BEIJING - The banned Falun Gong said on Monday that Chinese rhetoric branding the spiritual movement an enemy of the state could presage an intensification of Beijing's harsh crackdown against it.
A statement issued by U.S.-based adherents said Beijing's vow last week to destroy Falun Gong pointed to a heavier hand in a 16-month campaign in which the movement says 53 people have died in police custody and 50,000 have been detained.
``We are worried and appeal now (for) the international community to intervene to stop more vicious human rights crimes against us,'' the statement said.
China responded last week to embarrassing protests by hundreds of Falun Gong followers on its October 1 National Day with an angry outburst calling the spiritual movement an anti-state force that must be destroyed.
``They have completely transformed themselves into an out and out reactionary political force,'' a commentary carried in major newspapers said.
``Its aim is to overturn the People's Republic of China and to subvert the socialist system,'' the commentary said.
The Falun Gong statement said language depicting the group as a political enemy could bring ``a new escalation in the use of state violence.''
It alleged that many Falun Gong followers, including the elderly and sick, had suffered torture and other physical abuses at the hands of police.
The Chinese government has acknowledged several deaths of Falun Gong supporters in custody but said most resulted from pre-existing illnesses or were suicides.
It has said 150 prominent members have been jailed, mostly for ``using a cult for obstructing justice'' but has been silent on the numbers sent for ``reform through labour,'' punishment which does not require a judicial trial.
Falun Gong, a combination of physical exercise with Daoist and Buddhist doctrines, has defied an intense crackdown and sustained media attacks with almost daily protests in Tiananmen Square since it was outlawed as an ``evil cult'' last year.
Chinese media reports have accused the group repeatedly of deluding its members and causing 1,500 deaths and 600 cases of mental illness.
The commentary accused Falun Gong of being in league with a whole range of dissident forces, including separatists in the western regions of Tibet and Xinjiang, supporters of Taiwan independence, and Chinese democracy activists.
It alleged that ``anti-China forces'' in the United States were supporting the group to try to Westernise and break up China.
Analysts said Beijing's latest tirade seems to reflect its growing concern that the group has set a political precedent with its relentless campaign of civil disobedience.
Their emblem may be a swastika, but Edmonton followers of Falun Gong see it as a symbol of good luck against the oppression the group has suffered in China.
Around a dozen followers of the Chinese Falun Gong movement gathered yesterday at Gazebo Park, next to the Old Strathcona Farmer's Market, to publicize persecution against their fellow members in China.
"We get a few people who think we are associated with Hitler or white supremacists or something but that just doesn't make sense when you see how many Chinese people are involved," said movement member Tom Ozimek.
"We explain to them that the swastika is a very ancient symbol of good fortune and is held in high regard by Greeks, Persians, people in South America and the Japanese."
Followers of Falun Gong do their meditative exercises at Gazebo Park every Saturday morning, but yesterday put on an information display to highlight the plight of members in China.
"People are being tortured to death, persecuted and losing their jobs," said another member, Chi Yeh.
"The Communist government is afraid because Falun Gong people outnumber Communists in China 70 million to 60 million.
"The government says Falun Gong is evil and even a suicide cult."
Ozimek said Falun Gong is based on ancient Buddha school practices and teachings.
"The core principles are truthfulness, compassion and forbearance," he explained.
The group was collecting signatures yesterday for a petition expressing concern about the treatment of Falun Gong members in China.
They intend to send the petition to the House of Commons.
Their literature alleges more than 50 followers of the movement have been killed by the Chinese government and more than 5,000 are in jail or mental institutions.
They want Canadians to contact their Member of Parliament and Prime Minister Jean Chretien, and ask the federal government to publicly condemn what is happening in China.
China's banned Falungong spritual movement on Friday accused Beijing of setting the stage for an intensified crackdown and urged the international community to intervene.
The group's appeal came days after China's state media accused the group of aiming to subvert the socialist system -- a move analysts feared could set the stage for authorities to invoke the draconian State Security Law to intensify its 14-month clampdown.
Falungong members in a news conference in Singapore, where they are registered as a legal organisation, took aim at Chinese President Jiang Zemin.
"Why has (Jiang) now accused our non-political spiritual practice of seeking to overthrow China's government and its socialist system?" the group said in a statement released at the news conference.
"Why is he further politicising a crisis that, as at its essence, is less about politics and more about constitutional rights of China's people and his own insecurity in power?" the group said.
"By accusing us of seeking to overthrow his rule, is he setting the stage for a new escalation in the use of state force against us?
"This is very serious. We are worried and appeal now to the international community to intervene to stop more viscious human rights crimes against us," it said.
At leat 59 Falungong followers have reportedly died while in police custody and 50,000 are in detention in China, where their organisation is illegal, according to the group.
The group presented a video tape showing members who displayed bruises allegedly due to beatings by police, as well as testimonies about how they had been maltreated.
On October 1, Chinese police rounded up close to 1,000 Falungong members who gathered at Beijing's Tiananmen Square on National Day.
