"Jailed Falun Gong on Hunger Strike"

by Cindy Sui ("The Washington Post", February 15, 2000)

BEIJING, Feb. 14 - A human rights group reported today that 140 detained members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement have launched a hunger strike in a northern Chinese city, demonstrating anew that China's crackdown on the popular organization is meeting with determined resistance.
From recent demonstrations on Tiananmen Square, the persistent use of the Internet to support followers throughout China and bold public statements by practitioners opposing the crackdown, it is clear that many Falun Gong followers have not been bowed by the Communist Party's persistent attempts over the last seven months to smash the group.
The Hong Kong-based Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China said last week that 2,000 practitioners were detained for staging protests in 40 cities in the week after Lunar New Year began Feb. 5. Another 35,000 were detained in numerous demonstrations from the time China imposed the ban in July to November, the center said.
More than 10,000 of those people are in jail. Another 5,000 have been sent to labor camps and 300 have been sentenced to prison terms of up to 18 years for refusing to abandon their beliefs, said Frank Lu, the center's director. But followers continue to protest and stand by the group's teachings on achieving physical and moral well-being, even when their jobs and housing benefits are threatened and their children are forbidden from applying to college.
"This shows the government's efforts are not working. The more people they arrest, the more people oppose what they're doing," Lu said. "The government doesn't know how to deal with this. This is a type of faith with wide appeal." In the latest indication of opposition, 140 practitioners who were arrested last month for trying to protest the ban in Beijing began a hunger strike in the Daguang detention center in the northeastern city of Changchun. Lu said the mass action began when they were served a better-than-normal jail-house meal to celebrate on the eve of Lunar New Year Feb. 4.
"We had no appetite. In our hearts we know Falun Gong has been wronged. It's not an evil cult," said Yang Lingyun, a 60-year-old practitioner who went on the hunger strike for nine days and was released Sunday.
Contacted by telephone from Beijing, Yang said jail guards were not paying attention to the hunger strikers, despite their weakening health. An official at the jail declined to comment.
The campaign against the spiritual movement is the biggest since Chinese troops crushed student-led demonstrations around Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. The current crackdown was ordered by President Jiang Zemin, who has called the campaign one of the three biggest political movements of 1999.
On April 25, when 10,000 Falun Gong adherents converged on Beijing and surrounded the headquarters of the Communist Party, Jiang cruised near the demonstrators for hours in an unmarked government car, sources said, shocked at the orderliness and discipline of the group. Jiang has in recent days labeled the continued Falun Gong protests the main internal threat to the party's rule, sources added, despite claims by Falun Gong practitioners that they merely promote kindness and good health through meditation and the study of the teaching of Li Hongzhi, Falun Gong's founder who lives in the United States.
Western observers said the crackdown on spiritual freedom is not limited to Falun Gong. The Connecticut-based Cardinal Kung Foundation has reported that Chinese authorities last week arrested an archbishop of the underground Roman Catholic Church in an effort to stamp out allegiance to the Pope, who maintains close ties with China's arch-rival, Taiwan. Yang Shudao, 81, archbishop of the Fuzhou archdiocese in the eastern province of Fujian, has refused to denounce the pope and cooperate with the state-backed Catholic Patriotic Association.
China has also moved to outlaw several other spiritual groups that, like Falun Gong, rely on a combination of breathing exercises and belief in the power of mind over matter. Dozens of followers from those groups, such as Zhong Gong and Xiang Gong, have been arrested as well.
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"US flight attendant says her arrest at Falungong demo was over photo"

(Agence France Presse, February 14, 2000)

