Amnesty alarmed at Falungong deaths in Chinese police custody

AFP/December 20, 2000

Beijing - Amnesty International said Wednesday China was guilty of appalling human rights abuses against the Falungong spiritual group, and that an alarming number of followers were dying in police custody.

The London-based human rights group said China's communist government was becoming more brazen and brutal in its treatment of the group, which was banned as an "evil cult" in July 1999.

"While China claims it is committed to promoting and protecting human rights, the crackdown on the Falungong and other 'heretical' groups is being stepped up and the number of victims is growing daily," said an Amnesty statement.

At least 77 followers are reported to have died in custody or shortly after release in unclear circumstances or following reports of torture and ill-treatment, Amnesty said. "It appears many of them died as a result of torture or after force-feeding while they were on a hunger strike," Amnesty said.

Many of the jail personnel who carried out the force-feeding had no medical training or experience, resulting in damage to the windpipe or other fatal complications, Amnesty said.

It said officials confirmed most of the deaths, but rejected allegations of ill-treatment. The group said official reports indicate 12 of the dead jumped to their deaths while being transported or interrogated by police, and eight "fell" while in detention, the majority in Beijing.

And 18 had engaged in hunger strikes, with seven dying after attempts to force-feed them. Despite reports from various sources about torture, the government has not investigated the cases or tried to implement measures to keep them from happening.

"These deaths in custody are an appalling illustration of the authorities' callous disregard for the lives of people detained solely for their peaceful activities," Amnesty said.

It said 42 of the 77 deceased Falungong members were women, and the provinces of Shandong and Heilongjiang had a large number of deaths, with 17 deaths reported in Shandong jails and 14 in Heilongjiang. Numerous other cases of arbitrary detentions and unfair trials of Falungong members have also occurred, it said.

US resident Teng Chunyan was sentenced this month to three years in prison following a secret trial for exposing the government's detention of Falungong members in mental hospitals.

Canadian citizen Zhang Kunlun was sentenced without trial to three years in a labor camp in November for being involved in Falungong activities. "The recent jailing of two foreign-based Falungong practitioners shows the Chinese authorities are not afraid of negative publicity abroad and are now more brazen in their crackdown," Amnesty said.

"The international community cannot watch silently while these gross human rights volations are taking place. It must condemn these abuses and put pressure on China to take action to stop them," the organization said. Falungong members follow the Buddhist-inspired teachings of their exiled guru Li Hongzhi, who advocates clean living and group morning exercises that involve traditional Chinese breathing routines.

Thousands of Falungong practitioners have been sent to jail or labour camps since the movement was banned, with key leaders receiving prison sentences of up to 18 years.

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