An article in China's state-run media on Tuesday said: "The reactionary nature of the Falungong evil cult has been to create trouble aimed at subverting the socialist system."
It also accused the group of teaming up with "hostile foreign forces" to overthrow Chinese communism.
Analysts saw the anti-Falungong diatribe as the strongest sign yet that the government was preparing to use the State Security Law against the outlawed group.
China has mainly used the State Security Law to jail political dissidents while convicting Falungong followers of lesser crimes.
Under a drizzling Roman sky on the first day of October, John Paul II spoke movingly of little Anna Wang. The 14-year-old Chinese girl, intoned the Pope, "resisted the executioners' threats" demanding that she renounce her Christian faith, "prepared for decapitation [and] cried with a radiant face: 'The door of heaven is open to all.' "
One of the first Chinese ever to be declared saints by the Catholic Church, Anna was not celebrated in her homeland. China denounced the canonization of 87 Chinese Christians and 33 foreign missionaries. It accused most of them of being criminals and agents of imperialism rightly targeted in the anti-colonial Boxer Rebellion a century ago. Honoring them delivered a grave insult to the nation, the government fumed, and to canonize them on Oct. 1, the 51st anniversary of the People's Republic, was a further affront.
Leaders of the Beijing-approved Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association and the China Christian Council, which represents Protestants, joined in condemning the Vatican. Patriotic Bishop Michael Fu Tieshan said: "Choosing [Oct. 1] to canonize the so-called saints is an open insult and humiliation against Chinese Catholic adherents. Today is a holiday that marks the liberation of the Chinese nation from imperial and colonial invasion and robbery." Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, mainland officials urged the local Catholic hierarchy to keep celebrations low key (and they were).
In Beijing, the regime had trouble with another faith. Among thousands of people who gathered in Tiananmen Square during National Day festivities were hundreds of members of an outlawed spiritual movement. They openly courted arrest by unfurling banners asserting, "Falungong is good." Like other believers who mounted similar protests since the sect was banned in July last year, the demonstrators were collared, beaten and packed into police vans. But even officials privately admit that the Falungong faithful, who number in the millions, will continue challenging the prohibition on their exotic mix of Buddhist beliefs and qigong spiritual exercises.
While the crackdown on Falungong merely continued existing policy, the canonization dispute seemed to mark an unequivocal turn for the worse in relations between China and the Church. Just last year, after decades of frostiness, there were indications from Beijing that it may forge diplomatic ties with the Vatican. In return for transferring its embassy from Taipei to Beijing, the Holy See hoped that China would stop persecuting the 6 million or so members of the "underground church," who are loyal to the Pope.
But Beijing has evidently decided to take an even harder line. In a Communist Party Central Committee paper titled Document 26, dated Aug. 16, 1999, the leadership called on authorities to tighten control of the official church and eliminate the pro-Vatican one. Reportedly leaked to the underground church in November, the paper said that even after normalizing relations with the Vatican, Beijing aimed to keep the Chinese faithful free from any influence from Rome. Writes Fr. Jeroom Heyndricks in the Hong Kong Catholic newspaper Sunday Examiner: "In exchange for giving up its nunciature [the Vatican embassy] in Taipei, Beijing offers the Holy See only a dead bird, a nunciature in Beijing where the Patriotic Association --; not the bishops --; directs the church."
In January the growing fissure came to fore when the official church ordained five new bishops on the same day that the Pope consecrated 12 prelates from various countries. Since then, Beijing has stepped up its pressure on the underground church. According to the U.S. State Department's Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, some 20 unregistered Catholic churches were demolished in China in 1999. In May this year Jiang Shurang, an underground priest, was imprisoned for six years for printing Bibles without permission. Four other bishops were detained for refusing to join the official church or conducting unauthorized services.
Hopes for repairing Beijing-Vatican ties briefly flickered with the recent visit to China of top envoy Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, his third since 1980. But the canonization conflict has now brought relations to their lowest in years. There is even talk that the Vatican chose Oct. 1 for the ceremony as a deliberate challenge to China. Church figures maintain that the date was set as early as mid-1998. They add that the exhaustive investigation leading to sanctity had been going on for decades with no protest from Beijing. Still, if relations were good, both sides might have found a compromise on the canonization.
During the apparent thaw last year, there was speculation that China might want to improve ties with the Vatican as a way of deflecting foreign criticism of its harsh crackdown on Falungong. Now, it seems that Beijing doesn't even care to accommodate one faith as it suppresses another. Like China's past rulers through the millennia, the current leadership will tolerate no challenge to its supremacy. For the suffering faithful, that may mean many more martyrs in the years to come.
HONG KONG, Oct 11 (Reuters) - Two members of a banned meditation group in China have been sent to jail and labour camp for ``disturbing social order,'' a Hong Kong-based human rights group said on Wednesday.
The Chinese government last year launched its biggest crackdown on Zhong Gong, the Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said, adding that 3,000 Zhong Gong organisations were closed and 600 members were arrested.
Zhong Gong, like Falun Gong, is banned as an ``evil cult'' in China.