NEW YORK, Feb 14 (AFP) - A Chinese-American flight attendant said Monday that Chinese authorities arrested her 10 days ago in Beijing's Tiananmen Square for taking a photograph of fellow Falungong members being beaten by police.
Tracy Zhao, 30, an American who works for Northwest Airlines, spent eight days in detention before her boyfriend Lin Chongli presented her passport to the Chinese authorities and she was allowed to return to the United States.
Zhao, who arrived back at Detroit Metro International Airport on Saturday, told AFP she had gone to the demonstration of Falungong sect members in Tiananmen Square late on February 3 to "support" members who are being subjected to arrests by the Chinese government.
"I've been to China because as a practitioner of Falungong I wanted to support the people that are arrested," Zhao said.
"The policemen were beating up the people, on the head, with long sticks. I was totally shocked. My fiance told me that if I could shoot pictures it would show the world how people are treated in China.
"I took one single picture, and after the flashlight three policemen came, took my camera and arrested me," said Zhao.
She was bundled into a police bus in Tiananmen Square during the protest by Falungong, according to witnesses.
Zhao, who has lived in the United States for 10 years, said the police had not mistreated her during her detention, but that she had witnessed a number of abuses by them against Falungong members.
Chinese police drove Zhao from her jail and put her on a Northwest Airlines plane earlier Saturday in what amounted to her expulsion from the country.
Hundreds of Falungong members were detained during the demonstration, which was organized in protest at the July 1999 ban on the group.
Falungong calls itself a spiritual movement based on a mix of traditional Chinese physical exercises and Buddhist and Taoist philosophy. The group's leader, Li Hongzhi, lives in New York.
The Chinese government has branded Falungong "an evil sect" and says it is responsible for the deaths of dozens of people because the group had persuaded them to forgo normal medical care in favor of Falungong's exercises.
More than 35,000 Falungong members were detained in China during similar protests between July and mid-November, according to human rights activists.
Scores of alleged "core leaders" of the group have been tried and sentenced to up to 18 years imprisonment.

"China jails Falun Gong followers - HK group"

(Reuters, February 14, 2000)

HONG KONG, Feb 14 (Reuters) - China sentenced two leaders of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement to six and eight years of incarceration on Monday, Hong Kong rights group said.
The Changan district court in northern China's Shijiazhuang city handed down the eight-year sentence on Duan Rongxin for ``using an evil cult to disrupt the implementation of law'' and ``leaking state secrets,'' the Information Centre of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China said in a statement.
The court accused Duan of arranging Shijiazhuang's Falun Gong followers to join the 10,000-strong protest by Falun Gong adherents outside China's Zhongnanhai leadership compound on April 25 last year, the Hong Kong group said.
He was also charged with spreading the information contained in a confidential government document about Beijing's intention to crack down on Falun Gong.
The court also sentenced another Falun Gong leader, Liang Yening, to six years in prison for ``using an evil cult to disrupt the implementation of law.'' Liang was arrested last October for leading the movement's followers to protest in Beijing.
Over 100 Falun Gong practitioners have been on a hunger strike since February 4 to protest their detention by China's authorities, the rights group said.
It said 140 Falun Gong followers began the hunger strike in the northeastern Chinese city of Changchun on the eve of the Lunar Chinese New Year on February 4.
It did not say when the 140 adherents were detained.
The group said a Falun Gong member died in jail last October four days after beginning a hunger strike.
The Chinese authorities banned Falun Gong, which combines elements of Buddhism, Taoism and meditation, in July last year after members demanded official recognition for their faith in a series of protests, including the April gathering at the leadership compound in Beijing.
Beijing has arrested some 2,000 Falun Gong adherents since the Lunar New Year, the group said. The Information Centre estimated that China has sent more than 5,000 Falun Gong members to labour camps and sentenced 300 others to jail since it began its crackdown last year.

"Sect Members on Hunger Strike"

(Associated Press, February 14, 2000)

BEIJING (AP) - About 140 members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement have staged a hunger strike in a northeast China detention center, and at least two are already into their ninth day without food, a human rights group said Monday.
Practitioners stopped eating Feb. 4 to protest their detention and to demand that they be released for the Chinese New Year, which began Feb. 5, the Hong Kong-based Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China said.
Some refused food for just three to five days, it said. But at least two people had by Monday not eaten for nine days, putting their lives at risk, said Lu Siqing, the center's director.
The 140 adherents are being held in the Daguang detention center in Changchun, capital of northeast Jilin province, the center said.
Two officials at the Daguang center refused to answer questions, although one denied that they were holding any Falun Gong adherents. An officer at the Changchun Bureau of Public Security said he had no knowledge of the case.
Citing a recently released practitioner who refused food for eight days, the group said some adherents were detained for going to Beijing to protest or for practicing Falun Gong in public. Others were sent to the detention center after they told police who visited them at home that they were still practicing Falun Gong, it said.
Meanwhile, a court in the northern city of Shijiazhuang, 170 miles southwest of Beijing, sentenced two local Falun Gong leaders on Monday to prison terms of eight and six years, respectively, the group said.
Duan Rongxin was given an eight-year sentence for using a cult to undermine the law and for alleged subversion. Liang Yening was given a six-year sentence, the center said.
The government banned Falun Gong in July as a public menace and a threat to Communist Party authority. But despite an ongoing crackdown in which thousands have been detained and some sentenced to jail terms of up to 18 years, adherents continue to defy the government by protesting and by refusing to stop practicing Falun Gong.
The spiritual movement, founded in 1992 by an ex-government clerk who later moved to New York, has attracted millions of followers with its blend of slow-motion exercises and Taoist- and Buddhist-based ideas that practitioners claim promote health and good citizenship.

