Key dates in emergence of China's banned Falungong movement

AFP/January 23, 2001

Beijing -- Following is a list of key events in the past 18 months which have seen the Falungong spiritual movement branded the biggest threat to China's communist regime since the 1989 democracy protests.

April 25, 1999: More than 10,000 followers of the Buddhist-inspired sect sit down around the Chinese Communist Party headquarters in Beijing for an entire day, demanding the right to practise their meditation and breathing exercises. It was the largest demonstration in the capital since 1989, when democracy protestors were massacred on Tiananmen Square.

April 27: The authorities say they are prepared to listen to Falungong grievances but warn of strict measures against any attempt to destabilise society.

May 3: Li Hongzhi, the sect's US-based guru, calls on Beijing to start dialogue with the movement which claims it has 80 million followers in China (two million according to the authorities).

June 6: First questioning of over 100 followers protesting in Beijing.

July 20-22: Thousands of followers rounded up throughout the country. By the end of the year at least 35,000 followers had been arrested, according to official statistics.

July 22: Falungong is formally declared an "illegal organisation." The move coincides with the launch of a media campaign accusing the movement of causing 1,500 deaths.

July 27: US State Department calls on Beijing to exercise restraint.

July 28: China issues an international arrest warrant against Li Hongzhi, accusing him of seeking to overturn the regime. Interpol refused to help with the warrant.

Oct 7: First case of Falungong follower dying in police custody, announced from abroad.

Oct 21: 11 senior figures in the movement arrested.

Oct 25-Nov 1: A week of protests in Tiananmen square in Beijing as parliament adopts law officially branding Falungong as an "evil cult."

Nov 12: First Falungong "show trials" end with four followers sentenced to between two and 12 years prison. Hundreds of others sent to "reeducation through labour" camps for three years.

Dec 26: Four senior figures in the group sentenced to prison terms of seven to 18 years.

Feb 5, 2000: Dozens of followers protest in Tiananmen Square during the Chinese New Year.

Feb/March: Deaths in custody of 15 members disclosed. Several detained members stage hunger strike.

April 19: The official Xinhua news agency reports that a total of 84 Falungong supporters have been given prison terms.

April 25: At least 100 members defy a security net to protest in Tiananmen Square on the first anniversary of their landmark mass demonstration against the Chinese government.

May 11: About 200 members protest in Tiananmen Square to mark their founder's birthday and are detained by police.

July 22: Falungong members are kicked and badly beaten by police in Tiananmen Square in the most violent crackdown yet seen on the group since it was banned exactly one year ago.

October 1: Chinese police round up close to 1,000 protesting members of the Falungong group during clashes in Tiananmen Square on China's National Day.

January 1: Chinese police detain about 1,000 protesting Falungong members in one of the most violent clashes with police. Falungong founder Li Hongzhi issues a new year statement titled "Beyond the Limits of Forbearance" in which he for the first time he says his teachings make allowances for going beyond forbearance, one of the three principles of Falungong. He says evil cannot be tolerated.

January: The government launches new propaganda offensive against the group, with daily reports in state-owned media accusing Falungong of brainwashing members and misleading them into ruining their lives.

January 23: State news agency Xinhua says five Falungong followers set themselves on fire in a mass suicide attempt, which left one dead. It was not immediately possible to confirm the report from independent sources.

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