Li Xiaoning was recently sentenced to three years jail in Chongqing city in southwestern Sichuan province, while Cheng Yaqin was sent to a labour camp in northeastern Hebei province for two years, the centre said.
Li was arrested in December while Cheng was sentenced in September, the centre said.
Beijing said on Tuesday that the Falun Gong was a ``reactionary political force'' that must be destroyed.
Both Zhong Gong and Falun Gong 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.
Beijing yesterday called the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement a "reactionary political force" that must be destroyed.
A commentary in state newspapers accused the group of poisoning the atmosphere of the October 1 National Day celebrations, when police detained hundreds of Falun Gong protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.
The commentary said: "They have completely transformed themselves into an out-and-out reactionary political force. Its aim is to overturn the People's Republic of China and to subvert the socialist system. They cause trouble and they fail. They continue to cause trouble and they will continue to fail right until their destruction. They cannot escape the destiny of their inevitable fall."
The new tirade seems to reflect Beijing's growing concern that the group has set a political precedent with its relentless campaign of civil disobedience. "If we do not see the political nature of Falun Gong and do not resolutely and properly set about resolving it, this would be an historical error," the commentary said.
The commentary claimed Falun Gong had tried to taint the victories of China's athletes at the Sydney Olympics. It said: "The gaily coloured five-star red flag was raised on high again and again, and the magnificent national anthem moved people's hearts. But as Chinese athletes busted their guts in the arena, and Chinese hearts swelled with pride, Falun Gong organised some people to come and make trouble in Sydney."
The commentary accused Falun Gong of being in league with a whole range of dissident forces, including separatists in the western regions of Tibet and Xinjiang, supporters of Taiwan independence and democracy activists in exile. It alleged that "anti-China forces" in the United States were supporting the group to try to Westernise and break up China.
"To tell the truth, they don't want to see a strong China or a China with a stable environment for economic development," it said.
Relatives and Falun Gong sources yesterday charged that guards in a labour re-education farm organised the beating to death of Wang Bin, 44. A Falun Gong follower in Daqing city, Heilongjiang province, said Wang was severely beaten after he refused to write a confession retracting his belief in the group's teachings.
Prison guards at the Dongfeng reform through labour farm in Daqing ordered other prisoners to beat Wang and two other Falun Gong followers after they refused to sign written retractions of their beliefs, she said. Wang's beating was so severe he was eventually taken to hospital, where he died on October 6, she said.
Relatives at Wang's home in Daqing confirmed that Wang had died, but refused to comment on the case, other than to say Wang's wife had not returned home for several days.
After consultations with lawyers, Wang's family was seeking 500,000 yuan (HK$470,000) in compensation for Wang's death, the Falun Gong follower said, but refused to link the case to the disappearance of Wang's wife. Wang's death marked the 53rd documented Falun Gong death in police custody since the sect was banned as an "evil cult" in July last year.
Falun Gong has defied a crackdown and media attacks with almost daily protests in Tiananmen Square since it was outlawed.
China has sent two members of the mystical Zhonggong group to prison and labor camp, but the whereabouts of several hundred members remains a mystery, a human rights group said Wednesday.
Li Xiaoning and Cheng Yaqin were sentenced to three years in prison and two years in a "reform through labor" camp respectively, the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said.
The two are leaders of Zhonggong, which holds similar beliefs to the banned Falungong spiritual group.
They were arrested along with about 600 Zhonggong leaders late last year when the Chinese government launched a low-profile campaign against the group while carrying out a high-profile battle against Falungong.
Authorities also shut down 3,000 of Zhonggong's offices and businesses throughout the country.
Li and Cheng were sentenced on charges of "disturbing social order." Li was sentenced by a court in the southwestern municipality of Chongqing.
Both women were arrested nearly a year ago, but only sentenced in September, the rights group said. Their family found out about the sentencing this week.
Cheng's daughter Tang Qian confirmed her mother's sentencing. She told AFP the only thing her mother could have done to upset the government was write a letter defending Zhonggong.
"My mother wrote a letter and sent it to many branches of Zhonggong. The letter asked the government and the police to not crack down any more on Zhonggong. It said Zhonggong is good," Tang said.
The information center said it believed the Communist Party was gearing up to ban Zhonggong as an evil cult, as it did with Falungong.
The center said the government revealed in internal documents dating back to 1995 that it considered Zhonggong a dangerous group.
The party has not adopted a public campaign against Zhonggong to avoid combatting both Zhonggong and Falungong at the same time, the center said.
Its campaign against Falungong, which has resulted in thousands of people getting arrested and sent to prison, labor camps and mental hospitals, has so far proven unsuccessful by the repeated ability of the group to organize large protests on Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
In the most recent demonstration, at least 1,000 Falungong protestors were seen being taken away from the square on China's National Day on October 1.
Both Zhonggong and Falungong are rooted in traditional Chinese martial arts-based breathing exercises, "qigong."
China considers Falungong the biggest threat to its political power since the 1989 student demonstrations.
What Is Falun Gong? See "Falun Gong 101", by Massimo Introvigne
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