Heavy China police presence deters sect protests

Reuters, October 31, 1999
By Paul Eckert

BEIJING, Oct 31, 1999 (Reuters) - A display of brute force by Chinese police appeared on Sunday to have quelled an extraordinary weeklong series of protests by defiant members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.

Beijing's Tiananmen Square bustled with Chinese of all ages strolling and sightseeing in bright autumn sun where two days earlier plainclothed security officials kicked, beat and dragged protestors away by the hair.

Members of Falun Gong, outlawed by decree in July, staged silent protests all week outside the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square, where the top committee of China's parliament on Saturday passed a law outlawing cults.

Police did nothing on Sunday to stop tens of thousands of citizens and tourists from enjoying the Tiananmen sights and posing for photographs in front of Mao Zedong's portrait.

But authorities took no chances in the wake of the National People's Congress passage of the anti-cult law. The huge crowd was riddled with uniformed and plainclothed officers who kept an eye out for Falun Gong followers and foreign journalists.

The law, which calls for hefty prison terms for convicted offenders, left no doubt that Falun Gong would be shown no mercy.

It called on law enforcement authorities "to be on full alert for cult activities and smash them rigorously in accordance with the law," the official Xinhua news agency said.

Convicted organisers would be liable to jail terms of three to seven years and for serious offences, including recruiting, seven years would be the minimum, Xinhua said.

On Saturday, police detained several dozen Falun Gong members on the square, most of whom readily confessed their allegiance and walked calmly to waiting police vans.

Tough Law Called Government Duty

The Communist Party flagship newspaper hailed the law as a "powerful legal weapon to smash evil cultist organisations, especially Falun Gong."

"Evil cults are a cancer in society and an international phenomenon which no responsible government can tolerate," said the People's Daily commentary on Sunday.

China officially branded Falun Gong a cult on Thursday and the new law is expected to pave the way for a harsh crackdown.

Many Falun Gong practitioners have been rounded up and the trials of prominent leaders are expected to begin soon.

China accused 13 sect leaders this week of stealing and leaking state secrets. Although state secrets can be almost anything not officially made public, the crime can carry the death sentence.

Xinhua said on Sunday that on October 19, Beijing police arrested four key Falun Gong members -- Li Chang, Wang Zhiwen, Ji Liewu and Yao Jie -- on charges ranging from undermining the law to stealing and leaking state secrets.

Falun Gong -- a mixture of Buddhism, Taoism, meditation and breathing exercises -- claims 100 million members worldwide. Beijing says two million is more accurate.

Followers deny Falun Gong is a cult, insist it is no threat to the Communist Party, which has 60 million members, and say they are baffled at the crackdown on people striving for self-improvement.

China Shows No Mercy But Denies Persecution

Beijing denies persecuting them, saying China is a country ruled by law. But it says the movement "seduces, brainwashes and blackmails," and vowed to show no mercy.

"Cult organisations that have destroyed normal social orders and stability through illegal gathering, led to the deaths of practitioners, and rapes of women and swindled money should be dealt with severely," Xinhua quoted the law as saying.

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of Falun Gong members have come to Beijing, usually by car to avoid identity checks at railway stations and airports. They stay in safe houses to avoid similar checks at hotels.

In April, more than 10,000 of them suddenly turned up to squat outside the Chinese leadership's Zhongnanhai compound close to Tiananmen Square to demand official recognition for the sect.

The protests jolted authorities, who began a campaign to vilify the group and arrest its leaders.

Members follow the teachings of their U.S.-based leader, Li Hongzhi, who preaches salvation from a world corrupted by science and technology. Li is fiercely anti-gay.

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