China Braces for Falun Gong Struggle

The Associated Press/July 19, 2000
By Christopher Bodeen

BEIJING (AP) - China's leaders are settling in for a prolonged struggle against the banned Falun Gong sect, acknowledging in an official editorial that a year of arrests, harassment and political campaigns have failed to wipe out the group.

Hours after the statement, as the anniversary of a government crackdown on the Falun Gong arrived Thursday, police dispersed scores of protesters and detained more than 90 of them in Tiananmen Square.

Thursday's display showed that one of China's biggest political campaigns in years may have thinned the resilient group's ranks but has failed to wipe the movement.

The protests happened between 8:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. when thousands of school children were visiting the square - one of Beijing's most popular tourist sites. Some of the children witnessed the brutal arrests, and they talked excitedly to each other about the scene.

The group's resilience was grudgingly acknowledged in an editorial to be published Thursday in the Communist Party's flagship People's Daily. Excerpts were carried Wednesday on the official Xinhua News Agency.

``The cult will not voluntarily step down from the historical stage,'' Xinhua quoted the article as saying.

The fight against Falun Gong will be a ``long-lasting, complicated and acute struggle,'' it said, and pledged to crack down on members with a ``firm hand.''

In a reference to the group's founder, a former government clerk whose whereabouts are now unknown, Xinhua quoted the editorial as saying: ``Li Hongzhi and his followers, like any evil force, have never stopped doing illegal things.''

A media smear campaign, the jailings of thousands of members and pressure on followers to renounce ties to the group have thinned Falun Gong's ranks. But the group has continued to launch defiant protests, mounting the most sustained public challenge to the Communist Party in 51 years.

In Beijing on Wednesday, scores of Falun Gong followers raised banners in Tiananmen Square, prompting a frenzied response by police who swarmed on groups of protesters, wresting away banners and knocking them to the ground.

Police dragged protesters by the arms or clothes - middle-aged women and children among them. A uniformed officer locked his arms around a woman's neck, pulling her away.

More than 100 Falun Gong members were detained during the protest, a 10-minute explosion of seemingly coordinated action across the vast plaza.

That the protests happened - and in such numbers - was particularly impressive in the face of police alertness in the days before Thursday's anniversary on the crackdown on Falun Gong.

One year ago Thursday, security agents detained dozens of key Falun Gong organizers. Sect followers, tipped off by fellow members in the upper ranks of the communist government, responded with mass protests. Two days later, Chinese leaders outlawed Falun Gong, declaring it a public menace.

Police have picked up at least 200 practitioners from Tiananmen Square every day for the past week, according to a Communist Party official involved in security work.

Police in Beijing and other cities have watched airports and railroad and bus stations to prevent followers from reaching the capital, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Followers have been put under surveillance or detained, he said.

``Still some have slipped through our net,'' the official said.

The government has branded Falun Gong an unprecedented threat to communist rule and accused the group of cheating followers and causing 1,500 deaths, mostly of followers it maintains refused medical treatment in accordance with what it claims are the group's teachings.

Founded eight years ago, Falun Gong attracted millions of followers with its blend of slow-motion exercises, meditation and ideas drawn from Buddhism, Taoism and its founder.

Followers arrested in recent days have refused to tell officers their names or hometowns, making it difficult for city police to file the proper arrest forms, the party official said.

Instead, police have commandeered a stadium in western Beijing to hold those detained until their hometowns can be determined and they can be shipped off to local detention centers, the official said. A human rights group based in Hong Kong, meanwhile, said it has confirmed the deaths of 24 Falun Gong followers over the past year due to mistreatment while in detention.

Although the government has not responded to each alleged death, it has denied Falun Gong followers are mistreated in custody.

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