TAIPEI - China has tightened visa procedures for foreigners from Taiwan, apparently in a bid to prevent supporters of the banned Falun Gong sect from entering China via the island, business sources told Kyodo News on Wednesday.
While targeting activists, the move causes major inconvenience for Taiwan-based businesspeople who need to travel to China.
Until recently, foreign passport holders were able to apply for a China visa through Taiwan-based travel agencies, which sent the applicant's passport and visa documents to Hong Kong for processing.
Once the visa was issued the traveler simply had to change flights in Hong Kong or Macao to travel to China.
However, since April 17, foreigners living or traveling in Taiwan need to apply for their China visas in Hong Kong, forcing them to make a costly and often time-consuming stopover.
''Effective from April 17, 2000, visas will not be granted to an applicant currently not in Hong Kong SAR,'' says a notice issued by the consular department of the Hong Kong branch of the Chinese Foreign Ministry on April 13.
Taiwan citizens can still obtain a China visa in Taiwan.
David Juhn, Taipei representative for Germany's Siemens Ltd., said the new policy constitutes a ''hindrance'' for time-pressed business people.
Juhn, who previously got his China visa through a Taiwanese travel agent, was forced to stay overnight in Hong Kong earlier this month to get a new China visa.
Doris Tsao, in charge of international sales at Bobby Travel Service in Taipei, told Kyodo News she has received complaints from foreign customers who feel the new practice is inconvenient. Tsao said there was also speculation that the measure aimed to boost tourism to Hong Kong.
''Most people will have to spend at least one night in Hong Kong to obtain their visas. This will bring business to Hong Kong hotels,'' she said.
An official with Taiwan's largest travel agency, Southeast Travel Service, however, said the Chinese side hinted the change was made in connection with Beijing's crackdown on the Falun Gong sect.
''They want to check foreigners more thoroughly,'' said the official, who would identify himself only as ''Mr. Peng.''
In recent months a number of Chinese immigrants to the United States who are Falun Gong practitioners have returned to China to organize secret sessions with local believers. Some of these returnees have purposely practiced Falun Gong in public to court arrest and eventually highly publicized deportations.
A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry's Hong Kong branch contacted by Kyodo News would not say why the visa procedures were changed or how long the new practice would remain in place.
Officials with state-owned Chinese Travel Service in Hong Kong, which handles visa applications, were unwilling to explain the rationale behind the new policy.
Juhn said he had no indication that foreigners were checked more thoroughly by the Chinese side than before. He did not have to appear at the visa office in person nor did he have to answer any additional questions in his visa application.
Juhn, who commissioned a Hong Kong travel agent to complete his visa application, called the new policy ''a joke.'' He said there is ''no discernible logic'' that would make it plausible why foreigners from Taiwan now must be in Hong Kong when applying for a China visa.
Germany's unofficial mission in Taiwan, the German Institute, has already received several inquiries from business people who were confused about the new policy, according to the institute's Deputy Director Joerg Kyber.
Communist Party authorities have asked colleges and other units to raise their guard in the run-up to the 11th anniversary of the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen crackdown.
The authorities have warned there are signs elements including pro-democracy activists, the banned China Democracy Party and the Falun Gong may cause trouble on the sensitive day. A Beijing source said yesterday the Ministry of Education had relayed a message to universities requesting them to prevent activities such as large gatherings of professors and students. The authorities indicated unnamed "black hands" in colleges were attacking the leadership and spreading bourgeois-liberal values under the pretext of fighting for more welfare for staff and students.
"College administrators are told to forbid or discourage students from holding gatherings even for causes such as combating the pro-independence movement in Taiwan and asserting Chinese sovereignty over the Diaoyu islands," the source said.
Since early this year professors and students in several colleges in Beijing, Hubei, Shandong and Sichuan have petitioned the Ministry of Education and party authorities over non-political issues. They include payments and perks for professors; the price of "commodity flats" for professors; quality of teachers; living conditions of students and the criteria for admission of adult students. For example, lecturers in a Shandong college complained the prices of campus flats were too high and that the college administration had forced them to surrender a good chunk of profits earned from outside jobs.
"Party authorities have warned that pro-democracy activists are making use of non-political issues to stir up teachers and students," the source said. "Once the staff and students are agitated and holding demonstrations, their slogans will change from demanding administrative reform in the colleges to asking for democracy in the country."
A source close to the security departments said the party leadership was worried about the destabilising impact of the China Democracy Party. This is despite the fact that most of its leaders have been imprisoned. "Beijing believes a sizeable number of liberal professors and graduate students are closet affiliates of the China Democracy Party," the source said. "The police and state-security departments have found evidence of jailed party leaders issuing instructions from behind bars."
While most liberal intellectuals incarcerated after the Tiananmen Square crackdown have either left the country or become private entrepreneurs, the administration of President Jiang Zemin fears collusion between the Tiananmen-era intellectuals, the China Democracy Party, and "anti-Chinese foreign forces", principally in the United States.
