BEIJING - China mobilised scores of police in Beijing's Tiananmen Square on Sunday, taking no chances with Falun Gong devotees before the anniversary of a sit-in that put the spiritual group in the Communist Party's crosshairs.
Sunday tourist throngs were riddled with uniformed and plainclothes police, two days before the first anniversary of the April 25 demonstration, when 10,000 Falun Gong members surrounded Beijing's Zhongnanhai leadership compound.
The adherents were demanding official recognition of Falun Gong, a synthesis of Buddhism, Taoism and meditation and a halt to vicious attacks against their group in state media.
What they got instead was the label of "evil cult" and an extermination campaign that has seen thousands sentenced to hard labour, many suffer severe beatings and forced drugging and some 15 die in police custody, human rights groups have said.
But the group has defied the crackdown and kept up sporadic protests for almost an entire year, frustrating a Communist Party that is used to snuffing out perceived threats.
A commentary by the official Xinhua news agency recently summed up the frustration.
"The Chinese government has won decisive victory in its ongoing battle against Falun Gong, but the cult group led by Li Hongzhi has not recognised their defeat and continues to cause trouble," it said, quoting a cabinet spokesman.
The fight against the movement would be "long-term, complex and serious" the spokesman acknowledged.
"The number of Falun Gong troublemakers rises on significant dates or when important activities are scheduled," Xinhua said and noted that Tiananmen Square had experienced almost daily agitation by adherents since China banned Falun Gong last July.
Tiananmen Square was quiet on Sunday, but the vanloads of police left no doubt it will be closely watched in the run up to April 25, a year after a bold but peaceful sit-in brought Falun Gong international prominence and domestic persecution.
In a repeat of police tactics during earlier cycles of Falun Gong protest activity, including the Chinese New Year and the annual parliament session, some Western reporters in Beijing say they have been followed by plainclothes police in recent days.
A U.S.-based Falun Gong activist said some 60 adherents were staging a hunger strike in a female labour camp in Jiangxi province, where one follower died from not eating on April 14.
She had confirmed the deaths of two other Falun Gong members in Chinese police custody in March and April. The deaths were initially reported by a Hong Kong-based human rights group.
The Information Centre of Human Rights and Democracy said the deaths of the hunger strike and two in police beatings brought the total of such deaths to 15 since China banned the spiritual movement in July of last year.
China has acknowledged a handful of Falun Gong deaths in custody, but said they were either suicides or deaths from pre-existing conditions, such as heart ailments. It says the movement has caused 1,500 deaths and made 600 mentally ill.
Spokesmen for Falun Gong, which claims between 70 million and 100 million adherents, have accused China of arresting more than 35,000 people since the Communist Party banned the movement.
At least 5,000 members have been sent to labour camps without trial and others have been sentenced to up to 18 years in prison after "show trials," according to the group.
Gail Rachlin, a U.S.-based spokeswoman, said the group was scheduled to hold a series of meditation demonstrations in New York at the weekend, culminating in a call for peaceful dialogue with China on the eve of the April 25th anniversary.
China last week quashed debate at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights on a U.S.-sponsored resolution accusing Beijing of increased political and religious repression. Beijing 's treatment of Falun Gong featured prominently in the resolution.
The newest Chinese propaganda campaign against Falun Gong has seized on the group's international sympathy, saying it has "publicly given themselves up to the anti-China forces and actively serve as their anti-China tool."
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