October 26, 1999

Beijing Quickly Detains Sect's Protesters


BEIJING -- Defiant followers of the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual movement tried to mount a protest in Tiananmen Square Monday but were quickly detained by the police, according to witnesses. Over several hours Monday morning, witnesses said, scores and perhaps hundreds of followers moved into the square in groups of two or three. They were invariably questioned and then hustled onto buses by the police, who apparently had been tipped off. The willingness of so many people to face certain arrest and legal troubles is one of many signs that the government's harsh suppression of the movement -- said to have anywhere from 2 million to tens of millions of adherents in China -- has not been fully effective.
Beijing policemen questioning women in Tiananmen Square Monday. Scores of followers of the Falun Gong movement were arrested in the Square as they gathered to protest a proposed law to suppress "religious cults."

Also Monday, in the southern city of Hangzhou, four of the remaining leaders of the banned China Democracy Party were put on trial on subversion charges. Verdicts were not announced, but heavy sentences are expected, and with these trials and other recent arrests the authorities appear to have mopped up the last active remnants of the short-lived alternate party.

The Falun Gong disciples in Beijing wanted to protest the Chinese Parliament's deliberations this week on a new law intended to stamp out "religious cults," according to an electronic message local practitioners sent abroad Sunday night.

When they banned Falun Gong in July, the authorities called it a cult with political ambitions to subvert the power of the Communist Party. Members insist that it is not political, is only loosely organized and promotes good citizenship. But the group's surprise demonstration in Beijing in April -- when more than 10,000 followers surrounded the leadership compound in a vigil calling for legal recognition -- displayed organizing power that clearly frightened the Communist authorities.

Falun Gong is a spiritual theory developed in the early 1990s by Li Hongzhi, who moved to New York last year. Combining traditional Chinese qigong, or breathing and exercise techniques, with elements of Buddhism and Taoism, it claims to harness cosmic forces in the body, fostering good health and even supernatural powers. The approach spread wildly among retirees, unemployed workers and housewives and even many current and former officials. In many urban parks, groups would meet to practice the exercises that were said to draw good forces into the body and expel bad ones. Li's philosophy also argues against drinking, smoking and other vices.

Since the movement was outlawed in July, dozens of senior officials have been held on serious charges but have not yet been tried, while hundreds more have been briefly detained. In a report read on national television Monday night, the government accused the group's leaders of stealing classified state documents. In scenes that many Chinese had thought were behind them, high-ranking followers were forced to make recantations on television, while crude propaganda claimed that the practice was responsible for hundreds of deaths.

Many Chinese say they are bewildered by the ferocity of the government's attack on the movement, which had drawn in millions of ordinary citizens with no intention of subversion. Followers abroad have reported dozens of cases in which arrested members were mistreated by the police, although the accounts cannot usually be independently verified. Li was branded a criminal, but the United States has refused to cooperate with requests for his extradition, and he continues to communicate with his followers around the world through the Internet.

Even as they tackle Falun Gong, security officials have continued their effort to wipe out any organized pro-democracy activities. In June 1998, as President Clinton visited China, a group of democracy advocates led by Wang Youcai in Hangzhou formed the new China Democratic Party and called on the Communist Party to allow an opposition force. By year's end, hundreds of people around the country had voiced support. But Wang was charged with subversion and in December was given an 11-year sentence. Two other longtime dissidents who had joined in, Xu Wenli and Qin Yongmin, received sentences of 13 and 12 years each.

Other less well-known activists in several cities around the country vowed to struggle on, with a group in Hangzhou most active. But the authorities have gradually imprisoned nearly all the leaders. Monday, four of the remaining key leaders in Hangzhou -- Wu Yilong, Zhu Yufu, Mao Qingxiang and Xu Guang -- had a sham trial. Only two of the men were able to find a lawyer, whom they shared. Although he had previously promised to help them plead innocent in court Monday -- apparently under official pressure -- the lawyer simply appealed for clemency based on their guilt, said Zhu Chaopu, the younger brother of defendant Zhu Yufu, in a telephone interview. Each of the four was supposed to speak in his own defense, but each was cut off midway by the judges. Zhu's written speech was literally torn from his hands by a court officer as he spoke, his brother said.

In Hong Kong, Lu Siqing, a human rights monitor, said supporters of the Democratic Party remain out of jail in several cities but at this point cannot act without being arrested. "Nearly all the core, founding members of the party have been arrested and tried or are awaiting trial," said Lu, who runs the Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China.

In state visits to Britain and France this week, the Chinese president and Communist Party chief, Jiang Zemin, defended China's human rights record, reportedly saying that the country was moving toward democracy but that it must preserve social stability.

But in Paris on Monday the French police briefly detained protesters outside the offices of Air China who were objecting to China's record on human rights and press freedoms. The demonstration followed a larger one on Sunday that attracted some 500 people who demanded independence for Tibet and denounced Jiang as a dictator.

October 27, 1999

China Detains More Sect Members at Rally


BEIJING -- For the second straight day, scores of followers of the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual movement appeared in Tiananmen Square on Tuesday and were immediately taken away by police. At one point, numerous protesters sat quietly together and were detained without a struggle, witnesses said. Other Falun Gong adherents were accosted by uniformed or plainclothes police as they entered the square and taken to vans when they readily admitted their purpose. In and around the huge, crowded square, it was impossible for observers to determine exactly how many were arrested over the day.

Members of the spiritual movement say they are especially incensed this week by moves in the parliament to pass a law aimed at curbing so-called religious cults, and by public charges that Falun Gong leaders had obtained and distributed 59 classified government documents about the official crackdown, which began in July.

The suggestion that Falun Gong leaders have disseminated state secrets appeared to be an effort to lay the groundwork for serious criminal charges against them. In recent years, millions of Chinese have been attracted to the movement's blend of Buddhism, Taoism and traditional Chinese cosmic theories and exercises. Most ordinary followers have simply received warnings to disassociate themselves from the group, but some organizers have been jailed and will face subversion charges, which could bring prison sentences ranging from five years to life.

Defending the crackdown, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said Tuesday that the group was "anti-science, anti-society and anti-humanity," and that it had "upset social order and damaged the health of practitioners."

Falun Gong proponents say its exercises bring health and spiritual benefits and that the group has no political ambitions. In April, more than 10,000 members held a surprise vigil near the Chinese leadership's compound in Beijing, calling for legal recognition and an end to official harassment. But this display of organizational power frightened authorities, and the group was banned in July.

Beyond the defiance by hundreds of members this week in Beijing, the continued official efforts to vilify the group and its founder, Li Hongzhi, who now lives in New York, suggests that the government is far from wiping it out.

Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company

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