BEIJING (AP) - Two members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement have died in police custody in China's capital, possibly due to ill-treatment, a Hong Kong-based human rights group said Friday.
The two were from different parts of China and, like thousands of Falun Gong followers, were detained in Beijing for protesting the communist government's ban on their group.
Wang Xiuying, from the northeastern city of Harbin, was in the ninth day of a hunger strike when detention center medics forcibly administered an intravenous drip on May 22, the Information Center of Human Rights and Democracy reported.
A day later, Wang lost consciousness and was sent to a nearby hospital, where she died, the Information Center said, citing sources at the detention center.
The second Falun Gong member, Tian Shiqiang, of Suining city in southwestern Sichuan province, died suddenly after he was detained by police on June 6, the Information Center said. It added that family members suspected he had been beaten because his body was cremated before they could see it.
Since Chinese leaders outlawed Falun Gong as a public menace in July, thousands of followers have been arrested and an unknown number sent to labor camps. Unconfirmed reports by human rights groups and Falun Gong organizers say at least 20 members have died in police custody.
The government has denied the allegations of mistreatment and in certain cases has attributed the deaths to suicide or ill health. Falun Gong members say they are opposed to suicide.
Despite the ban, an 11-month media smear campaign and wide-scale arrests, Falun Gong members continue to come to Beijing to petition Chinese leaders.
The Information Center said that 20 among 70 Falun Gong members being held at the Beijing Prison in Tuanhe had refused food for five days. Some of those imprisoned were arrested Monday when 110 followers tried to visit the prison to see fellow members.
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.
BEIJING, June 16 (Reuters) - Two members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement have died in Chinese custody in recent weeks, bringing to 21 the number who have died since China banned the movement last July, a Hong Kong rights group said on Friday.
Wang Xiuying died on May 22 in a Beijing hospital after police forced her to drink salt water to end a hunger strike, the Information Centre for Human Right and Democracy said.
A second follower, Tian Shiqiang, died suddenly in Beijing police custody and his body was promptly cremated, raising suspicions he had been beaten to death, the centre said.
At least 20 Falun Gong members held in reform-through-labour camps were in the fifth day of a hunger strike on Friday to protest against their detention, the centre said in a statement.
The centre said it had confirmed the most recent deaths with police in the home towns of the dead detainees.
Wang, from the northern province of Heilongjiang, and Tian, from Sichuan in southwestern China, had come to beijing to appeal against China's banning of Falun Gong, which the government has branded an ``evil cult'' and tried to eradicate.
China has acknowledged several deaths in police custody since the group was declared illegal, but says they were caused by suicide or natural causes.
The movement initially shocked the atheist Communist party with a 10,000-member protest in Beijing on April 25, 1999.
Beijing says Falun Gong is anti-science and cheats its followers, blaming it for 1,500 deaths by suicide or refusal to accept medical care.
The government, which claims the group had two million members at its peak, says membership has dwindled to 40,000.
Falun Gong says it has tens of millions of followers in China and 40 other countries.
Sue Jiang's 7-year-old daughter squeals and fidgets when her dad, Cuirong Ren, talks to Mom on the phone.
She wants to say hello.
Neither Cuirong nor little Qianyu has seen Jiang since before May 13, when she traveled to China to visit family and research Falun Dafa, a meditation and exercise the Chinese government banned last year. She was arrested for "her role to disrupt public order and conduct illegal activities in China." Word came from U.S. Ninth District Rep. Kenny Hulshof yesterday after a meeting with representatives from the Chinese Embassy in Washington that after being detained for two weeks, officials have reportedly decided to let Jiang return to the United States - to Cuirong and their daughter.
"We met with the folks from the embassy; they handed us a statement," Hulshof spokesman Matt Miller said yesterday. "The statement said she was free to return to the United States." She was arrested May 14 and released May 29 for practicing Falun Dafa in public. Jiang has been under the supervision of her parents since, unable to leave the country because police retained her passport and ticket home.
Cuirong said Qianyu felt her mother would be home soon. "Several days ago she got a dream that her mama come back soon and her mama can attend the" Falun Dafa "conference this weekend in Chicago." Yesterday afternoon - which was early morning in China - Cuirong called Jiang. She told Cuirong that she would try to pick up her passport and ticket home from the police station that day.
