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"China Demands Return of Sect Leader"

(Associated Press, Sept. 23, 2000)

BEIJING (AP) - Beijing on Saturday demanded the United States hand over the leader of a banned Chinese sect, calling a U.S. court decision to let him stay an ``attack on China's legal system,'' state-run media said.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi said the United States has ignored repeated requests for Zhong Hongbao's extradition despite ample evidence linking Zhong to rape and other crimes, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
``This action by the U.S. side helps a criminal suspect escape the punishment he deserves,'' the report said.
Zhang fled to Guam in February after eluding a nationwide manhunt in China.
His Zhong Gong sect, which has attracted millions of followers in China, says he is a victim of political persecution.
Human rights groups and media reports have said China has given U.S.
officials documents from three women accusing Zhang of raping or sexually assaulting them since founding Zhong Gong in 1987. The Xinhua report said China also accuses Zhang of ``counterfeiting certificates and illegal immigration'' but did not elaborate.
On Thursday, a federal judge in Guam, a U.S. territory 3,700 miles west of Hawaii, said Zhang could remain in the United States, though he stopped short of granting him full political asylum.
Sun called the decision a slap in the face to the Chinese justice system.
It is ``a wanton distortion of and attack against China's legal system,'' Sun told Xinhua. ``The action of the U.S. side also reveals its hypocrisy in respecting rule of law.''
Chinese authorities began rounding up Zhong Gong's leaders when it outlawed the better-known Falun Gong sect in July 1999, following a protest in central Beijing by more than 10,000 Falun Gong members.
Both sects say they have no political objectives besides seeking the freedom to practice their beliefs, which are based on traditional Chinese health practices.
Beijing has called the groups ``evil cults'' and banned them as a threat to public safety and Communist Party rule.
Hundreds of members of both groups have been arrested. Falun Gong says as many as 50 of its members have died in Chinese prisons or soon after release.

"China demands US repatriate leader of Chinese mystical group"

(AFP, September 23, 2000)

China "strongly demands" the repatriation of a spiritual movement leader who has been granted the right to live in the United States, the Chinese foreign ministry said Saturday, according to state media.
China accuses Zhang Hongbao, head of the mystical Zhonggong group, of rape, forging certificates, and illegal emigration, saying he entered the United States in February illegally.
A court in the US Pacific island of Guam where Zhang fled ruled on Thursday he could live in the United States although it denied his request for political asylum.
It based the decision on a law which allows people who face torture in their own country to stay in the United States, according to US officials.
The ruling "helps the criminal suspect escape the punishment he deserves," Xinhua news agency reported foreign ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi as saying.
Sun stressed China wanted the United States to repatriate Zhang as soon as possible, Xinhua said.
US officials have called the decision a compromise since granting Zhang asylum would have hurt Sino-US relations, but that he could not have been turned away either.
The decision means Zhang will effectively be stuck in the United States, since he will not be granted a "green card" that would allow him to travel abroad or apply for citizenship, the officials said.
If he leaves the country, he will not be allowed to return.
To be granted asylum by the United States, a person has to be a member of a race, social group or religion that has come under persecution or hold a political opinion that is persecuted.
Human rights groups claim 600 Zhonggong leaders have been arrested and 3,000 of the group's training stations shut down.
Zhonggong, along with the better-known Falungong, is considered a major threat to Communist Party rule in China.
Rooted in traditional Chinese martial arts exercises, both have commanded a following of tens of millions, many disillusioned by growing corruption and social problems in China.
China banned the Falungong movement in July last year and has since jailed core leaders for up to 18 years and sent tens of thousands to re-education camps.
Beijing has actively sought Zhang's repatriation and gave the US administration a file accusing the movement's leader of several rapes since he founded the group in 1988.
The file included a deposition by a 65-year-old woman accusing the guru of raping her in 1990 during a self-styled healing session.
The Guam court expressed disbelief at the claims, according to the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy.
Zhang has the right to file an appeal seeking full asylum.

