Falun Gong protests rock Tiananmen

Hong Kong Standard, May 12, 2000

POLICE detained up to 200 people in Tiananmen Square yesterday as they crushed wave after wave of protests by the banned Falun Gong movement to mark their founder's birthday.

Scenes of chaos gripped the square all morning as hundreds of police battled to snuff out small-scale protests erupting across the vast central esplanade.

At one stage a group of 15 protesters unfurled two giant seven-metre red banners, before they were engulfed by scores of police who knocked them to the ground and ripped the banners out their hands.

Falun Gong members raised at least a dozen banners.

Each time large numbers of police sprinted to the scene and the protesters were bundled into the back of police vans.

A young man and three young women standing in the middle of the square simultaneously raised four white banners with the emblem Falun Dafa (Great Law of the Wheel) in red characters.

As police intervened, one woman was dragged by her hair along the ground towards a van. Other protesters were kicked as they lay on the ground, punched or put in headlocks.

At regular intervals over a four-hour period many small groups of people, mainly middle-aged and elderly women from the countryside, were detained without protest.

Falun Gong practitioners, who have flocked to the square in their thousands to protest against the banning of the movement since it was outlawed in July, tend to admit they are group members when asked.

Police officers were heard to ask people if they belonged to a "heretical cult", while Falun Gong practitioners were heard to reply "no, we belong to a just movement".

The protest was one of the largest by the movement since it was banned. It gradually petered out towards midday but the occasional protester was still being led away.

At least three foreign journalists and photographers were also detained, along with a Swedish tourist who had set up his video to film the Forbidden City.

"We are just a group of tourists and we know absolutely nothing about what is going on," said one of the tour group, as other tourists were forced to expose their films.

The protests came a day after the communist government put out contradictory statements claiming victory over the group but also warning that Falun Gong still posed a danger to society.

They also came as Falun Gong practitioners in Hong Kong held a small parade to celebrate the birthday of the movement's exiled founder Li Hongzhi _ the same birthday as the Buddha.

A Falun Gong spokeswoman in New York, where Mr Li lives, said she expected more protests in the coming days as Saturday had been designated World Falun Dafa Day to mark the movement's eighth anniversary.

"I anticipate they're going to go out there every day as they have done in the past."

Falun Gong claims tens of millions of followers in China, attracted by Mr Li's eclectic teachings in traditional qigong Chinese breathing exercises and Buddhist and Taoist philosophies.


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