"Chinese policeman punished for ties with banned Falungong sect"

(Agence France Presse, February 13, 2000)

HONG KONG, Feb 13 (AFP) - A member of China's secret police force has been sentenced to three years "education through labor" for protesting the crackdown on the banned Falungong spiritual group, a Hong Kong-based rights group said Sunday.
Tao Hongsheng, an official of the state security bureau of Hebei province was sentenced on February 11 to the administrative punishment without trial in the provincial capital of Shijiazhuang, the Information Centre of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China said.
Tao, with 15 other Falungong practioners, allegedly unfurled a "Falun Dafa" banner on Tiananmen Square in central Beijing on December 25 in an attempt to protest the nationwide ban on the group, the center said.
"While he was being detained, Tao Hongsheng expressed that he would continue to do Falungong exercises," the center said in a faxed statement.
Also sentenced to three years education through labor were six other Shijiazhuang followers of the mystical group, including Wu Bin, a middle school teacher in the city, it said.
The center said the punishment of Tao was surprising because China's state security bureau, the nation's secret police, demands the highest level of discipline and political loyalty.
Members of China's judicial departments, armed police, People's Liberation Army and Communist Party have all been punished for their belief in the group, the center said.
The news of Tao's sentence comes after the center reported Friday that Falungong follower Huang Jinchun, a civil court judge at the Beihai Intermediate People's Court in the southern Guangxi autonomous region, had been detained at the Long Qianshan asylum in the city of Liuzhou.
The 34-year-old judge, who was initially detained on November 15, was released for 10 days over the annual Lunar New Year festival and insisted to his family he was "perfectly normal" and urged them to publicize his case to the outside world.
An official at Beihai Intermediate People's Court confirmed Huang was sacked in October, saying it was "possible" he was now in detention.
Nobody was available for comment at the Long Qianshan asylum.
The centre also said 50 Falungong practitioners detained at the Zhoukoudian psychiatric hospital near Beijing had been released on January 23 after widespread publicity about their cases.
It said up to 500 Falungong practitioners were detained in a Lunar New Year clampdown following a high-profile mass protest in Beijing's Tiananmen Square last week.
Chinese authorities admit more than 35,000 members of the banned group were detained while attempting to make similar protests between July and mid-November.

"Queens Woman Home After Beijing Bust"

by Mark Stamey and Cathy Burke ("New York Post", February 12, 2000)

A Chinese-American woman from Queens is back home today, a week after she was swept up in the mass arrest in Beijing of protesters from the banned Falun Gong meditation group. Beijing-born Tracy Zhao, 30, a Northwest Airlines flight attendant and practitioner of Falun Gong, was greeted by her mom, Yan Zuo, 55, and about 50 American practitioners of the meditation and exercise group just before 4?p.m. yesterday at La Guardia Airport.
"I feel great!" Zhao said after hugging her mom and waving to supporters.
Also home was a 14-year-old New Jersey boy who was among the 50 people scooped up in Tiananmen Square in the early hours of Feb. 4.
"My boyfriend and I went for a walk in Tiananmen Square around midnight on Feb. 3," she said. "We saw lots of police and practitioners were meditating. [The police] started to arrest the practitioners.
"They were beating a man -- three police were beating one guy. I was shocked when I saw this. ... I took a picture.".
Zhao said the flash of the camera "attracted the attention of the police.".
"Three approached me. They took my camera," she said. "They didn't ask any questions.".
It was two more days before Zhao's boyfriend, Jacob Lin, could get proof of her citizenship to authorities, and on Thursday Chinese officials acknowledged they had the American woman detained, the State Department has said.
"I was very, very worried," Zhao's mother said at the airport.
"I didn't where she was or how she was. Now she's home and I'm very, very happy.
"I want her to come back home and take a rest.".
Supporters hoisted a yellow pennant of the Falun Gong group, and chanted "Welcome home!".
David Zui of Bridgewater, N.J., also was arrested in the sweep of demonstrators, complaining he was mistreated while in jail.
He said his mother was able to get him released after two days.
"I didn't tell them I was from the United States when I was arrested," he said. "When they weren't happy with my answers, they slapped me.".