"Sect Leader Wanted by China Can Stay in U.S., but in Custody"

by Craig S. Smith ("New York Times," September 23, 2000)

A federal immigration court in Hawaii has ruled that the leader of a banned Chinese meditation group may remain in the United States, defying Beijing's demands that he be returned to face rape charges, a rights group said yesterday.
The decision is sure to irritate Chinese leaders and complicate law enforcement cooperation between the United States and China. It could also crimp relations newly smoothed by the Senate's passage of a trade bill this week granting China permanent normal trading rights.
However, the immigration court stopped short of granting political asylum to the meditation group's leader, Zhang Hongbao, who remains in Immigration and Naturalization Service custody at a prison on Guam, according to an attorney familiar with the case.
Mr. Zhang's attorney, Charles Kinnunen, was not available for comment, but he was quoted yesterday in a Guam newspaper as saying that Mr. Zhang would file an appeal. The newspaper said the immigration service would also appeal the case, apparently to have the withholding order removed so that Mr. Zhang can be sent back to China.
Mr. Zhang, 46, founded the meditation and healing group known as Zhong Gong in 1987, but dropped out of sight in the early 1990's. Like the better-known Falun Gong movement, Mr. Zhang's group promises to give followers supernatural powers. In Zhong Gong's case these include the ability to fly, see the future and fast for weeks at a time.
But China banned the sect last year as part of a crackdown on unauthorized spiritual movements that the Communist Party perceived as a threat to social order. The Chinese government has been hunting Mr. Zhang since then.
In a recent interview with Pacific Daily News on Guam, Mr. Zhang said that after he left China, supporters helped him hide in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and the Philippines. He used a fake passport in January to enter Guam, where he was detained and requested political asylum. The island, a United States territory covered by American immigration laws, attracts many Chinese seeking asylum, often for fraudulent or flimsy reasons.
But Mr. Zhang appeared to have a very strong case. With Zhong Gong outlawed and many of the group's senior adherents arrested, there was little doubt that he would face harassment, if not imprisonment, even without the rape charges. It is also unlikely that Mr. Zhang would be given a fair trial on those charges.
Even so, with law enforcement cooperation growing, China asked the United States for help in returning him to face trial in China.
China and the United States have no extradition treaty, but a recent bilateral accord affords the framework for the return of people wanted on criminal charges by either side.
The United States has been trying to get two men now in Chinese custody who are wanted for the 1991 execution-style killing of five people in Chinatown in Boston. American officials may have decided against granting Mr. Zhang political asylum to mute the damage that keeping him on American soil might cause to law enforcement cooperation.
Mr. Zhang's attorney, Mr. Kinnunen, told the newspaper that the immigration court had instead granted Mr. Zhang a request for "withholding of removal" and relief under the United Nations' conventions on torture. The status will allow him to stay in the United States indefinitely but without the possibility of securing permanent resident status.

"U.S. Judge Won't Deport Spiritual Leader to China" ( Zhong Gong)

by Anthony Kuhn ("LA Times," September 22, 2000)