It is understood Mr Jiang recently gave instructions to increase surveillance of several respected intellectuals who served jail sentences soon after the June 4 crackdown. As for the Falun Gong quasi-Buddhist sect, Mr Jiang and his colleagues are convinced they will continue to seize upon major events, particularly politically sensitive anniversaries, to hold demonstrations. Security sources said the police could only guarantee the leadership that such protests would remain small, and that the participants would be taken away quickly.
A number of cadres in the provinces, however, have told Beijing they lack the funds and other resources to control Falun Gong practitioners. These regional officials also warn of the possibility of a spate of suicides among jailed affiliates.
AFP -- A hunger-striking member of the banned Falungong spiritual group died in Chinese police detention after she was fatally injured during force-feeding, a member of the movement told AFP Friday.
The death of 44-year-old Mei Yulan at a Beijing hospital was confirmed by police and hospital staff who admitted she had died after a hunger strike, but declined to elaborate on the exact circumstances of her death.
Mei's death brings to 19 the number of Falungong members who have died in police detention since the movement was banned in July last year, according to a toll by the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy.
A Falungong member, asking to remain anonymous, said Mei was arrested on May 13 in the Chaoyang district of Beijing while she was doing breathing exercises popular with the movement.
He said Mei began a hunger strike the next day, and that when police tried to force-feed her on May 17 the feeding tube was wrongly inserted causing serious injuries.
The source said Mei immediately lapsed into a coma and was taken on May 18 to Minghang hospital where she never regained consciousness and died on May 23.
A mortuary official at Minghan hospital confirmed to AFP that Mei had died on Tuesday, adding that "hunger strike" had been listed as the official cause of death on her medical records.
She said the body was still at the mortuary, adding that an official from the detention centre had come to view the body with Mei's family.
An official from Beijing's Sun He police station also confirmed Mei's death and said she was a Falungong practitioner, but he declined further comment.
The Chinese authorities launched a nationwide crackdown against the Falungong movement after they banned the group in July last year and labelled it an "evil cult." Tens of thousands of members have been detained and sent for re-education, while those accused of being core leaders of the movement have been sentenced to jail terms of up to 18 years.
Mei's death came after the Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said earlier this week that 52-year-old Falungong practitioner Yao Baorong jumped from the fifth floor of a police station in northwest China.
The centre said Yao, 52, died in hospital after jumping out of a window of the Anning district police station in Gansu province's Lanzhou city last Saturday afternoon.
Local police refused to comment on the centre's faxed report, which said Yao's suicide leap followed numerous unsuccessful police attempts to make the local government employee give up her belief in Falungong.
The two deaths follow confirmation last week by Shuangcheng city police in northeast Heilongjiang province that a 45-year-old male follower died while in their custody.
Falungong claims tens of millions of followers in China, attracted by an eclectic mix of traditional qigong Chinese breathing exercises and Buddhist and Taoist philosophies.
NANJING - Police officials in Nanjing deny allegations that practitioners of the exercise and meditation group known as Falun Gong have been detained, beaten and involuntarily committed to mental institutions.
The city's journalists say there's no story.
Even sophisticated, Western-oriented professors here dismiss the controversy over Falun Gong. They say Western critics are making far too much about a bunch of laughably misdirected people at the far margins of Chinese society.
But if all that's true, what about the eight individuals who risked jail to meet with a Post-Dispatch reporter and give detailed accounts of how they had been arrested and detained, sometimes for weeks, just for protesting the government's decision last summer to ban an exercise practice that up until then millions of Chinese had been peacefully pursuing in public parks?
And what about Li An Nin, the retired manager for an investment company, locked in a closed ward at the Nanjing Mental Hospital?
The individuals who met with a reporter in a working-class apartment gave harrowing accounts of what the government's crackdown against Falun Gong had meant for them:
* A 55-year-old driver said he had been dismissed from his job and made a common laborer instead, at a 60 percent reduction in pay. A 24-year-old factory worker said police stood passively by while common criminals beat another woman practitioner who was sharing her cell.
* A 34-year-old worker at a Nanjing refinery said she had been arrested after joining a Beijing protest in December and was held at the Nanjing police station for two months. She was then committed involuntarily to the Nanjing Mental Hospital and held for three weeks more.
* The woman's husband protested the incarceration and was presented with a classic Catch-22. Police officials told him that his wife would be permitted to leave the mental hospital early -- but only if he signed papers affirming that in his opinion she was insane. He refused. She was eventually released, they said, but only on payment of a $600 fine.
The meeting was arranged by a teacher in a Nanjing technical institute who has been practicing Falun Gong for four years. The Post-Dispatch located him through a friend who had immigrated to Canada.
"When I was given your name, I wasn't sure at first what to do," he said, "but I thought it was inhumane to be forcing people in the hospital. These practitioners aren't meeting publicly. They're not breaking any laws. It is only for their beliefs that they are being punished.
"I hope that with your report readers in the West will know something of what is happening here," he added. "Report it to your readers as objectively as you can. Don't exaggerate. Just tell the truth, and let them know."
