Singapore-based practitioners of the Falungong spiritual movement on Thursday called on the Chinese government to lift the one-year-old ban on the sect.
A letter from 12 practitioners based in Singapore calling for the removal of the ban was rejected by the Chinese embassy.
The letter said reasons given for the ban were "totally unfounded and ridiculous".
"Practitioners displayed great benevolence and forebearance in their attempts to reflect the true situation of Falungong to the government," the letter read.
"However, what they got in return was detention, imprisonment, persecution, brutal beatings, removal from their posts, suspension from schooling etc."
The members then proceeded with a demonstration of Falungong exercises in front of the embassy building when Chinese officials refused to meet them.
The letter, prepared to mark Thursday's first anniversary of the ban's introduction in China, charged that more than 20 practitioners have been tortured to death in China.
Gao Hao, the leader of the group, told AFP that for the past year, they "felt like fugitives".
"Many people shunned us, because of the ban on Falungong," he said.
"We are not here to break the law," Hao said. "But at the same time, we cannot let the atrocities in China continue." Singapore members felt Falungong was a misunderstood sect, he said.
"The things represented in the Chinese media about Falungong are false, and China treats us as criminals, hence we feel a responsibility to let the truth be known," said Zhen Han Fei, who was detained in China for three months for being practitioner.
Recounting his experience as a detainee, he said that he was not treated badly because he was considered a foreigner in China.
The Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said in a statement that two Falungong members died in Chinese police detention centres this month.
The movement is seen by the Chinese communist party as the biggest threat to its grip on power since the Tiananmen pro-democracy protests, which were violently crushed by the army on June 4, 1989.
The sect combines Chinese breathing exercises with Buddhist and Taoist philosophies.
Hao estimated that there are about 1,000 Falungong practitioners in Singapore.
WASHINGTON (AP) - More than 100 Falun Gong protesters exercised quietly and stood vigil in front of the Chinese Embassy Thursday, as the embassy spokesman held a news conference to condemn the movement as a dangerous, mind-controlling cult.
On the first anniversary of China's crackdown on the group, followers protested the deaths of 24 members they said were killed while in custody of the Chinese government, and the detention of thousands more.
``We're going to hear a lot of noise from the remaining zealots of that cause,'' embassy press counselor Zhang Yuanyuan said, claiming that 98 percent of Falun Gong's practitioners have rejected the group.
Zhang repeated government accusations that the group cheats its followers and has caused hundreds to die by convincing them to refuse medical treatment. He said their leaders use them as ``cannon fodder against the law of the land.''
``The Chinese government cannot allow this cult to prey on innocent people,'' Zhang said.
Falun Gong, founded eight years ago by former government clerk Li Hongzhi, is a blend of slow-motion exercises, meditation and ideas drawn from Buddhism, Taoism and Li.
The vast majority of followers are Chinese, but it has followers around the world, and some non-Chinese joined the Washington demonstration. Practitioners said they have no formal organization, denied they are members of a cult, and said they have no estimate of the number of followers in the United States.
``We do five sets of exercises daily, build moral character, basically become a better person,'' said Dean Tsaggaris, 30, of San Jose, Calif., who said he had been a Falun Gong practitioner for about three years.
Chinese police beat and arrested more than 90 protesters from the outlawed Falun Gong sect in Tiananmen Square yesterday, as Communist leaders claimed a "decisive victory" over the spiritual movement.
Police have been placed on high alert in Beijing and surrounding provinces in expectation of further protests tomorrow - the first anniversary of the mystic healing sect's banning by the authorities. Witnesses said police punched one middle-aged woman repeatedly in the face after she was caught sitting in a meditation pose on the central Beijing square, the focus of pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989 which were crushed in a bloody army crackdown.
Other sect members were beaten in the chest and stomach, before being dragged and driven away. Hundreds of adherents are reported to have been held in a Beijing sports stadium in recent days. The sect combines meditation with a doctrine rooted loosely in Buddhist and Daoist teachings, but the ruling party sees it as a political challenge and accuses it of undermining social stability.
The authorities have been given strict orders to prevent members from converging on Beijing this weekend. An officer at Baoding railway station, south of the capital, confirmed that anyone "looking like a Falun Gong practitioner" was to be stopped. Tiananmen Square was ringed with police vehicles last night. Scores of officers were visible, both in the square, and around nearby Zhongnanhai, where senior party leaders are based.