BEIJING--An immigration judge in Hawaii has ruled that the leader of one of China's largest spiritual movements can remain in the United States indefinitely, the guru's attorney said Thursday. The judge stopped short of granting political asylum to Zhang Hongbao, founder of the Zhong Gong group, who had faced deportation to China. Zhang was being held at a detention center in the U.S. territory of Guam. Judge Dayna Dias of the Executive Office for Immigration Review made her ruling based on the United Nations Convention Against Torture, fearing that Zhang might face maltreatment in China. Her decision granted him a "withholding of removal," which allows him to live and work in the U.S. as a foreign national but stops short of giving him permanent resident status. "The judge said Zhang qualified for asylum under the statutes, but she denied him asylum as a matter of discretion," said Charles Kinnunen, Zhang's lawyer, speaking by phone from Guam. Kinnunen said neither his client nor the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which had sought Zhang's deportation for illegally entering the U.S., was satisfied with the verdict. Both sides plan to appeal. Chinese officials are seeking the return of Zhang to his homeland to face rape charges. By neither deporting Zhang nor giving him full asylum, the U.S. has struck an uneasy compromise. China can still claim that Washington is sheltering a suspected criminal, while Beijing's critics can charge that U.S. officials have failed to fully protect a victim of religious persecution. The State Department's "Annual Report on International Religious Freedom," released September 5, cited Beijing's treatment of Zhong Gong as an example of "governmental abuse of religious freedom." The movement claims more than 30 million followers. Since Beijing branded another group, Falun Gong, as an illegal cult last year, the fate of China's numerous and largely apolitical groups practicing the ancient, yoga-like art of qigong has become a heavily politicized issue. Chinese officials fear that the groups could be a source of social unrest and political opposition. "The 16th [Communist] Party Congress is coming up, and [China's leaders] want to present a stable situation for that," said He Zuoxiu, a critic of the groups and a physicist who wrote to officials warning them about Zhong Gong. "They won't leave the problem of cults for the next generation of leaders to clean up." The 2002 party congress is expected to choose a successor to President Jiang Zemin, who is required by the constitution to step down the following year at the end of his second term. The Zhong Gong and Falun Gong groups appear similar. Both are run by charismatic young men--now in the U.S.--who command millions of followers. Both claim powers of healing and clairvoyance, borrow Buddhist and Taoist imagery and profit from the sale of books, cassette tapes, meditation cushions and the like. The two groups' most striking differences lie in their strategies and the way that Beijing has dealt with them. While Falun Gong grew as a loosely structured social organization, Zhong Gong evolved into a diversified corporate entity with its own security forces and internal auditors. According to the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy, authorities have already shut down more than 3,000 legally registered Zhong Gong subsidiaries nationwide, throwing 100,000 employees out of work. The subsidiaries included tourist agencies, health spas, schools and trading companies. Falun Gong followers have offered themselves up for arrest in peaceful protests, and their leaders have appeared on national television recanting their faith. But Zhong Gong has so far avoided public demonstrations and mass arrests. Beijing has yet to publicly label Zhong Gong a "heretical cult" that should be banned, and the state media have kept silent about the case, in contrast to the official propaganda blitz against Falun Gong. Chinese officials claim that they want to prosecute Zhang for allegedly committing rape, not for leading a cult. Observers say both Zhong Gong and Chinese police have preferred to wage their struggles against each other covertly. Chinese agents have "largely managed to infiltrate Falun Gong, but they've been unable to obtain crucial information about Zhong Gong's organization and membership" from informants, said Frank Lu, head of the Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy. Zhang founded Zhong Gong--shorthand for China Life Cultivation and Wisdom Enhancement Skill--in 1987. By 1990, Chinese officials claim, police were investigating rape charges against Zhang, who is accused of assaulting at least three followers. Zhang went underground, slipped out of the country in 1994 and surfaced in Guam last January. However, Beijing police did not issue an arrest warrant for him until June.

"Court allows Qigong guru to stay in U.S.-group" (Zhong Gong)

(Reuters, September 21, 2000)

HONG KONG, Sept 21 (Reuters) - A court in U.S.-administered Guam has allowed the leader of the banned Zhong Gong meditation group to stay in the United States instead of deporting him to China, a Hong Kong-based human rights group said on Thursday.
Zhong Gong, like the better known Falun Gong spiritual movement, has been banned in China as an ``evil cult,'' accused of ``using feudal superstition to deceive the masses.''
The Information Centre for Human Rights & Democracy said in a statement the court stopped short of granting political asylum to Zhang Hongbao, the group's leader, as he had sought.
It said the court did not want to repatriate Zhang to China for fear of persecution after he returned home. Zhang would be allowed to stay and work in the United States but would not become a permanent resident, it added.
The Information Centre said the U.S. did not give Zhang political asylum because it did not want to upset Beijing.
Beijing has accused Zhang of raping followers. Zhong Gong says China fabricated the charges in a ploy frequently used to punish political enemies and dissidents without provoking human rights criticism.
The U.S. court decision came a day after China on Wednesday published new rules controlling Qiqong meditation groups to ``ensure the healthy development of the traditional Chinese sport.''
Zhang's hearing, which had been repeatedly postponed, forced the U.S. to choose between sending the meditation guru back to possible execution and giving a home to a fugitive from China.
Further complicating matters was U.S. criticism of China's ruthless campaign against Falun Gong, in which rights group say dozen of adherents have died of beatings and forced feeding or medication in police custody.
China interprets U.S. statements of general support for freedom of belief and assembly as backing for Falun Gong. It is angry that Washington rejected as politically motivated Chinese requests to arrest the group's New York-based founder, Li Hongzhi.