The man said he had not told his wife that he was arranging the meeting with practitioners. "She doesn't want me involved in any of this," he said. "She's afraid for her safety."
The saddest case of all was that of Li An Nin.
Clear-eyed, with her black hair well-groomed and wearing a stylish brown sweater, Li, 51, looked out of place in the raucous common room of Ward Five at the Nanjing Mental Hospital. A television blared in the corner and a dozen or so women, many of them obviously disturbed, milled about.
Li said her troubles began when she went to Beijing in January to protest the banning of Falun Gong. She was arrested at Tiananmen Square and transported to the Nanjing police department. She was detained there for a month and then released into the custody of her grown son. A few weeks later, the son signed the commitment papers that forced her into the mental hospital.
"I don't blame my son," Li said, sitting on a bench before a bare wood table. She said she understood his fears, that the fact of her being a practitioner would end up affecting his job and his family, too. "He could not bear the suffering this would bring to him," she said.
The conversation took place during regular visiting hours but lasted only a few minutes -- cut short by a nurse who told Li that if the presence of a foreigner in the ward was reported to her superiors, it could cost her her job.
Practitioners in Nanjing said there are half a dozen being held at the hospital. Human rights activists claim there are hundreds more in similar straits around the country, although statistics are difficult to verify in a country that officially denies that there are detentions at all.
The Nanjing municipal government has sponsored an exhibit downtown, with photographs and text suggesting that Falun Gong is similar to the Branch Davidians of Waco, Texas, the victims of the Jonestown mass suicide in Guyana and other "vicious cults." The media here have quoted the government denunciations but have attempted no independent investigations of alleged mistreatment.
"So far as I know," said Chen Longqui, director of the law department at the Nanjing Public Security Bureau, "no practitioners of Falun Gong have been held in prison or anywhere else in Nanjing."
At the Nanjing Mental Hospital, meanwhile, the patients are actually allowed to continue the five-position routines of Falun Gong -- but only as long as they take the medicine that is supposed to cure them of the Falun Gong disease.
Not so long ago in China, of course, a Western reporter never would have gotten access to a detainee being held in a mental ward.
But China even today is a place where people can be hauled off to mental wards for reasons that are suspect at best -- and where journalists, officials and ordinary people for the most part choose not to see.
Columbia, Mo. (AP) -- A University of Missouri graduate who returned to her native China earlier this month is being detained there because of her involvement with the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, her husband says.
Sue Jiang left for China on May 10 and within days was detained, said her husband Cuirong Ren, a graduate student and research assistant at Missouri.
Jiang had planned to meet with Chinese practitioners of Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, to get a deeper understanding of the meditation she and her family learned in Missouri. She was then supposed to visit her parents.
But her husband believes she was arrested after practicing the exercise in public, possibly in Tiananmen Square on May 13 as part of a celebration of the first Falun Dafa Day.
He said he has had no direct conversation with his wife since she left for China.
U.S. Rep Kenny Hulshof, the Missouri Republican whose district includes Columbia, has written to the Chinese ambassador asking that the woman be released, his spokesman Matt Miller said. Hulshof also asked for a meeting with the ambassador, but had not received a reply as of Thursday.
Miller said the congressman's office is also attempting to learn about the status of the case through people who have business contacts in Beijing.
Falun Gong is a Chinese meditative and spiritual movement that incorporates the teachings of founder Li Hongzhi. The group claims more than 100 million followers worldwide.
The Communist Chinese government has banned Falun Gong, characterizing it as an exploitive and evil cult that has driven some of its practitioners to suicide and caused mental illness in others.
Beijing--A member of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement who was detained by police in northwestern China has committed suicide by jumping from a building, a human rights group said on Tuesday.
Yao Baorong, 52, leaped from the fifth floor of a police station in Lanzhou, capital of Gansu province, during a police interrogation on Saturday, according to the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy.
Yao died after being sent to a hospital, it said.
The Information Centre said Yao's detention on Saturday was the latest of several for refusing to renounce her beliefs in Falun Gong, a popular form of meditation and exercise banned by the government last July.
Officials at the Anning branch of the Lanzhou police, where Yao was reportedly detained, declined comment.
The Information Centre said police and officials with the Anning district's law-and-order committee had confirmed her death.
Thousands of Falun Gong adherents have been arrested and an unknown number sent to labour camps for defying the government ban on Falun Gong. Unconfirmed reports by human rights groups and Falun Gong organisers say at least 18 members
have died in police custody, either of suicide, beatings or hunger strikes.
The government has denied the mistreatment and in certain cases attributed the deaths to suicide or ill health.
The mainland outlawed Falun Gong 10 months ago, declaring it a public menace and a threat to communist rule.
Falun Gong has attracted millions of followers. It combines traditional meditation exercises with Buddhist, Taoist and the often unorthodox ideas of its founder, a former government grain clerk. Believers say it promotes health and moral living.
What Is Falun Gong? See "Falun Gong 101", by Massimo Introvigne
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