China Ratchets up Rhetoric Against Falun Gong

The Associated Press, July 23, 1999
By Joe McDonald

BEIJING, July 23 As China stepped up a propaganda assault on the banned Falun Gong sect, small groups of defiant protesters gathered today near the main leadership compound in Beijing. The sect was banned Thursday, highlighting official fears that it could threaten communist power by becoming a rallying point for anger over unemployment and corruption. Police took away about 15 people today who stood quietly outside the compound where President Jiang Zemin and other leaders live. The street outside the compound was the scene this week of three days of protests by hundreds of Falun Gong members over the arrests of sect leaders. About 100 people were detained in nearby Beihai park, sitting quietly on the ground surrounded by police. Hundreds of riot police were deployed throughout the city as a precaution against further protests.

A Warning to Beijing Chinas entirely state-run media kept up a barrage of criticism.

Television repeatedly showed a documentary attacking the sect. Newspapers were filled with articles accusing the sect of misleading and abusing its millions of followers. Falun Gong was founded in 1992 by Li Hongzhi, a former government clerk who now lives in New York. Its doctrines draw on martial arts, Buddhism and Taoism. The group is estimated to have up to 70 million members, compared with 61 million for the ruling Chinese Communist Party. Falun Gong issued a statement by Li saying the group had no political goals and warning that the crackdown could damage public confidence in the government. Li said he didnt know in advance about the protests this week, and denied accusations of fraud and mistreating his followers. I hope the Chinese government and leaders will not treat Falun Gong members as enemies, said the statement posted on the sects Web site. The consequences would cause people to lose confidence and be disappointed in the government.

Anxious About an Anniversary

Beijing is especially eager to stifle dissent before the 50th anniversary of communist rule on Oct. 1. Scores of people have been jailed in a crackdown on political and labor activists. The ban was posted today at a spot in Beijings Temple of the Sun Park where some of the sects middle-aged, largely female members gather to meditate and do yoga-like exercises. Passers-by read the sign. Some giggled. Two plainclothes police watched, but there was no sign of any Falun Gong practitioners. Police took the unusual step today of closing Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing and the area around the Great Hall of the People, the most prominent government building. They were later reopened to tourists. State media claimed Falun Gong spread superstitious, evil thinking. Reports blamed the sect in 16 deaths, claiming followers had refused medicine, committed suicide or killed others. Falun Gong has attempted to develop political power, confronting our party and government, the Communist Party newspaper Peoples Daily said in a front-page commentary.

Heaping Abuse

Peoples Daily devoted almost its entire front page to five articles criticizing the sect. The Liberation Army ran a front page photo of soldiers raising clenched fists and vowing to push forward the struggle against Falun Gong. The government can punish peoples bodies, but they cannot change their hearts, The Wall Street Journal quoted the groups founder as saying in an interview Thursday in New York. Li reportedly warned that the government was in danger of losing the confidence of more than 100 million people. The government appeared to have been spurred to crush Falun Gong by a silent, daylong protest April 25 by 10,000 members who surrounded the main leadership compound in Beijing. The protest over complaints of official harassment appeared to take Chinese leaders by surprise. The New York-based group Human Rights Watch called for international protest, and appealed to U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson to intervene with Beijing. The Chinese people have a right to exercise their faiths peacefully, Mike Jendrzejczyk, the groups Washington director, said in a statement sent to reporters.

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