"Watchdog acts over pager gag on sect"

by Alex Lo ("South China Morning Post", February 12, 2000)

Paging companies must offer dual networks on both sides of the border to avoid censorship of politically sensitive messages, the Telecommunications Authority announced yesterday.
The new rule aims to avoid a repeat of incidents last November when some China Motion Telecom operators refused to relay messages referring to the Falun Gong sect, which is banned on the mainland.
The authority said it found no evidence the company deliberately censored such messages as a matter of policy. It said it would not prosecute.
However, operators from the company again refused yesterday to send messages referring to the Falun Gong.
"Please just state your phone number because we can't pass on messages that have to do with Falun Gong," an operator said.
The authority was unavailable to comment on the latest refusal last night.
Under the new rule, messages considered sensitive or illegal on the mainland but not in Hong Kong must be relayed within the territory. This means paging companies must develop dual networks instead of relying only on one based on the mainland.
"Operators will have to make a decision to put the message only on the Hong Kong network if it is considered illegal or inappropriate to broadcast it on the mainland," an authority spokeswoman said.
The bulk of China Motion Telecom operations are located on the mainland. The company said the decision not to prosecute was the end of the matter and declined to comment.
More Hong Kong paging companies are expected to offer roaming services on the mainland once China joins the World Trade Organisation and opens up its telecommunications market.
Falun Gong spokesman Kan Hung-cheung said company staff's refusal to relay messages relating to the sect amounted to discrimination.
"We have no interest in seeing the company punished so long as they stop discriminating against us," he said.
Legislator and Democratic Party telecommunications spokesman Sin Chung-kai said: "The authority is fixing the problem with the new guideline, which may be more effective than going after CM Telecom."

"Jiang compares sect's threat to Solidarity"

bt Willy Wo-Lap Lam ("South China Morning Post", February 12, 2000)

President Jiang Zemin has warned that the Falun Gong sect poses as much of a threat to the Communist Party as the Solidarity movement did to the communists in Poland in the 1980s.
In a discussion with senior aides, Mr Jiang cited the Falun Gong movement, unemployed farmers and workers and "splittists" among ethnic minorities as the most destabilising factors in society.
A source said yesterday that Mr Jiang stressed the party must never underestimate the threat of the Falun Gong because of its "ability to infiltrate society" and win the hearts and minds of the people.
The party chief then made comparisons between the Falun Gong and the Solidarity movement in Poland.
A security source said that while Beijing had made headway in detaining "ringleaders", the leadership was afraid of a possible rash of suicides in prisons.
"There have been reports of Falun Gong practitioners committing suicide in jail," the source said.
"Beijing has tried to suppress such reports for fear they would fan emotions and stir up further resistance among sect followers."
He added that in a number of provinces, top cadres such as party secretaries were personally involved in the task of combating the Falun Gong.
Apart from the quasi-Buddhist sect, Mr Jiang expressed concern about unemployment in rural and urban areas.
In his talk with advisers, the President pointed to cases where agricultural workers, who left the land hoping to make more money in the cities, could not find jobs.
He expressed concern that the jobless in rural and urban areas might "join hands" to pose a challenge to the leadership.
On the question of ethnic minorities, Mr Jiang pointed out that Ugyur nationalists were posing a grave threat to Beijing.
The President cited reports that the "splittists" had received aid and training from neighbouring Muslim countries.
Despite the recent flight of the teenage Karmapa Lama to India, it is understood Beijing still considers the situation in Tibet as manageable.

"China Using Asylums to Suppress: Banned Movement's Followers Reportedly Institutionalized"

by Cindy Sui ("The Washington Post" February 12, 2000)

