The foreigners were among 15 Falun Gong practitioners picked up Thursday in the city of Guangzhou, near Hong Kong, according to the Hong Kong-based Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China.
Thousands of Falun Gong practitioners have been detained since the communist government banned the multimillion-member meditation group in July, fearing it as a threat to government power. Some practitioners have been sentenced to up to 12 years in prison, and more are awaiting trial. Hundreds if not thousands of others reportedly have been sent without trial to labor camps.
The main Communist Party newspaper People's Daily accused the sect today of plotting with "foreign anti-China forces," but didn't mention the detained foreigners.
The Information Center identified the American as Sun Jie, 30, a Chinese-born software engineer. It said the Australians were Jiang Xili and Jiang Huijie.
The fourth, 31-year-old Anne Hakosalo of Sweden, was released Thursday after 10 hours in custody, said Rigmor Petterson, a Swedish diplomat in Beijing.
Hakosalo was not charged with a crime and was preparing to return to northeastern China, where she is studying at Dalian University, Petterson said. Hakosalo told the Finnish Broadcasting Co. that police did not tell her why she was detained, but took her passport and would not let her contact the Swedish Embassy.
Authorities in Guangzhou confirmed that an American was taken in for questioning and have identified the person, said Mark Canning, public officials officer for the U.S. Consulate in that city. Canning would not confirm the American's name, citing embassy rules. U.S. officials were pressing for more information and a speedy resolution of the case, he said.
The Australian consulate in Guangzhou said it was trying to confirm reports an Australian was detained. Guangzhou police contacted by telephone said they didn't know about the detentions.
Drawing from Buddhism and Taoism, Falun Gong is a form of qigong, a popular Chinese meditation and exercise discipline meant to improve well-being by tapping unseen forces. The discipline was founded by former government clerk Li Hongzhi, who now lives in New York City. Practitioners say it makes them healthier and more moral.
Falun Gong has shown unusual resilience in the face of the crackdown, gathering in secret and at one point holding a press conference with foreign reporters. Police have rounded up more than 1,000 members who have made their way to Beijing to appeal for an end to the ban.
The front-page People's Daily commentary accused Falun Gong leaders of trying to overthrow the government. Falun Gong leaders have denied subversion accusations.
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