She couldn't say when she would be back.
Cuirong said he believes she signed a sort of renouncement of Falun Dafa, also known as Falun Gong, while she was being held and is uncomfortable with that. The family's dedication to the practice is evident in their apartment at University Terrace on MU's campus.
Cuirong said it changed their lives, making them healthier physically and mentally.
Posters of Li Hongzhi, the man who founded the meditation in 1992, hang on the walls. A framed photograph of the founder sits on a table in front of other Falun Dafa posters. Li's book lies open in the living room. The family has been practicing Falun Dafa for just more than two years.
The Chinese government regards the practice as an "evil" cult that endangers the lives of its followers.
Jiang, a recent MU graduate, was arrested in Tiananmen Square the day after she left the United States. When Cuirong found out, he sought help from the university, other Falun Dafa practitioners and Hulshof.
Hulshof tried repeatedly to gain an audience with the Chinese ambassador and only succeeded yesterday. Hulshof is among a group in Congress that has asked the secretary of state to express to China the United States' concern over its policy against Falun Dafa. Reports of torture and imprisonment of practitioners are widespread. Falun Dafa claims more than 100,000 practitioners worldwide, with about 20 in Columbia.
"Columbia man's wife jailed for practicing Falun Gong in China"
Cuirong Ren, a doctoral student in statistics at MU, watches his daughter Selena, 7, as she looks through her mother's pictures. Ren's wife Sue Jiang, a statistics graduate of MU as of one month ago, is incarcerated in China for her practice of Falun Gong. The activity has caused some practitioners to serve months of detention without prosecution. 'The meditation is not involved with money or politics at all,' Ren said. 'I'm not even allowed to talk to my wife directly. What I just heard is she's been at a detention center since May 14.'
For three weeks, Cuirong Ren has been calling China almost every day - to inquire as to the whereabouts of his incarcerated wife, Sue Jiang.
Ren had heard nothing encouraging until last Thursday, when his father told him that Jiang, an MU student of statistics who graduated last month, would probably be released within days.
But at a cost. Her family has already spent about $1,000 in gifts and dinner for police and other officials. Ren has no idea what the final toll will be.
One thing is certain. Jiang will have to confess her "crime" and promise to give up her faith, which is hard for one taught to believe in truthfulness, kindness and forbearance, three key principles of Falun Gong.
Ren hopes his wife will tell the truth, but fears that she might be tortured for unrepentance, and worse still, that police pressure might drive her to suicide.
On the other hand, Jiang's parents and grandfather are already busy persuading her to change her mind.
Jiang's journey home could have culminated in joyful family reunion rather than incarceration had she not practiced Falun Gong, also called Falun Dafa, on Tiananmen Square May 13, the very sensitive World Falun Dafa Day and founder Li Hongzhi's birthday. But she was determined to improve herself in cultivation, share with fellow practitioners and tell the government to change its attitude towards the harmless Falun Gong, Ren said.
Chinese law provides that police have the right to detain a criminal suspect for no more than 15 days before being convicted or released. But Falun Gong practitioners can be detained for months without prosecution, said Ren's father, who is also a practitioner.
Three weeks in detention in her home county of Shunping, Hebei Province, Jiang has made friends with a cellmate arrested for an offense unrelated to Falun Gong who was released in two weeks. In less than a week after her release, she came three times to see her friend, each time bringing her good food and telling the police that Falun Gong is good, Ren's father said.
Falun Gong has served as an agent of change for the Ren family. Quarrels ceased and peace reigned as the sect taught them a new way of life. Daily exercise improved family health. Ren is now so immersed in the practice that he now has no other spare-time interests. His daughter Selena, now 7, started learning Falun Gong two years ago as she witnessed the obvious change in her parents' relationship.
"It's a blow to the spirit to have a loved one in prison, but I can't do anything about it," Ren said, his eyes darkening. "Reading the book makes me feel better," he continued, holding up the well-wrapped Zhuan Falun, one of Li's major works. The book teaches that persecution is part of spiritual purification.
Ren calls on the Chinese government to release his wife unconditionally since she has committed no crime. He cannot understand why the government would force the innocent to lie.