BEIJING, Feb. 11 - A judge in southern China who refused to renounce his belief in the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement was held in a mental hospital for three months and given daily injections of a drug that made him sleepy and muddled, a human rights group said today.
Huang Jinchun's incarceration, along with accounts by other Falun Gong practitioners, indicate the Chinese government is using mental institutions in its effort to suppress the quasi-religious organization.
According to human rights groups, Chinese police have detained at least 2,000 Falun Gong followers in 40 cities in the past week. The roundup followed a Chinese New Year's Eve demonstration on Feb. 4 in which police arrested 100 protesters who tried to unfurl banners and meditate in Tiananmen Square.
Human rights groups say more than 5,000 people have been jailed or sent to labor camps since China began cracking down on the group in July.
Frustrated with adherents' refusal to disassociate with Falun Gong, authorities have adopted the tactic of placing them in psychiatric hospitals, said Frank Lu, director of the Hong Kong-based Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China.
"What they've done so far is not working. They're not supposed to hold people in jail for more than a month without trying them. Trials take too long and require some evidence, so they're resorting to this," Lu said.
Huang, 34, was released Feb. 4 to spend 10 days with his family for the New Year. But police have placed him under close surveillance and have forbidden him from taking telephone calls from journalists. He posted his experience on an overseas Falun Gong Internet site this week, days before he was due to be sent back to the hospital.
"The doctors and nurses made fun of me: 'Aren't you practicing Falun Gong? Let us see which is stronger, Falun Gong or our medicines?' " Huang wrote on the Web site.
Huang is a judge who worked in the civil trials division of the Intermediate People's Court in the city of Beihai in Guangxi province. He was detained after he joined hundreds of fellow Falun Gong practitioners in protesting the ban on the group in Beijing in September, the information center said.
He was sent back to Beihai and detained for 15 days. The court later fired him for refusing to sever his ties with Falun Gong, and in mid-November, two police officers took him from his home to the Longqianshan Psychiatric Hospital in Guangxi's Liuzhou city, the center said.
The information center said it has documented a total of seven cases, involving some 60 people, of Falun Gong followers being held at psychiatric hospitals.

"U.S. Falun Gong practitioner arrives home"

(Reuters, February 12, 2000)

NEW YORK, Feb 12 (Reuters) - An American follower of Falun Gong arrived home on Saturday after being freed by Chinese police who arrested her a week ago in Tiananmen Square during a demonstration by members of the outlawed spiritual movement.
``I feel great,'' Tracy Zhao, a 30-year-old flight attendant, told reporters at La Guardia airport in New York City. ``I was not physically mistreated.'' Zhao was put on a Northwest Airlines flight from Beijing to Detroit Saturday morning.
detained in a chaotic police sweep in Tiananmen Square on February 4, the eve of the Lunar New Year.
At midnight, Falun Gong members unfurled banners on the square in an act of defiance against official repression. Police detained more than 100 people, kicking and punching many of them.
Zhao, who had been informed of the protest beforehand, was snapping photographs of the crackdown when police took her onto a bus and then to a detention centre outside Beijing, her boyfriend Chong-Li Lin said.
Zhao, Lin and about half a dozen other U.S. Falun Gong members had arrived in Beijing a day earlier to meet local practitioners, Lin said.
``We wanted to go to China to show our support and find out more about the conditions people experience here,'' he said, adding they were not there to participate in the protest.
``We just wanted to see what would happen.'' A witness had said another foreign woman, Australian Shelley Jiang, was also detained in the round up. Her whereabouts were unknown.


Falun Gong members have continued to stage bold protests more than six months after authorities banned the movement, a mishmash of Buddhism and Chinese mysticism that preaches salvation from a morally corrupt world misguided by science and technology.
Some 2,000 followers have been detained across the country in the past week, according to the Hong Kong-based Information Centre of Human Rights & Democratic Movement in China.
President Jiang Zemin and other top leaders were first shocked by Falun Gong when 10,000 adherents surrounded the central leadership compound in Beijing last April to demand official recognition for their faith.
It was the largest protest in the capital since student-led pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989.
In July, Falun Gong was declared illegal and the government mounted a massive propaganda campaign while secret police infiltrated the group and arrested hundreds of its leaders.
More than 5,000 members have been sent to labour camps, and 300 have been imprisoned for terms spanning up to 18 years, according to the Hong Kong-based rights group.
The government, which calls Falun Gong an ``evil cult,'' has declared a high rate of success convincing the group's millions of adherents to renounce their faith.
But many followers still practice Falun Gong meditation exercises in the privacy of their homes, while others use mobile phones and the Internet to organise local chapters and carry out protests.

