BEIJING (AP) - As Falun Gong followers quietly protested for a sixth defiant day on its doorstep, China's legislature approved an anti-cult law today to quash the banned spiritual movement and punish group leaders.
The law, passed by the executive committee of the National People's Congress, ordered police, prosecutors and courts to be on "full alert of cult activities and smash them rigorously," the government news agency Xinhua reported.
"Cult organizations that have destroyed normal social order and stability through illegal gatherings and led to the deaths of practitioners, rapes of women and swindled money should be dealt with severely," Xinhua quoted the Standing Committee's decision as saying.
The new law calls for education for rank-and-file cult followers and punishment for a small number of cult leaders, Xinhua reported.
China's communist government outlawed Falun Gong three months ago and has since accused leaders of all the offenses named by Xinhua, except for rape. Group members at home and abroad have denied the charges, and the evidence presented publicly by the government so far has been flimsy by Western legal standards.
Members of the pliant, Communist Party-dominated legislature began reviewing the proposed law Monday inside the Great Hall of the People. Outside, on Tiananmen Square, hundreds of Falun Gong followers have gathered daily to keep a peaceful, largely passive vigil of protest.
Embarrassed by the public defiance and under orders to end it, police patrolled the vast plaza in greater numbers today. More than 70 plainclothes operatives, some in casual street clothes and others dressed like scruffy migrants, marched from a nearby police station to mill about the square, witnesses said.
Police detained at least 30 Falun Gong followers, most of whom went without struggle into waiting minibuses. One woman cried, and she and several others clasped hands together in a gesture of prayer from the bus.
Those arrests added to the more than 3,000 group members a Communist Party official said police have detained in Beijing this week. Followers have slipped into the city in recent weeks, drawn by word that the government was preparing to intensify its three-month-old crackdown on the group.
Passage of the new anti-cult law was part of that renewed campaign. Three days ago, the government officially branded Falun Gong an "evil cult," upgrading its pariah status from an illegal organization and making it subject to the new law.
Courts are expected to apply the law in trials of leading Falun Gong members expected over the coming weeks. The statute supposedly contains lengthier prison sentences for cult leaders and members than currently allowed, although the Xinhua report did not provide explicit details on the law.
Founded by Li Hongzhi, an ex-government clerk who now lives in New York, Falun Gong is an offshoot of traditional schools of slow-motion exercise that are supposed to channel unseen natural forces into the body. Practice is believed to promote health and morality. It has been widely popular, especially with the middle-aged and elderly.
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