A peaceful protest by more than 10,000 sect members outside the same leadership compound in April last year prompted a crackdown on Falun Gong, which was later outlawed and declared an "evil cult". The sect was accused of causing 1,500 deaths attributed to addled members refusing medicine, killing relatives or slashing open their bodies in search of a revolving energy wheel in their stomachs.
More recently, state propaganda has tried to paint the sect's founder, Li Hongzhi - believed to be living in America - as an agent of hostile Western forces. Dozens of sect leaders have been jailed - some after police traced their mobile phones and e-mails. Hundreds, if not thousands, have been sent to labour camps and mental homes. Human-rights groups have reported 24 deaths of members in custody.
Despite all this, the Communist Party has failed to eradicate the sect, but is seeking to highlight the efforts to contain it. Beijing says there are only 40,000 hard-core sect members left, out of an original two million, while the Falun Gong claims tens of millions of members worldwide.
A front-page commentary in the party's newspaper, People's Daily, yesterday said: "China has achieved a decisive victory in the fight against Falun Gong after unremitting and determined efforts. However, like all evil forces, the Falun Gong cult will not voluntarily step down from the historical stage." China's security machine has been publicly humbled over the past year by thousands of rank-and-file sect members, who have braved beatings and detention to mount almost daily protests in Beijing. Unfortunately for the police, most protesters are middle-aged and elderly - indistinguishable from the hordes of domestic tourists who flock to Tiananmen Square every day.
Many of those detained have had to be asked by police whether they were demonstrating.
TORONTO (CP) - Canadian followers of the spiritual Chinese practice of Falun Gong are urging Ottawa to press China to end a year-old crackdown that includes beatings, mass jailings and torture of its adherents.
"If the governments of the world, including Canada, continue to maintain silence in the face of these violations, China may interpret this as international support for their course of action," Susan Mitchell told a news conference Thursday.
Mitchell, 51, who credits Falun Gong's meditative exercises with helping her overcome a kidney ailment, called on Canada to urge Beijing to begin a dialogue with members of the movement.
The Chinese government has labelled Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, a dangerous and subversive cult. The movement's ability to mobilize followers for large scale demonstrations is seen as a challenge to authorities in China, where political dissent is seldom tolerated.
Along with other countries, Canada has urged China to respect human rights but Beijing's crackdown has continued unabated.
"We are not involved in politics," Kai Liu, a spokesman for the Falun Dafa Association of Canada, said at a protest near the Chinese Consulate in Calgary Thursday.
"We just do our meditation and improve ourselves."
Canadian Alliance MP Rob Anders said he has written letters to the Canadian and Chinese governments to diplomatically stop the violence in China and halt Canadian foreign aid.
"People are are losing their jobs, they're being beaten, just as a result of a form of meditation," said Anders. "Our government is helping to fund a regime that is persecuting its own people."
Liberal MP Colleen Beaumier denounced the crackdown as an "aggressive step backwards" but suggested there's not much the world can do.
"Nobody is going to touch China with a 10-foot pole," said Beaumier, vice-chairwoman of the foreign affairs committee. "There is a huge consumer market there."
But 22-year-old Zenon Dolnyckyj disagreed.
"I think they (Ottawa) should openly condemn them," said Dolnyckyj, who said Falun Gong helped him turn around his life of petty thievery and drug abuse.
While the movement claims an estimated 70 million followers in China, it's not clear how many there are in Canada because there are no membership lists or dues collected.
About 50 practitioners meditated outside the Ontario legislature during the lunch hour, one of several gatherings across the country to mark the first anniversary of Beijing's crackdown.
Authorities have warned that "strong political forces" are still manipulating the banned Falun Gong sect as police picked up dozens of members trying to protest in Tiananmen Square yesterday, the first anniversary of the ban on the spiritual movement.
More than 90 members of the sect were detained in the Beijing square. Most demonstrated individually or in small groups - unfurling banners, sitting in the lotus position or meditating.
Police snatched banners away from protesters within seconds after they were unfurled at different corners of the square. Some protesters who refused to co-operate were punched in the chest, stomach and face.
Most of those detained at the square were middle-aged and female Falun Gong practitioners, witnesses said. Several thousand had left their homes in other parts on the mainland to come to Beijing to mark the ban, said Frank Lu Siqing, director of the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy.
"From Monday to Wednesday, 150 people were detained at the Changsha railroad station," Mr Lu said. Sect sources said scores of followers were detained yesterday in the northern city of Changchun, Jilin province, as they practised in a park.
