February 15, 2002
China Blasts Falun Gong, Expels Foreign Protesters
BEIJING (Reuters) - China on Friday denounced the Falun Gong spiritual movement for "stirring up trouble" on Tiananmen Square and began expelling dozens of Western members detained for a chaotic protest a day earlier. Police held more than 40 foreigners after they unfurled yellow banners and shouted "Falun Gong is Good!" in a protest on Thursday to highlight China's campaign against the movement ahead of a visit to Beijing by President Bush next week. It was the latest in a string of protests by foreign members of the group, who have taken up the cause as demonstrations by Chinese members dwindle under the weight of an intense security and propaganda campaign during the past two years.
"Falun Gong sent foreigners to China to stir up trouble and preach about the evil cult, attempting to undermine the peaceful atmosphere of the Chinese people's joyful Spring Festival and disturb social security," Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said in a statement.
The square erupted briefly into chaos as hundreds of police chased after the Western protesters, tackled them and loaded them into police vans. Chinese tourists, sightseeing during the Lunar New Year holidays, looked on astonished.
A group spokeswoman in New York said 14 more were detained in their hotel rooms in Beijing ahead of the protests, which aimed to "expose the truth about the persecution of Falun Gong in China."
China banned the group as an "evil cult" in 1999, and the Foreign Ministry's Kong said the incident exposed the group's "evil nature."
A U.S. embassy spokesman said 33 of the foreigners were American and they had been "expelled" from China. "Earlier today, the Chinese told us that among those foreigners detained...33 are confirmed to be U.S. citizens. They further told us that all 33 had been expelled."
A separate list of the protesters included two from Poland, two from Romania, two from Sweden, four from Britain and one from Brazil. Western embassy officials said seven German and five Canadian nationals had been held for involvement in the protests. Four British members of the movement were deported on Thursday, and officials at other embassies, still seeking access to their nationals, expected others would be expelled on Friday. "They are still in detention. We think they will be deported later today," said one German diplomat.
It was the second demonstration this week by Western Falun Gong members in Tiananmen. Security on the square was extraordinarily tight, with police checking foreigners' identity papers and searching bags. China expelled a Canadian and an American follower of the movement on Tuesday, a day after they protested in the square. In November, China expelled 35 foreign Falun Gong members after they protested on the square and another Canadian woman for a Falun Gong protest there last month.
Once frequent protests by Chinese members of Falun Gong have all but dried up in the past year. Their cause was dealt a blow on the eve of Lunar New Year last year, when five alleged Falun Gong members set themselves ablaze in the square. A 12-year-old girl and her mother died of their injuries. Falun Gong has denied any involvement. But the government used graphic footage of the incident in a nationwide media campaign to discredit the group. It has also jailed leaders for subversion and sent thousands to "re-education through labour" camps, according to Falun Gong and rights groups.
Falun Gong says more than 1,600 followers have died as a result of abuse in police custody or detention centers. The government says only a handful have died and those were from suicide or natural causes. It blames Falun Gong for the deaths of at least 1,900 people through suicide or refusing medical treatment.
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company