"U.S. Detainee Returns From China"

(Associated Press, February 12, 2000)

BEIJING (AP) - An American woman arrived in Detroit today after being freed from custody in China, where she was detained for taking a picture at a protest by the banned Falun Gong meditation group.
Police had put Tracy Zhao, 30, on the Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit, where she was trying to find a flight back to her home in New York.
The U.S. Embassy declined comment, saying that because the Chinese had allowed no consular access, officials had not obtained a privacy waiver from Zhao.
Zhao, a Northwest Airlines flight attendant, was taking a picture of police breaking up a Falun Gong protest around midnight Feb. 4 at Tiananmen Square when police detained her.
According to her boyfriend, Lin Chong-i, she did not join the protest but was there to observe it and show support. She was among at least 50 Falun Gong followers detained at the protest, which was held as China welcomed the lunar new year. Police kicked, punched and dragged many of the demonstrators before putting them in vans and driving them away.
Zhao, who was born in Beijing, emigrated to the United States at age 20. She had been practicing Falun Gong for about a year, according to her mother, Yan Zuo. Zhao was visiting Beijing to celebrate the lunar new year and to find out how Falun Gong members in China were being treated, Yan said.
The Chinese government banned Falun Gong in July as a menace to the public and a threat to Communist Party control. Founded in 1992 by a former Chinese government clerk who now lives in New York, Falun Gong attracted millions of followers drawn to its mix of slow-motion exercises, Buddhist and Taoist cosmology and message of moral living.
Protests by members persist despite a crackdown that has seen thousands sent to labor camps and top group leaders sentenced to prison terms of up to 18 years.

"Falun Gong Renews Efforts to Challenge China's Government"

by Liz Sly ("Chicago Tribune", February 11, 2000)

BEIJING -- Chinese police have seized at least 2,000 Falun Gong practitioners in the last week to head off a renewed effort by members of the banned sect to challenge China's government, according to human-rights groups and sect members.
The nationwide detentions came as Falun Gong practitioners, including some Americans, sought to mark the start of the Chinese Lunar New Year by staging public displays of the meditation exercises that were outlawed by the government last summer, according to the Hong Kong-based Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China.
More than 500 have been rounded up in Beijing alone, following a bold attempt by sect members to stage a midnight protest in Tiananmen Square on Feb. 4, the eve of the traditional new year, the group said.
Practitioners who gathered surreptitiously in the square, and then attempted to sit down and meditate as midnight struck, were kicked and punched by dozens of plainclothes police who had gathered in the square. According to witnesses, the police seemed overwhelmed by the numbers of protesters. Between 50 and 100 practitioners were dragged onto buses and taken away, witnesses said.
Among those still in detention was New York resident Tracy Zhao, 31, a flight attendant with Northwestern Airlines who had gone to Beijing with a half-dozen or so other New York-area practitioners to support the protest. Zhao was seized after she took a photograph to record the event, and she was not carrying her passport, said New York-based Falun Gong spokeswoman Gail Rachlin. On Thursday, Chinese police informed Zhao's friends that she had been found in a detention center near Beijing.
Reports from the returning Americans who escaped detention suggest the protest may have been far larger than previously reported, Rachlin said. It appears several thousand people may have attempted to reach the square but were turned back or detained along the way, she said.
Japanese, Singaporean and Australian practitioners also were among those seeking to assert the group's faith on the square that night.
The group, which claims that its meditation exercises can induce physical and spiritual well-being, has emerged as the most powerful challenge in over a decade to the absolute power of China's Communist Party.
The group was founded in 1992 by an ex-government official, Li Hongzhi, who immigrated to New York in 1998. It rapidly gained a huge following, put at 2 million people by the Chinese government and between 70 million and 100 million by the Falun Gong sect.
The group's early-morning gatherings in parks across China were ignored until last year, when calls in the state-owned press for the sect to be banned prompted a 10,000-strong demonstration outside government headquarters.
Human-rights groups estimate that more than 5,000 people have been sent to labor camps and 300 sentenced to prison since a crackdown was launched last July, yet the group continues to pursue its quest for legitimacy. Rachlin believes 35,000 people are currently in detention.
Yet the detentions, the prison sentences of up to 18 years given to key leaders, the reported physical abuse of practitioners and a nationwide propaganda campaign appear not to have deterred many thousands of the group's followers from practicing their faith.
Almost daily, at least one or two Falun Gong practitioners appear on Tiananmen Square, proclaim their allegiance to the sect and are led away by police.
Some are not heard from again and presumably have been sent to labor camps. Others are held in detention centers for a few weeks and released, only to reappear on the square again, said Rachlin, who recently received a telephone call from a 70-year old woman from Manchuria boasting that she had just been released after her fifth protest on the square.
The group also has attracted a sizable following around the world, including Chicago, where exercise sessions are held in city parks.