Despite the fact that the Communist Party yesterday declared a "decisive victory" in its crackdown on the movement, sources close to the party said leaders had warned of a prolonged struggle.
Publicly, the Government claimed the banned group had not had more than two million members and put its membership now at only 40,000.
But at meetings, cadres have been told tens of thousands are resisting.
"At internal meetings, party cadres were urged to keep up the struggle with the movement as tens of thousands of defiant members remained active though most of the activities had gone underground," sources said.
"The purged group remained active because of backing from strong political forces," the sources quoted officials as saying.
The banned spiritual movement was accused of having strong links with dissident groups and hostile forces in the United States.
Some 450 leaders of the group had been sent to prison for up to 18 years, 10,000 practitioners sentenced to labour camps for up to three years without trial and 24 had died while in police custody in the year-long purge, said the information centre.
Another 25,000 people remained in detention centres, where they were kept for up to a month. Human rights groups said 600 practitioners with no serious mental problems had been forced into psychiatric hospitals since the group was branded an evil cult.
The movement alarmed authorities in April last year when 10,000 demonstrators gathered near the leadership compound at Zhongnanhai in Beijing to protest against the arrests of members.
Beijing has blamed Falun Gong for 1,500 deaths by suicide or refusal to accept medical care in favour of faith in the teachings of America-based founder Li Hongzhi.
Falungong protests continue, the most recent taking place in the run-up to the first anniversary of the official crackdown on the sect BEIJING -- The Chinese government showed its lack of a new strategy in its fight against the outlawed Falungong cult, as the group's followers stepped up protests in Beijing in the run-up to the first anniversary of its official crackdown on the sect.
Police this week have hauled away dozens of Falungong protesters from Tiananmen Square, in some cases using violent force.
Security around the swath of land which is the political centre of Beijing is heavier than usual. More than 100 people are reported to have been arrested. Officials have not confirmed the number.
Stunned by the Falungong demonstrations which have taken place this week, the Communist Party's mouthpiece, the People's Daily, yesterday published a commentary saying that the anti-Falungong fight must continue.
"The cult will not voluntarily step down from the historical stage,'' it said, unwittingly admitting that the government's year-long campaign against the group had not tamed its followers.
Reiterating an oft-repeated message, the commentary said: ""The fight against the Falungong will be a long-drawn-out, complicated and acute struggle. Therefore, we must unite the majority of the people in cracking down on the diehards with a firm hand.''
Such rhetoric has been part of a refrain sung nationwide over the past one year which saw massive arrests carried out, heavy prison terms imposed on cult leaders, fines exacted,re-education programmes enforced as well as much propagandising ratcheted up in the print and broadcast media.
While the government is in want of new strategies to win over defiant Falungong members, protests of varying scales continue unabated.
The number of demonstrators in fact grew whenever a foreign dignitary came to town, such as during the November visit to Beijing of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, or swelled on special dates such as May 11, the birthday of the cult's founder, Li Hongzhi.
Yesterday marked a year to the day Beijing arrested scores of the group's leaders, heralding its announcement two days later that the cult was to be ruled illegal and banned.
These two Falungong anniversaries, coupled with the state visit this week of Russian President Vladimir Putin, have drawn scores of diehard followers to stage protests in Beijing over the past few days.
The protesters appeared on Tuesday morning, just before President Jiang Zemin hosted a formal welcoming ceremony for Mr Putin outside the Great Hall of the People, which faces Tiananmen Square.
Bands of protesters also turned up on Wednesday when Mr Putin was about to tour Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City situated to its north.
An observer, who knows several Falungong members, said: ""The followers keep up the protests not because they are anti-government but because they want the government to lift the ban on the group. They don't understand why it has been outlawed.''
The Chinese government acted against the cult only after more than 10,000 followers staged a shock protest outside Zhongnanhai, the headquarters of the Communist Party, on April 25 last year.
Beijing has branded the sect the biggest threat to its authority since the 1989 pro-democracy protests. It accuses Li, who is now in the US, of causing the death of more than 1,500 followers.
Many of them had died because they had adhered to the cult teachings and refused medical treatment although they had been seriously ill, it claimed.
Founded in 1992, Falungong has attracted millions of followers with its mix of exercises, meditative techniques and teachings from Buddhism and Taoism.
What Is Falun Gong? See "Falun Gong 101", by Massimo Introvigne
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