Chinese Gov't Probes Falun Gong

The Associated Press, October 21, 1999

BEIJING -- Leaders of the banned Falun Gong meditation sect made a fortune through illegal publication of the group's books and tapes, Chinese government-controlled media reported Thursday.

The reports said millions of tapes and books were sold illegally, enriching founder Li Hongzhi, who lives in exile, and his top assistants in China. Li has denied that he amassed wealth from Falun Gong.

Police say the group's leaders made $4.6 million in profits in three cases under investigation, state-run television and the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The government banned publication of Falun Gong books in 1996, but allowed the group itself to continue holding open gatherings.

Alarmed by a protest outside Communist Party headquarters in April by 10,000 Falun Gong followers complaining of harassment by officials, the government banned the sect in July and launched a huge propaganda campaign against it. Li founded Falun Gong in China in 1992. The movement is a blend of Taoism, Buddhism and Li's own theories. The government said the group was politically motivated and caused social instability and the deaths of hundreds of people who avoided medical care due to their beliefs. The three cases of illegal publication of Falun Gong materials reported Thursday were just the "tip of the iceberg," Xinhua said. The group disseminated its books, tapes of Li's sermons, music to accompany meditation and other materials in China from 1993 until the ban this year, the reports said.

Li set up book publishing bases mainly in the cities of Wuhan and Jinan, the reports said.

In another development, a rights group on Thursday reported authorities sentenced five members of the group to one year in a labor camp and rounded up about 500 members in the past month in 11 cities, with most held for 15 days to one month.

The five Falun Gong practitioners sent to the labor camp were detained in northeast China's Changchun city around the 50th anniversary of Communist Party rule on October 1, the Hong Kong-based Information Center of Human Rights and Democractic Movement in China said.

Authorities accused them of organizing Falun Gong practitioners to go to Beijing to petition the government, the group said. When they refused to admit wrongdoing, police sentenced them on Oct. 12 to a labor camp without trial for disrupting social order, the group said.

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