China brands Falun Gong cult, protests go on

Reuters, October 28, 1999
By Jeremy Page

BEIJING, Oct 28, 1999 (Reuters) - Chinese police carted scores of Falun Gong members out of Tiananmen Square on Thursday after the government officially branded the outlawed spiritual movement a cult for the first time.

Falun Gong members defied the announcement, which set the stage for an even tougher crackdown on the movement, by gathering at China's political heart for a fourth straight day to continue an extraordinary campaign of civil disobedience.

Cults are banned in China, which allows only religious organisations sponsored by the government. Cult members face lengthy jail terms.

"We heard last night that the government was going to declare Falun Gong a cult," said Li Yuling, 52, from Beijing. "We came here to explain our situation, to show people we are neither a cult nor a political organisation."

People's Daily Says Falun Gong A Cult

The declaration came as parliament's highest body met to discuss legislation curbing cults.

Hundreds of Falun Gong members have been protesting since Monday in Tiananmen Square outside the Great Hall of the People, where parliament is meeting.

A commentary in the Communist Party newspaper, the People's Daily, compared Falun Gong to the U.S. Branch Davidians and the Japanese Aum Shinri Kyo (Supreme Truth Sect), which was responsible for nerve gas attacks on Tokyo subways in 1995.

"Falun Gong is a cult," said a headline on the front-page commentary. It "seduces, brainwashes and blackmails."

Protests Go On

On Thursday plainclothes and uniformed police in the square herded groups of Falun Gong members on to minibuses and whisked them off to a nearby police station.

Most went peacefully after readily confessing their allegiance but two men who tried to resist were beaten over the head and dragged on to a bus by their hair.

"What have I done wrong?" screamed one as police wrestled him to the floor of the bus.

Falun Gong members said they tried to gather by the side of the Great Hall, but were overwhelmed by heavy security.

"Many of us were detained as soon as we got there," one member, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters by telephone. "We are worried that punishments will be harsher now that we are considered a cult."

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of Falun Gong members have poured into Beijing from all parts of China to publicly express their anger at parliament's deliberations.

Many are in hiding at farmhouses around Beijing, too scared to check into guesthouses where they would have to produce identity papers.

In May, more than 10,000 members suddenly turned up to squat outside the Chinese leadership compound in Zhongnanhai in the centre of Beijing to demand official recognition.

That jolted authorities, who launched a nationwide campaign to vilify the group, root out and arrest its leaders and try to persuade rank-and-file members to renounce their allegiance.

Good For The Health Or Bad For The Country?

Falun Gong, declared an "illegal organisation" in July, mixes traditional Chinese exercises to promote good health with elements of Buddhism and Taoism and has proved wildly popular among middle-aged and elderly Chinese.

Members are enthralled by the teachings of their U.S.-based leader, Li Hongzhi, who preaches salvation from a world corrupted by science, technology and what he calls the degenerate culture of rock and roll. Li is fiercely anti-gay.

The People's Daily commentary said most Falun Gong members had "come to their senses," but a very small minority "are possessed and their souls are hooked."

It said Falun Gong displayed several characteristics of a cult, including blind obedience to a leader, mind control, heresies, defrauding members and secrecy.

Physical fitness, the paper said, was simply a ruse to attract people to the cult, which hooked devotees through fear and intimidation.

The paper scoffed at Li's claims to possess supernatural powers, including the ability to make himself invisible, and claims that he is greater than Jesus Christ and the Buddha and that he alone could rescue the world from a cataclysmic explosion.

It repeated the official line that Falun Gong was responsible for the deaths of 1,400 people, for breaking up families, driving some adherents insane and financially ruining others.

The United States has criticised the harsh crackdown on Falun Gong and rejected Beijing's demands to extradite Li, who maintains his group is apolitical.

Falun Gong claims 100 million members worldwide, but the government puts membership in China at only about two million.

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