"Chinese judge reportedly committed, drugged for following Falun Gong"

by Charles Hutzler (Associates Press, February 11, 2000)

BEIJING - A judge in southern China has been put in a psychiatric hospital and administered narcotics for refusing to renounce his belief in the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, a rights group said Friday.
The case of Huang Jinchun is the latest troubling sign that the communist government is using mental institutions to punish political or religious dissenters.
Huang displayed no symptoms of mental illness either at work or after being sent to the hospital nearly three months ago, the Hong Kong-based Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China reported, citing former colleagues and nurses.
But at the Longqianshan Psychiatric Hospital in the southern Guangxi region, medical personnel gave Huang daily injections of a narcotic that left him sleepy and muddled, after he refused to stop practicing Falun Gong, the rights group said.
"The doctors and nurses made fun of me: 'Aren't you practicing Falun Gong? Let us see which is stronger, Falun Gong or our medicines?'" Huang related in an appeal posted earlier this week on an overseas Falun Gong Web site.
The accounts could not be independently verified. Government, court and hospital administrative offices and courts were closed Friday for the Lunar New Year holiday.
Hospital authorities allowed Huang to go home Feb. 4 for a 10-day stay over the holiday, and he is being kept under close surveillance, the Information Center said.
His case underscores both how popular Falun Gong became even among educated officials the Communist Party entrusts to carry out policy and how desperate the government has become in trying to eradicate the sect's influence.
Chinese police also notified the U.S. Embassy in Beijing that a U.S. citizen was being held after being detained at a protest in Beijing on Feb. 4, an embassy spokesman said. Tracy Zhao, a Falun Gong practitioner and Northwest Airlines flight attendant from New York, was among at least 50 sect followers rounded up in Tiananmen Square. No further information was available.
Founded by an ex-government grain clerk in 1992, Falun Gong attracted millions of followers with its mix of slow-motion meditation exercises, Buddhist and Taoist cosmology and message of moral living.
Fearful of the group's popularity and its ability to mobilize thousands of followers for protests, Chinese leaders banned the group 6 1/2 months ago as a menace to public order and party rule. Protests persist despite a crackdown that has seen thousands sent to labor camps and top group leaders sentenced to prison terms of up to 18 years.
Huang, a judge in the civil trials division of the Intermediate People's Court in Beihai, left the busy port city on the Tonkin Gulf last September to join hundreds of fellow Falun Gong practitioners protesting the ban in Beijing, the Information Center said.
Arrested in Beijing, Huang was sent back to Beihai and detained for 15 days, according to his own account. It said the court fired him Nov. 8 for refusing to sever his ties with Falun Gong and a week later two police took him from his home to the Longqianshan hospital in Liuzhou city, 180 miles to the north.
The Information Center described Longqianshan as a the biggest mental institution in Guangxi region, holding hundreds of patients and managed in the style of a prison.
Police returned a veteran political dissident, Wang Wanxing, to a psychiatric hospital outside Beijing in November after he threatened to tell foreign reporters about his seven years confinement there.
In December, about 50 Falun Gong members were taken to a different mental institution outside Beijing and held for six weeks. Recently released, some have said they were not treated as psychiatric patients but were subjected to the same mistreatment Falun Gong followers have received in other police detention centers.

"China jails Falun Gong member for 9 years-HK group"

(Reuters, February 11, 2000)

HONG KONG, Feb 11 (Reuters) - China sentenced a leader of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement to nine years in jail for ``using an evil cult to disturb public order in society'' and ``leaking state secrets,'' a Hong Kong rights group said on Friday.
The Xigang district court in Dalian city of northeastern China's Liaoning province secretly handed down the verdict on Gao Qiuju recently, the Information Centre of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China said in a statement.
Gao, 59, is the chief of Falun Gong's Dalian branch and the best known and most important Falun Gong leader in the provinces of Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang in northeastern China, according to the human rights group.
She participated in a 10,000-strong protest by Falun Gong adherents outside China's Zhongnanhai leadership compound on April 25 last year, the Hong Kong group said. That protest, in which Falun Gong followers surrounded Zhongnanhai, eventually led Beijing to ban the movement in July.
Authorities accused Gao of taking part in organising the Zhongnanhai demonstration and leading about 100 Dalian Falun Gong followers in the action.
She was also charged with leaking state secrets by passing to another Falun Gong leader a confidential document about Beijing's crackdown on the movement.
Gao, a trading company manager who became head of Falun Gong's Dalian branch in 1994, was tried secretly on February 1 after her arrest on July 24 last year.
China has sent more than 5,000 Falun Gong practitioners to labour camps without trial since then, and sentenced another 300 to prison for terms of up to 18 years since last November, the information centre said.

