Falungong leader speaks out about protest that rocked Beijing

Agence France-Presse/May 2, 1999

SYDNEY - The 10,000 cult members who staged the most daring protest in Beijing for 10 years were only trying to peacefully present the facts to the Chinese government, their leader said Sunday.

Chinese guru Li Hongzhi, founder of the Falungong sect whose followers have been warned "strict measures" will be taken against them if there is any repetition, said he did not believe Beijing will ban his sect.

"The Chinese government has never been against Falungong," he told reporters at the end of a two-day Australian conference of Falungong practitioners in Sydney.

"If they permit Falungong to exist today, they would also allow them to exist in the future because we did not involve ourselves in politics and we abide by the laws of the country."

Chinese officials last week stepped up surveillance of sect members in China and issued a warning that strict measures would be taken against its practioners if they threaten "social stability" again.

The warning followed a silent 13-hour sit-in by more than 10,000 sect members outside the Chinese Communist Party and government offices in Beijing last Sunday.

The protest, sparked by the arrests of sect leaders in Tianjin, southeast of Beijing, was the biggest since the 1989 Tiananmen democracy protests ended in a massacre of demonstrators by the Chinese army.

The protesters demanded the release of the sect members and the right to practise Falungong freely.

Speaking through an interpreter "Master Li", as he is known to the 100 million members claimed by the sect he founded in 1992, blamed over-zealous security officials for the arrests -- not the government.

"I would point out that the way the security was handled was improper, but the security is not the Chinese government. It is only individuals using their positions to do wrong deeds."

Li, who now lives in New York with his wife and teenage daughter, received a rapturous welcome from around 2,000 predominantly Chinese Australian practioners when he arrived at the conference in the Sydney Convention Centre.

Falungong, which Li says is not a religion, is essentially a morning exercise routine which mixes elements of Buddhism, Taoism and qigong, a Chinese martial art based on meditation and breathing techniques.

He says it aims to raise consciousness, improve health and help practitioners lead a better life and to become better people with high moral values.

Daily group exercises form the organisational bond for the group, whose goal is to raise consciousness and morality.

Li, a former clerk in a Chinese government factory, said he now lives on royalties from the book in which he published his ideas in 1994.

He was on his way from New York to Sydney last Sunday when the demonstration took place and knew nothing about it until afterwards.

He said it was not planned, but the Falungong practitioners knew about it through the sect's website.

"They were only there to present the facts," he said. "There were no signs of aggression and no banners ... It was not a demonstration by any means."

Asked why he had left China to live in the United States, he said: "My daughter wanted to go to the States. I also wanted her to study more English language. I heard the US education was pretty good."

He says he is free to move in and out of China when he wants, but intended to head back to New York immediately and had no plans to return to China in the near future.


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