"China sets curbs on Qigong, guru seeks U.S. asylum"

(Reuters, September 20, 2000)

BEIJING, Sept 20 (Reuters) - China published new rules controlling Qigong meditation groups on Wednesday as the leader of a banned quasi-spiritual group awaited a political asylum hearing in the U.S.-administered territory of Guam.
The People's Daily carried new rules set by the State General Administration of Sport, designed to ``ensure the healthy development of the traditional Chinese sport.''
``Provisional Administrative Methods on Qigong'' recognised the breathing and meditation-based exercise regimes as traditional Chinese sport and a part of Chinese culture, the Communist Party newspaper said.
``But in recent years, some people have been making illegal profits and spreading superstitious ideas under the name of practicing Qigong,'' the sports body said.
Without mentioning Falun Gong or other such movements banned as ``evil cults,'' the sports authority vowed a crackdown on unauthorised groups.
The decree was published hours before a Guam court was to weigh the asylum application of Zhang Hongbao, whose Zhong Gong group was branded an ``evil cult'' and banned last year along with the better-known Falun Gong.
The Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy quoted Zhong Gong adherents as saying Zhang faced persecution if returned to China, which has accused Zhang of raping followers.
Zhong Gong says China fabricated the charges in a ploy used frequently against political enemies and dissidents in an effort to punish them without provoking human rights criticism.
Zhang's hearing, postponed repeatedly, forces an awkward choice on the United States between sending the meditation guru back to possible execution and giving a home to a fugitive from China.
Further complicating matters is U.S. criticism of China's ruthless campaign against Falun Gong in which rights groups say dozens of adherents have died of beatings and forced feeding or medication in police custody.
China interprets U.S. statements of general support for freedom of belief and assembly as backing for Falun Gong. It is angry that Washington rejected as politically motivated Chinese requests to arrest the group's New York-based founder, Li Hongzhi.
U.S. officials in Beijing have declined to comment on Zhang's case, citing its sensitivity and fears of prejudicing the ruling.
On June 16, an Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS) court told Zhang, who fled to U.S.-administered Guam in February, he would be given political asylum, the Hong Kong centre said.
But his confirmation was delayed as INS authorities studied a July 16 Chinese embassy demand that Zhang be denied asylum.
Zhong Gong, like Falun Gong, has been accused by Beijing of ``using feudal superstition to deceive the masses''.

"China seeks to reign in Falungong-like groups with new rules"

(AFP, September 19, 2000)

