said. "The Chinese government just did this to warn everyone how tough it can be."
The New China News Agency reported tonight that court investigations had found that the four defendants had colluded with Li Hongzhi to organize Falun Gong across China, establishing "39 Falun Gong subheadquarters, 1,900 teaching posts and over 28,000 practicing posts across the country."
The latter two categories apparently refer to the spots in parks where groups of practitioners put up signs to attract new followers for the daily exercises. The report said that before and after the April 25 protest, the accused had helped to organize 78 illegal demonstrations involving 300 people or more, which "seriously disrupted public order."
The conviction of the four on charges of leaking state secrets involved the apparent acquisition by Falun Gong leaders of government plans for the crackdown against the group, and their publication in open letters to members and the government. The court said today that it found that "37 separate items of secret state information" had been retrieved from the homes of the defendants.
The court reportedly also found that the group earned $5.4 million in "illegal profit" from the sale of the founder's books. But past charges in the press of large-scale fraud and profiteering have not been substantiated.
("Associated Press", December 25, 1999)
BEIJING (AP) -- China put four leading members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement on trial Sunday, cordoning off the courthouse in western Beijing with scores of police to prevent protests by group members.
Police guarded the area around Beijing's No. 1 Intermediate People's Court, warning foreign journalists to leave, questioning passers-by and filming them with video and still cameras.
``Controls are severe. Otherwise, a lot of people would have come out here,'' said one Falun Gong member who was watching from a distance.
There was no sign of protesters near the courthouse. In heavily guarded Tiananmen Square, though, police were questioning people and forced about two dozen into vans.
Since the ban on the group was announced July 22, Falun Gong members have embarrassed the authorities by staging frequent peaceful protests in the square.
Falun Gong preaches a mixture of slow-motion meditation exercises and ideas drawn from Buddhism, Taoism and group founder, Li Hongzhi, an ex-government grain clerk who now lives in New York. It is said to promote health and morality, and in seven years has attracted millions of followers in China.
The government, though, calls the group a public menace and a threat to Communist Party rule.
All four on trial Sunday -- Li Chang, Wang Zhiwen, Ji Liewu and Yao Jie -- were Communist Party members holding influential positions in government or business.
The four could receive 20 years in prison or more if convicted of ``using an evil cult to undermine the implementation of laws'' and other crimes, according to the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democratic Movement.
Reluctant to provoke protests, the government has not commented on the trial.
The state-run media, though, accused defendant Wang Zhiwen, an engineer for a Railways Ministry materials company, of organizing an April 25 protest, at which 10,000 group members gathered outside the Communist Party leadership compound, Zhongnanhai.
Wang, 50, and the other three were arrested July 20, two days before the ban. According to the Information Center, Li, 59, was a leading official in the national police computer bureau; Ji, 36, managed a Hong Kong subsidiary of a Chinese nonferrous metals company; and Yao, 40, headed the party committee of a large Beijing real estate company.
Sunday's trial was expected to focus on accusations that the four undermined laws and on charges that Yao and Ji conducted illegal business, the Information Center said.
Wang, Li and Yao were tried earlier behind closed-doors on charges of illegally gathering and disseminating state secrets, it said. There was no word on the outcome of that trial.
The state's crackdown has resulted in thousands of Falun Gong members being detained and pressured to recant their beliefs.
("The New York Times", December 25, 1999)
BEIJING, Dec. 24 -- China plans to put four leading members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement on trial on Sunday. The move is the most significant prosecution since the government outlawed the group five months ago, a rights group in Hong Kong said today.
Relatives of the four members were formally notified today of the trial and told that each defendant could have one relative present at the No. 1 Intermediate People's Court here, the Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China said.
The background of the defendants -- Li Chang, Wang Zhiwen, Ji Liewu and Yao Jie -- underscores the reach of Falun Gong, the government's fear of the group and the difficulties encountered in suppressing it. All four were Communist Party members with positions of some influence in government or business.
The news about the trial spread after late today, and calls to court for confirmation were not answered. The court is expected to sentence the four to 20 years or more in prison for "using an evil cult to undermine the implementation of laws" and other crimes, the Information Center said.
The trial may also spark renewed protests here by Falun Gong members. Members in the United States, who have previously helped mobilize followers in China by e-mail and other means, confirmed that a trial has been set for Sunday, citing family members of the accused.
Two times this month -- on Dec. 4, when the trial was to have originally started, and again on Dec. 18 -- followers gathered outside the courthouse in western Beijing, and the police arrested 20 of them, the Information Center said.
Followers have embarrassed the government and the police by repeatedly staging peaceful acts of protest in defiance of the ban, on July 22, and a crackdown that has seen thousands detained and pressured to recant their beliefs.
Falun Gong advocates a mixture of traditional meditation exercises and ideas drawn from Buddhism, Taoism and the group's founder, Li Hongzhi, a former government grain clerk who lives in New York. Practice is said to promote health and morality and in the seven years since the group was founded it has attracted millions of followers here.
Chinese leaders say the group had caused the deaths of more than 1,400 people by discouraging them from seeking conventional medical care. In outlawing the group, the government called Falun Gong a menace to public welfare and a threat to Communist Party rule.
The state-run media have accused one of the four defendants, Wang Zhiwen, an engineer for a materials company in the Railways Ministry, of having organized a protest on April 25 by 10,000 members at the Communist Party leadership compound in Beijing.
Mr. Wang, 50, and the other three were arrested on July 20, two days before the ban. According to the information center, Mr. Li, 59, was a senior official in the computer bureau of the national police; Mr. Ji, 36, managed a subsidiary of a Chinese nonferrous-metals company in Hong Kong; and Mr. Yao, 40, headed the party committee of a large Beijing real estate company.
What Is Falun Gong? See "Falun Gong 101", by Massimo Introvigne
FALUN GONG UPDATES
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