October 31, 1999

China Enacts Strict Law Aimed at Smashing Cult


BEIJING -- After a week of secret deliberations, China's top legislative body Saturday issued a stringent new "anti-cult" law designed to aid the Government's crackdown on Falun Gong spiritual movement. The new law, reportedly passed by a vote of 114 to 0 with two abstentions by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, "calls on courts, prosecutors, police and administrative judicial organs to be on full alert for cult activities and smash them rigorously," the New China News Agency reported.

Press accounts suggested that the law will be used -- apparently retroactively -- in prosecuting organizers of the Falun Gong movement, which was banned on July 22 and has been vilified for months in the official news media, with at least thousands of its adherents detained. Among other things, according to a judicial interpretation published Saturday, it specifies jail terms of three to seven years for cultists who "disrupt public order" or distribute publications "spreading malicious fallacies." Cult leaders found recruiting across provinces, collaborating with overseas groups or distributing "a large amount" of publications will face terms of seven years or more. Instigating a followers' suicide can result in murder charges.

The standing committee is led by Li Peng, a former Prime Minister who played a prominent role in the crushing of the student democracy movement in 1989, and includes the most powerful and trusted members of the Parliament. On important issues it carries out the secret directives of the Communist Party.

The announcement a week ago that the committee would be adopting a new law on cults helped set off daily silent demonstrations here by unrepentant believers. They insist that Falun Gong -- which combines slow ritual exercises with mystical theories of health and happiness -- is not a cult or a political danger.

The crackdown has brought on a crisis with surreal aspects for the Government, which had hoped that the popular movement would dissolve after it was officially condemned as a fraud and key leaders were jailed. Instead, thousands of fervent believers, from graduate students in Beijing to retired clerks in provincial cities, have refused to repudiate a practice they regard as vital to their well-being.

Saturday, for the sixth straight day, dozens of followers were detained in Tiananmen Square, next to the Great Hall of the People where the legislators met. Many came from other cities in the naïve hope of convincing officials that Falun Gong is not a social threat. Instead, they were picked up as soon as they were identified by the scores of plain-clothes police roaming the vast square. Falun Gong members say that thousands of practitioners, most of whom faced harassment or jailing in their hometowns, have converged on Beijing, where they are now trying to elude the police dragnet.

Officials have privately said that more than 3,000 people were detained in Beijing in the last week, most of them not in the public setting of Tiananmen Square. Many were immediately sent to their home provinces, where they may face further jailing or other punishment. Some local people were quickly released -- with their company managers, university department chairmen or neighborhood government offices ordered to help "re-educate" them. Some who were identified as organizers will be held for possible serious charges. By late Friday, at least 10 of the 30 Falun Gong members who took part in a clandestine news conference with foreign reporters on Thursday had been arrested, an organizer said today.

Some of the believers who came to Beijing have described a worsening pattern of persecution in the provinces. According to a report today from a human rights monitor in Hong Kong, for example, a women's labor camp in the northeastern city of Changchun now holds 50 Falun Gong believers, including 12 schoolteachers who refused to give up the practice and who were sentenced -- without trial -- to one year in jail.

Falun Gong, invented in 1992 by a former clerk named Li Hongzhi, combines ancient theories about cosmic forces in the body with elements of Buddhism and Taoism. His writings purport to offer a new spiritual path, and condemn drinking, smoking and homosexuality. They also suggest that believers can attain supernatural powers. Li moved to New York in 1998 but communicates with his devotees worldwide on the Internet.

The Chinese Government began laying plans to destroy the group in late April, after more than 10,000 members mounted an illegal vigil around the Communist Party leadership's compound in Beijing demanding official recognition. China's Communist Government charges that Falun Gong has political ambitions to subvert the state -- something Li and his followers deny.

October 31, 1999

Four Leaders of China's Banned Sect Charged


BEIJING -- Four leaders of the Falun Gong spiritual movement have been charged with organizing a cult and other crimes, the government said Sunday, a day after the legislature tightened the nation's laws on cults. The four -- Li Chang, Wang Zhiwen, Ji Liewu and Yao Jie -- were charged with "organizing a cult to undermine the implementation of laws," the government's Xinhua News Agency reported. Li, Wang and Yao also were charged with violating China's vague state secrets law, a measure often used against political dissidents. Ji and Yao were charged with running illegal businesses, the report said. All four were believed to have been detained since the government banned Falun Gong in July. They were formally charged on Oct. 19, and their families were notified a day later, Xinhua said.

While the government moved closer to putting Falun Gong's leading members on trial, more ordinary adherents tried to appeal in Beijing, saying the group was not a cult or a political threat. "We just want to tell the government this decision is wrong and ask the government to investigate it again," said Liu Dongmei, who came to Beijing two weeks ago from the northeast city of Dalian. "We are not organized, and we are not against the government."

The legislature's move came three months after the government banned Falun Gong as a threat to communist rule and social stability and kicked off a huge propaganda campaign to vilify the group and its leader, Li Hongzhi, who lives in exile in New York. The law revises the criminal code to make leaders of Falun Gong and other groups labeled as cults liable for prosecution for murder, fraud, endangering national security and other crimes. Such offenses are punishable by more than the 2- to 7-year prison terms allowed for cult organizers under the current statute.

Falun Gong is an offshoot of traditional schools of slow-motion exercise that channel unseen forces of nature to the body. Blending ideas from Buddhism and Taoism, it was popular throughout the country and practiced openly in public parks before the ban.

Many Falun Gong practitioners have recently tried to go to the two offices that take complaints about government mistakes -- the "Letters and Calls" offices of the Communist Party headquarters and the State Council, the highest government body, Ms. Liu said. Police have arrested them on their way or once they get there, she said. In Tiananmen Square, police questioned people milling with the usual tourist crowds on Sunday. Security by uniformed and plainclothes officers was tight.

A commentary Sunday in the People's Daily, the Communist Party's main newspaper, called for continued struggle against Falun Gong using the "powerful weapon" of the law. "If we tolerate the criminal activities of evil sect organizations like Falun Gong, the country and the people will know not a day of peace, and it will be hard to protect social order and consolidate the results of reform and opening," it said.

In Hong Kong, where an autonomous political system has allowed Falun Gong members to continue to meet openly, several dozen adherents gathered Sunday in hopes of attracting new followers. "It is just a good spiritual practice and they call us an evil cult," said housewife Hui Yee-han. "We're very upset. We're trying to be good people. How can a government be worried about too many good people?"

Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company

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