20 held as sect members step up protests

South China Morning Post, December 29, 1999

At least 20 people were detained by police in Tiananmen Square yesterday as members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement renewed protests over the sentencing of four group leaders.

Officers surrounded 10 followers who tried to protest, grabbing one by the arms and pushing him into a van after he refused to walk. Falun Gong members have been staging low-key protests for months in the Beijing square.

But acts of civil disobedience had faded in recent weeks until Sunday's sentencing of the key organisers of the group, which combines aspects of Buddhist and Taoist thought with meditation and qi gong exercises. On Monday night, state-run television showed the four - Li Chang, Wang Zhiwen, Ji Liewu and Yao Jie - admitting to organising group activities, including an April 25 demonstration outside the Communist Party headquarters.

Yao, once party secretary of a Beijing property company, was shown tearfully telling the court she was wrong to believe in Falun Gong and had abandoned her duties as a communist.

"I have created such trouble for the party but, in the end, the party was still willing to save me," Yao told the court. For her repentance, Yao received a seven-year jail term, the lightest of the four.

Li received 18 years, Wang 16 and Ji 12.

Meanwhile, authorities are putting pressure on local party leaders to stop Falun Gong followers petitioning in the capital. Members refusing to heed the ban were being threatened with dismissal, the Hong Kong-based Information Centre of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China reported.

The centre said party bosses of seven state-owned companies and neighbourhood committees in Shenyang, Liaoning province, were given "serious warnings" on Monday by their superiors after they failed to keep Falun Gong followers from going to Beijing.

Many local party bosses threatened to fire Falun Gong members if they refused to accept the travel ban, it said.

Human rights groups have denounced the latest trials and crackdown, calling them evidence that Beijing uses laws to suppress dissent.


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