"More Members of Falun Gong Are Being Detained"

by Elisabeth Rosenthal ("The New York Times", February 11, 2000)

BEIJING, Feb. 10 -- At least 2,000 followers of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement have been detained in China in the last week, the official holiday period for the Lunar New Year, a Hong Kong human rights group said.
The detentions were in cities across China, although the largest number, 500, were conducted here, around Tiananmen Square, said the Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China. The numbers could not be independently verified.
Some of the detainees were foreigners. At least one, Tracy Zhao, 30, a Beijing-born American citizen and resident of New York City who did not have her passport when she was arrested, remained in custody, friends of Ms. Zhao said.
For months, individual members of the sect have staged almost daily acts of defiance in the vast Tiananmen, sometimes unfurling small banners, but generally just meditating or identifying themselves as practitioners to the dragnet of police officers who patrol the square looking for Falun Gong members.
The government has acknowledged tens of thousands of encounters between the police and practitioners since it declared the group illegal in the summer.
The recent detentions resulted from a somewhat larger silent protest that involved hundreds of people and that group members said they had planned in Tiananmen around the New Year.
Although witnesses saw vans of practitioners removed from the square on Friday night, New Year's Eve, and a few more on Saturday, it was difficult to estimate the number of participants or arrests, because the silent protests were been sporadic and their margins hard to define as the throng of revelers welcomed the Year of the Dragon.
The role and size of the overseas contingent in the protest are also unclear. A number of foreign members traveled here in anticipation of an event, some to take part but others as a gesture of camaraderie.
"We felt the Beijing practitioners needed our support," said Lin Chongli, an American practitioner, also from New York, who said he observed, but did not actively participate in the protests.
"Coming here is dangerous for us, too," he said. "It shows the local practitioners that we're also willing to make sacrifices. We'll encourage others in the U.S. to make similar trips."
The Falun Gong founder, Li Hongzhi, lives in exile in the United States, where the movement has become especially popular among Chinese-Americans.
Eight months into the Chinese government crackdown, the group is vastly diminished but not utterly defeated. Last spring, practice groups thrived in virtually all Beijing parks, mostly with middle-age retirees. Practitioners of Falun Gong, which combines slow-motion traditional Chinese exercises and meditation with a smattering of Buddhism and Taoism, say it enhances health and moral behavior.
But after months of anti-Falun Gong propaganda and almost daily arrests, the parks are barren compared to a year ago, devoid not only of Falun Gong followers, but also of many unrelated groups devoted to traditional exercise and meditation who fear police scrutiny and actions might classify them as "superstitious."
Hundreds of Falun Gong members face criminal charges. Some have been sentenced to prison terms of more than 10 years. Human rights groups say thousands have been detained for short periods or placed in labor camps for "re-education."
With the stakes so high, most casual members have given up practice or moved to another form of exercise, although some have continued to exercise in private.
"A lot of people are in detention, but a lot of others are very clandestine because they are under heavy surveillance," Mr. Lin said. "There's a bit of a chasm in the group. Some feel it's their duty to make their practice known, to educate people about Falun Gong. But others feel they should focus on their own personal cultivation. So they practice at home rather than getting thrown in jail."
Mr. Lin said he and Ms. Zhao had come to China with a group of six American practitioners. He said immigration officers had turned away Ms. Zhao's mother because she was detained here in December for protesting the ban on Falun Gong.
Ms. Zhao, who moved to the United States at 20, is a flight attendant for Northwest Airlines.
Although she was not meditating or actively participating in any protest action on Feb. 4, she was detained while photographing the arrests of other Falun Gong followers, Mr. Lin said. Also detained around that time, he added, were Shelley Jiang, an Australian, and David Cui, 14, a Chinese with a resident visa for the United States who had traveled here with his parents.
Mr. Lin said that this evening, acting on a request from the Beijing Public Security Bureau, he took a companion pass, essentially a blank airline ticket to the United States, to the police office. He said he hoped that meant that Ms. Zhao would soon be flying to the United States.

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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