China's Falun Gong pledges more protests

Reuters, Oct 27, 1999
By Jeremy Page

BEIJING, Oct 27, 1999 (Reuters) - Members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement staged a third day of daring silent protest in Tiananmen Square on Wednesday while others hid in the outskirts of the city, planning further civil action.

Police on the square dropped the niceties of the past two days, wasting no time on small talk as they whipped dozens of mainly middle-aged and elderly protesters into vans.

But in a farmhouse on the outskirts of Beijng, a group of Falun Gong members told Reuters they had to continue their civil disobedience campaign as the government planned to tighten legislation outlawing the movement.

"If we go home we risk being arrested, if we stay here we risk being arrested," said Zou Limei, 27, a medical student from Qingdao in the eastern province of Shandong. "We have no choice."

"We came here to explain our situation and to appeal to authorities," said Zou, sitting on the concrete floor of a dank room she has shared with a dozen others since coming to Beijing on Friday. "We must explain to people that Falun Gong is good."

Police detained hundreds of Falun Gong members who protested on Monday and Tuesday in Tiananmen square, China's political heart, as parliament reviewed a bill curbing religious cults.

More than 50 Falun Gong members, mainly ordinary middle-aged folk, were living at the farm without heating or running water. They could not check into hotels without showing identity papers, and to stay with friends would put their hosts in danger.

They said hundreds more were staying in the village, and estimated more than 100,000 had come to Beijing from neighbouring provinces, most travelling by car to avoid strict security checks at railway stations and airports.

More Detained Each Day

"Every day more are detained and every day more arrive," said Li Zhenwen, 31, an artist from Qingdao. "If you come back tomorrow you'll probably see a different group of faces."

They said most had decided to come independently after hearing the government planned to label Falun Gong a cult.

"We didn't know each other at all," said Li, who slept on the street for two days after arriving in Beijing. "We just heard about things by word of mouth."

On Monday, the top body of the Chinese parliament began a week-long session to review a bill aimed at "preventing and dealing a blow to religious cults," including Falun Gong.

State television said the People's Daily would carry an editorial on Thursday branding it a cult for the first time.

"First we were an illegal organisation, now they want to make us a cult," said Zou. "They're just preparing the legal framework to crack down even harder."

China banned Falun Gong in July. On Monday, it accused at least 13 Falun Gong leaders of stealing and leaking state secrets -- which covers most things not not published officially and can carry the death penalty.

Falun Gong members said the movement was neither a cult nor an organisation and posed no threat to Chinese authorities.

"Falun Gong has no buildings, no offices, no leaders, no application forms, no roster. It is not an organisation," said Li.

"The only reason we were banned is because our membership exceeded the Communist Party," he said. Falun Gong claims 100 million members worldwide, but the government says two million is more accurate. The Communist Party has 60 million members.

Falun Gong Members Under Pressure At Home

Some members said they had been detained in their hometowns and had lost their jobs after refusing to renounce their faith.

Song Guihua, 41, a farmer from northeast Liaoning province, said she was detained last month and beaten by policemen with electric batons when she refused to inform on a friend.

"I could hear the sound of them hitting her in the room next door," said her friend, Guo Qiang. "When I saw her, I hardly recognised her. Her face was swollen and covered in blood."

In the first official confirmation of a death of a Falun Gong member in custody, police said on Wednesday an 18-year-old died after jumping from a train in August as she was being taken home.


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