Falun Gong leaders get prison in China

Sentences for the four ranged from 2 years to 12 years. Kofi Annan plans to question the issue when he visits

Washington Post, November 13, 1999
By Michael Lari

BEIJING - China sentenced four provincial leaders of the Falun Gong movement to jail terms of up to 12 years yesterday in the first of a series of show trials to mete out punishment to the banned group's most active members. Chinese state television showed the four defendants sitting before a panel of judges on its prime-time broadcast, which reaches hundreds of millions of households. Grim-faced policemen stood rigidly behind the three men and one woman as the television announcer warned that anyone "who violates the interests of the masses will certainly face the legal consequences." The trial came just two days before the arrival in Beijing of U.N.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan. In Tokyo yesterday, Annan told reporters he was "puzzled" by the Chinese crackdown. He said he planned to raise the matter with Chinese leaders, and he appealed to the government to adhere to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and China's own constitution, both of which protect freedom of religion and association.

Chinese authorities have largely disregarded international criticism because they believe the domestic stakes are too high, observers said.

"While the crackdown is seen as heavy-handed, it reinforces the Chinese government's credible threat to nongovernment organizations that it would brook no challenge to its authority," said Dali L. Yang, a Chinese political scientist at the University of Chicago.

Falun Gong has become one of the most intractable and nettlesome problems facing China's Communist Party. President Jiang Zemin has expressed bafflement at sympathy for the group's members overseas, and he has blamed the movement for the deaths of 1,400 of its followers. Falun Gong, which claims millions of members, has attracted large numbers of China's disaffected, including the elderly and the poor.

Late last month, Chinese authorities engaged in a public standoff with group members who held a series of silent protests in Tiananmen Square to protest the branding of their group as a cult.

Since the end of September, a Chinese source said, more than 3,000 members have been detained in Beijing. That number included at least two police officers from northeastern China who took part in the demonstrations. Human-rights groups say at least six members of the group have died in police custody.

Yesterday, Song Yuesheng was convicted in a brief trial held at the Intermediate People's Court of "using a cult to violate the law," instigating protests, and escaping police custody. Accused of organizing a gathering in a park on Aug. 8 to resist government efforts to squelch Falun Gong, Song was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Three other defendants - Liao Yulin, Chen Yuan and Jiang Shilou - were sentenced to terms of two to seven years. Authorities accused them of traveling to at least 10 cities to organize opposition to the government ban against Falun Gong.

All four defendants had pleaded guilty but appealed for leniency. Human-rights groups say hundreds more members of the group are expected to be tried soon or sentenced to labor camps - a process that does not require a trial. Several key national organizers have been charged with the capital crime of "leaking state secrets."


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