Meditation group appeals to Chinese leaders over persecution

June 25, 1999

BEIJING (AP) -- More than 13,000 members of a popular exercise and meditation group have appealed to top Chinese leaders to stop recent suppression and persecution, a government official said Friday.

In an open letter, the practitioners of Falun Gong protested the police detention of five leaders and curbs on the group's meetings in one provincial capital, the Hong Kong-based Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement reported.

Chinese leaders have viewed the group as a potential threat ever since more than 10,000 members surrounded the communist leadership compound in Beijing in a silent protest on April 25. Since then, the government has monitored the group closely and last week banned it from holding large public gatherings.

In response, 13,742 Falun Gong members signed a letter to Chinese President Jiang Zemin and Premier Zhu Rongji and sent it to an office that handles citizens complaints in Shijiazhuang, the capital of northern Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing.

The letter was received last Friday and forwarded to superiors, said a worker in the office who refused to give his name.

Petitioners argued that Falun Gong is a religion, not heresy, and urged the government to allow members to openly practice and publish materials by its founder, Li Hongzhi, the Hong Kong-based Information Center said.

They also complained that police detained group leaders Duan Rongxin, Miao Yingzhi, Zhou Ximeng, Yang Xiaojie and Jia Zhicun in Shijiazhuang for 24 hours on June 4 for no stated reason. June 4 was the 10th anniversary of the quelling of the Tiananmen Square democracy movement -- a date that always brings intensified police suppression.

A Shijiazhuang military plant, People's Liberation Army 6410 Factory, also recently dispersed 42 workers meditating on the factory grounds and threatened to fire them if they continue practicing Falun Gong, the Hong Kong group said.

The Falun Gong, or Wheel of Law, blends slow-motion martial arts exercises with ideas borrowed from Buddhism and Taoism. It has gained popularity in the seven years since it was founded in 1992 by Li Hongzhi, an ex-soldier who has since left China for the United States. The Chinese government estimates its devotees at 10 million to 70 million.

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