China has issued guidelines to keep teachers of "qigong" -- traditional martial arts-based breathing exercises -- from gaining influence and becoming like the outlawed Falungong movement.
The guidelines, titled the Provisional Administrative Methods on Qigong, require qigong masters to undergo strict training and pass examinations in order to teach the meditation exercises, the official Xinhua news agency said Tuesday.
Qigong activities and practice stations also must be supervised by local governments' sports and physical culture departments, the guidelines said.
The regulations are aimed at preventing qigong groups and their leaders from wielding influence over a Chinese population disillusioned by government corruption and ineptitude, as well as a host of social problems, including rising unemployment.
The government is determined to firmly control such groups, which have grown in popularity in recent years, to prevent another surprise challenge to its authority.
The Falungong jolted the government a year ago when it staged a 10,000-strong protest in Beijing. The movement's members continue to defy authorities by protesting and practicing their exercises in public, despite a year-long ban.
Li Hongzhi, Falungong's New York-based leader, is accused by the government of misleading his believers into thinking they can cure their illnesses by following his teachings.
The government is keen to stop anyone else from gaining the kind of influence held by Li, who claimed to have 80 million Chinese followers before the ban.
Beijing is also seeking the extradition of Zhang Hongbao, another qigong master with a major following who has fled to Guam and is seeking political asylum from the United States.
China considers Falungong and similar groups the biggest threat to its authority since the 1989 student movement crushed at Tiananmen Square.
The guidelines are to ensure healthy development of the traditional Chinese sport, said the State General Administration of Sport (SGAS), which issued the rules.
"Qigong ... is a traditional Chinese sport and a component of the Chinese culture, but in recent years, some people have been making illegal profits, spreading superstitious ideas under the name of practicing qigong," SGAS said.
"The authorities are determined to crack down on these harmful activities and encourage healthy qigong."
The new rules were announced days after state media reported new guidelines which require exercise groups, regardless of size, to apply 15 days in advance before holding practices.
Exercises involving more than 200 members must obtain prior permission directly from the police.
The regulations also tell qigong practitioners to restrict their exercises to "suitable" venues to ensure they do not disturb social order or disrupt the traffic.
Since the ban on Falungong was imposed in July 1999, China has sentenced 450 members to prison, sent 600 to mental hospitals, placed 10,000 in labor camps and locked up another 20,000 in temporary detention centers, according to a human rights group.

"U.S. to hear Chinese asylum seeker case on Sept 20" (Zhong Gong)

(Reuters, September 17, 2000)

HONG KONG, Sept 17 (Reuters) - A court in U.S.-administered Guam will on Wednesday hear a political asylum application by the Chinese leader of the Zhong Gong meditation group, the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said on Sunday.
Zhang Hongbao, whose group was banned last year along with the better-known Falun Gong, fled China to Guam in February and is wanted in China for unspecified ``criminal offences.''
Zhong Gong bears similarities to the Falun Gong spiritual movement which China publicly banned and declared an ``evil cult'' after its members staged a bold protest in April 1999 in Beijing.
Both movements incorporate traditional meditation exercises known as ``Qigong,'' but also have philosophical or quasi-religious doctrines that the Communist Party views as a threat to its authority.

"CHINA: Exercise groups put under strict controls" (Zhong Gong)

("South China Morning Post," September 16, 2000)

Seeking to stifle meditation sects such as the banned Falun Gong, China has published rules prohibiting exercise groups from preaching religion and strictly limiting their size and activities.
Teachers of traditional qi gong exercises must register and be certified by sports officials, a copy of the rules published by China Sports Daily states.
Groups have to be small, dispersed and locally organised, the rules say. Activities with more than 200 participants require police permission.
The rules come amid a 13-month-old crackdown on the Falun Gong, which has millions of members. The Government has rounded up the sect's leaders and reduced the group's numbers but failed to break its organisation.
The rules prohibit qi gong groups from spreading "ignorant superstition" or the "deification of individuals". Also banned are Buddhist worship practices associated with the Falun Gong banned group and others like it.
Distribution of unlicensed publications, recordings and computer materials are forbidden, along with the sale of trinkets that purport to bestow divine consciousness or supernatural powers.
Beijing officials also released details of rape charges filed against the leader of the banned Zhong Gong movement, Zhang Hongbao, who entered US territory in January seeking political asylum.
Zhang's plea to be allowed to stay in America has posed a dilemma for the US Immigration Service.
The United States wants to foster the mutual extradition of criminals with China, and failure to turn over Zhang - who arrived in Guam with a phoney Chinese passport and is accused of raping some of his followers - would be deeply resented by Beijing.
But Zhang insists he is a victim of political persecution and US officials know that Zhang is extremely unlikely to receive a fair trial. They also know that charges of rape or other crimes have sometimes been used by Chinese authorities to silence dissent.
Zhang, 46, is in detention in Guam, awaiting the delayed decision of an immigration court, expected this month.
Evidence given to the US Government include statements by rape victims, the victims' photographs (with eyes blacked out) and arrest warrants, an official said. Documents provided on Thursday said that in 1990 a Ms Li accused Zhang of raping her on June 26 of that year in his Beijing office.

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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