China demands arrest, extradition of Falungong leader from US

AFP, November 3, 1999

A senior Chinese official demanded here Tuesday that the leader of the banned Falungong spiritual movement be arrested and sent to China from his US home.

"Li Hongzhi should be arrested and sent back to face trial in a Chinese court," Yu Shuning, minister counselor and spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington, said.

Yu, speaking at a news conference to defend Beijing's widening crackdown on the sect, insisted Li is a cult leader who used mind control techniques to bilk millions of followers out of money and was responsible for the deaths of more than 1,400 Falungong practitioners whom he had convinced not to seek medical treatment.

China has presented its case for Li's arrest and extradition from the United States to the international police organization, Interpol, but Yu acknowledged the group had not responded positively.

"The secretariat said we had not presented enough evidence, but we cannot accept that," he said, adding also that Beijing did not accept Washington's demurral of the case even though there is no extradition treaty between the two countries.

"The United States is duty-bound to provide cooperation in arresting Li Hongzhi and sending him back to China because he is a criminal and an arrest warrant has been issued," Yu maintained.

China was still waiting for a "positive response" from the United States on the issue but given Washington's harsh criticism of the crackdown on the Falungong sect, such a response appeared unlikely.

In an effort to sway US public opinion against the movement, Yu unleashed a blistering attack on Li and his sect, comparing it with Japan's Aum Supreme Truth cult, the Solar Temple in Europe and the Branch Davidians in the United States.

Government action had been taken against those cults, Yu argued and the Falungong is no different.

"These days, no responsible government can ever allow cult activities like those of Falungong to go unchecked, it would be irresponsible," he said, specifically referring to the FBI raid on the Branch Davidian headquarters in Texas in 1993 to make his point.

"Even in this country the government took extreme measures against the Branch Davidians," he said of the raid, which ended in a fiery inferno that killed 80 men, women and children.

Pressed as to whether comparisons between the Branch Davidians or Aum Supreme Truth, which was behind the 1995 Sarin nerve-gas attack on the Tokyo subway and Falungong, which advocates breathing and meditation exercises and moral living, were indeed accurate, Yu appeared to take umbrage. "This is a cult which endangers the health and mental fitness of the practitioners and destructs social order and stability," he said flatly.

"That's why the government has taken measures."

Thousands of Falungong followers have been arrested in China since it was banned in July following a 10,000-strong peaceful demonstration by the group in Beijing in April.

Last month, after the National People's Congress revised a law to make leaders of Falungong and other groups labeled cults liable for prosecution for endangering national security and other crimes, arrests began again in earnest with some reports saying several thousand followers had been arrested.

Yu maintained that rank and file members of the group would not be punished if they gave up Falungong, but followers who gathered outside the Chinese embassy here to protest, said giving up the practice was not an option in some cases.

"Some people don't want to and why should they have to," said one. "We're not doing anything wrong, just exercising."

Chinese authorities have called Falungong the biggest threat to communist rule since the 1989 Tiananmen democracy protests which were brutally crushed by China's military.

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