Falun Gong demonstrates in Tiananmen Square
BEIJING, Oct 27 (Reuters) - Dozens of members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement demonstrated in Tiananmen Square on Friday and were hustled away by waiting police, a year after the Communist Party declared the group an "evil cult." Police sprinted backwards and forwards around the vast plaza as small groups of protesters simultaneously pulled out red or yellow banners proclaiming support for the outlawed movement.
"Falun Gong is good," shouted one elderly man before seven plainclothes officers wrestled him to the ground, punched and kicked him, and carried him to a police minivan. Seconds later, a group of three elderly women tried to unfurl a red banner, but police ripped it from them and bundled them into a van, pulling one by the hair and punching another.
Police have tightened security in Beijing as Falun Gong members are expected to mark the anniversary of their cult status with a petition, the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights & Democracy said on Thursday.
Adherents of Falun Gong, a mixture of Daoism and Buddhism and traditional Chinese physical exercises, have protested almost daily in Tiananmen Square, China's political heart, since the movement was banned in July last year. But they have staged larger, better-organised protests around key dates, like Saturday's first anniversary of an editorial in the People's Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece, which first declared Falun Gong an "evil cult."
Monday marks the anniversary of the National People's Congress, China's parliament, outlawing "heretic" cults, including the already banned Falun Gong. That allowed tougher sentences on Falun Gong organisers. Beijing has since demonised the group in state media and accused it of trying to overthrow the government. Thousands of adherents have been detained and some 150 prominent members jailed for "using a cult to obstruct justice."
But recent protests, including a large demonstration on the October 1 National Day, show Beijing has failed to stamp out allegiance to the group and its U.S.-based leader Li Hongzhi. Such sustained protest is rare in China and Frank Lu, a spokesman for the Hong Kong rights group, said "that's because a lot of Falun Gong members are not afraid of being sent to jail or even being killed." He said there were also protests outside Beijing.
His rights group had received reports on Friday from Changchun in Jilin province that some 100 Falun Gong adherents had been on a protest hunger strike for five days, he said. "Many hunger strikers have died from being force-fed in the past," Lu said. The centre says 59 people have died of abusive treatment in detention since Falun Gong was outlawed. Authorities have acknowledged several deaths in custody, but say most resulted from suicide or illnesses.
The movement, which denies any political aim, says some 50,000 followers have been detained. Many are sent for "reform through labour," a punishment which does not require a trial. Beijing accuses the group of causing 1,500 deaths through a belief that faith can heal illnesses and 600 cases of mental illness.
Friday's protests were spread over several hours and appeared to attract greater attention than usual from the thousands of mainly Chinese tourists milling around the square. They rushed from one incident to the next in large crowds to watch the action and several argued angrily with police when their identification cards and bags were checked. A foreign tourist who took photographs of one incident had the film ripped from his camera by a policeman.
Copyright 2000 Reuters Limited.