BEIJING (AP) - Rebuffing U.S. criticism, China said Tuesday that was protecting the human rights of its citizens by banning the Falun Gong spiritual group.
It accused the United States of ignoring the group's dangers.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue's comments came a day after President Clinton criticized China's crackdown on the multimillion-member group as a "troubling example" of the government acting against those "who test the limits of freedom." It was Clinton's first public comment on China's detention and imprisonment of Falun Gong members.
While she didn't mention Clinton by name, Zhang retorted Tuesday that 1,400 people have died through practicing Falun Gong. She said many others became "mentally disordered, lost their family, wife and children."
Zhang didn't explain how people have died, but the government has said previously that some Falun Gong practitioners have gone crazy and killed themselves or others.
"The U.S. government has adopted a double standard on the cult and also turned a deaf ear to the adverse effect and the damage of Falun Gong to the Chinese people and society and even tried to beautify this cult and interfere in China's internal affairs," she said when asked about Clinton's remarks.
Banning the group protected "the fundamental human rights and freedoms of the Chinese people," she said.
Zhang also expressed "strong indignation" over a U.S. government decision to extend a ban on exports of crime control and detection equipment to China for another two years because of religious repression. She demanded the sanctions be repealed, calling them a "serious violation of the basic norms governing international relations and gross interference in China's internal affairs."
In September, a State Department report criticized Chinese mistreatment of Tibetan monks, underground Christians and Muslim Uighurs from western China. The report covered a period of 18 months until the middle of this year, just before China banned Falun Gong in July.
Following the report, the U.S. government added China to a list of countries considered of "particular concern" because of religious repression. It extended the export sanctions that have been in place since China crushed pro-democracy demonstrations on Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Falun Gong blends slow-motion meditation exercises and ideas from Taoism, Buddhism and Falun Gong's U.S.-based founder, Li Hongzhi. Practitioners say Falun Gong promotes health and good citizenship.
China's government says most members have quit the group since the ban was imposed. But thousands of members converged on Beijing in recent months to protest the crackdown and were rounded up by police. Hundreds if not thousands of others are in labor camps or in jail, either serving sentences or awaiting trial.
A rights group said Tuesday that three Australians who held up signs in Tiananmen Square on Saturday appealing for an end to the crackdown were detained for a day and deported to Hong Kong.
Falun Gong members from the United States, Canada, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Australia, England, France and other countries plan to meet this weekend in Hong Kong, the Hong Kong-based Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China said. Hong Kong's autonomous status within China has allowed Falun Gong members to continue to practice openly there.
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