"A thief may still steal even when he or she promises not to," he said. Ren urges the government to have dialogues with Falun Gong practitioners and to conduct serious investigations. "A country will be in danger when no one dares to tell the truth," he warned, relating the recent flood in northwest China's Gansu Province to Li's idea of heaven's wrath.
Ren saw his master in a meeting of about 200 people in New York in March 1998. He can't remember what he said that day, but he struck Ren as very easy-going.
"About fifteen feet away, I could see an indescribable kindness in his eyes," Ren said as his own eyes lit up behind his glasses. "He is no ordinary person. Every word he says is true. The government should withdraw its verdict on him and invest the human and material resources in something more meaningful."
Falun Gong, first introduced to the public in 1992, was banned in China last July. The Chinese government has condemned it as an anti-science, anti-social and anti-human heresy. Li Hongzhi, who now resides in the United States, is still wanted by Chinese police. With an educational level no higher than middle school, the founder claims to have about 100 million followers, including professors and scientists, in all continents except Africa. But many in China have given up the sect out of fear or doubt.
Denied by its founder and practitioners as religious or political, Falun Gong in effect preaches cultivation of a mixture of Buddhist, Taoist and even Confucian virtues through exercise and meditation. Li himself prefers to call it a special and superior kind of Qigong. His sermons are summarized in three words: truthfulness, kindness and forbearance. His books in the original are hard to understand even for native Chinese.
"The master himself spent 180 hours in nine days trying to explain the three words," said MU staff Chuan Lin, Columbia's first Falun Gong practitioner and a leader of weekly Falun Gong seminars and exercises.
Li encourages group practice and discussion. He claims that those who exercise sites and study the Dafa by reading his books will have his fashen, or Buddha-body, to cure their illnesses. He has allegedly installed a constantly rotating falun, a law wheel, in the dantian, which is somewhere below the navel, of each of his disciples.
This helps with the disciples' cultivation into Buddha. In The Heart Knows, a poem dated May 22, Li encouraged his disciples to follow him closely and expectantly in spite of the ongoing persecution.
Columbia has about 20 Falun Gong practitioners who practice in four groups on the MU campus and downtown. Half of them are Americans.
Robin Perso, 45, has been practicing a regular kind of Qigong for 10 months, but finds Falun Gong a better choice after reading a flier at Columbia Public Library. Reluctant to call Li master, he considers him an enlightened being.
Falun Dafa isn't a religion. But followers of the system of knowledge combined with physical movement have reported spiritual enlightenment, better physical health and stress alleviation as a result.
Just ask Chuan Lin.
Before he began practicing Falun Dafa, his wife, Wei Shi, had severe back pain. The couple went from doctor to doctor trying to find a way to alleviate her condition.
"My back hurt so much, and it hurt every minute," Shi said. "I saw many Western doctors and they couldn't even find what's wrong, so they couldn't help me."
A Chinese acupuncturist even told Lin his wife would probably need physical therapy for the rest of her life. Then, Lin said, the couple started practicing Falun Dafa.
Within six weeks, her back pain was gone.
"Right now, I'm just like normal people," Shi said.
Shi said she didn't even practice the physical exercises of Falun Dafa. She only meditated and read books on Falun Dafa principles.
Lin now conducts his own Falun Dafa seminars each month. The seminars run for nine consecutive evenings and are free of charge since Falun Dafa founder Li Hongzhi does not allow money to be collected in Falun Dafa's name. Those who want to teach a seminar or class must pay for the materials themselves.
"It's nothing we can buy, so it's free to the public," Lin said.
Each night, participants watch a one-and-a-half hour video featuring the teachings of founder Hongzhi. Topics include the history of meditation, the relationship between self healing and hospital healing and the relationship between western medicine and traditional Chinese medicine. After the hvideo, Lin teaches Falun Dafa exercises.
He is now in the middle of a seminar he is conducting on the MU campus. But attendance hasn't exactly been up to par, Lin said.
"Sometimes about 10 people come, sometimes five," he said Monday night. "This time, three." But Lin said the low numbers don't discourage him anymore, thanks to Falun Dafa.
What Is Falun Gong? See "Falun Gong 101", by Massimo Introvigne
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