Chinese wage Internet war on banned cult

US-based leader of Falun Gong talks of return to Beijing, reports Oliver August

The (London) Times, July 28, 1999

THE fight between occultism and reformed socialism that marks China's new ideological fault line has moved to the Internet after the crackdown on the Falun Gong cult.

The Chinese Government has opened a website to compete with the sect in a propaganda war. In an attempt to undermine support for the group, the government site records horror stories about cult members who mutilate themselves and kill their families.

The site is called "Unveil Falun Gong", according to Xinhua news agency, and is updated with fresh material targeted at the outlawed cult.

Falun Gong leaders also use the Internet and were doing so long before the Communist Party. The cult created the biggest threat to communist power in ten years by sending mystic texts to its alleged 100 million members and by organising mass demonstrations in Beijing. During the crackdown last week, cult leaders used the Internet to keep one another informed about the latest arrests and to co-ordinate a public response.

Falun Gong sites are regularly blocked by the authorities, while cult members have flooded the Government's sites with hostile messages.

VIP Reference, an overseas Chinese electronic publication, sent out examples of pro-cult messages. One message read: "China's biggest illegal organisation is the Chinese Communist Party which has not registered with the Ministry of Civil Affairs since 1921. The Falun Gong even tried to register, but under orders from the party was refused registration, which in reality is a violation of the Constitution by the Ministry."

The cult was declared illegal because it was not a registered and approved organisation. Li Hongzhi, the cult leader, said yesterday that he was prepared to go home to discuss how to adapt the group to the requirements set by the authorities.

In an interview with Radio France Internationale, Mr Li, who lives in America, said:"If the problem can be resolved without violence, through dialogue, if I have done something wrong, I would agree to go to China to explain matters to the Government.

"But I still do not understand why it has fought Falun Gong with such violence." He suggested that the repression could be due to "the fact that now there are a lot of people involved, and in particular many members of the Communist Party".

Officials have justified the cult ban by citing supposed illegal political activities carried out by members. Analysts had classified Falun Gong as entirely apolitical and poured scorn on official suggestions that Mr Li wanted to overthrow the Communist Party.

The US Government has risked a further escalation in Sino-American relations by commenting on the human rights implications. Mike Hammer, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said: "We urge the Chinese Government to respect their rights to assemble peacefully and express views in accordance with widely accepted international standards for the protection of human rights."

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