China Detains Government Officials

Associated Press, July 26, 1999
By Renee Schoof

BEIJING (AP) - The Chinese government has arrested nearly 1,200 government officials accused of associating with a banned meditation group, a rights group reported today.

The officials were being held in schools outside a northern Chinese city, forced to read Communist Party literature and pressured to give up their association with Falun Gong, the Information Center for Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China reported from Hong Kong.

The officials, who were detained Saturday, were not allowed any outside contacts, even by telephone, and were ordered to submit written guarantees that they would break with the sect, the report said, citing undisclosed sources in China.

The campaign was expected to extend to 3,000 lower-ranking local government officials in the northern city of Shijiazhuang, about 200 miles southwest of Beijing, the Information Center said.

China's communist leaders banned Falun Gong on Thursday, accusing it of trying to develop political power. Falun Gong leaders have denied any political ambitions and denied they organized protests that erupted last week after authorities reportedly arrested leading sect members.

Falun Gong, founded by Li Hongzhi, who now lives in the United States, draws on martial arts, Buddhism and Taoism. The group says its goals are physical and mental fitness and high moral standards, and denies that it is either a religion or a political movement.

Police throughout China have ransacked homes of Falun Gong practitioners and confiscated books, videotapes and posters about the group, according to Falun Gong Internet sites based in the United States. Some detainees have been forced to pay heavy fines, these reports say.

China's entirely state-controlled newspapers claimed successes Monday in the government crackdown, saying people were turning in Falun Gong materials and renouncing the organization. The evening television news showed inspectors pulling the group's books and tapes from shops and newsstands and featured testimonials from people who said they were obeying the party and no longer believed in Falun Gong.

The state-run Xinhua News Agency said in a commentary Monday that the ban was crucial to maintain the ``vanguard role and purity'' of the Communist Party. It condemned the sect for being idealistic and anti-science, but more importantly for competing with the ruling party in promoting ideals.

``In fact, the so-called `truth, kindness and forbearance' principle preached by Li Hongzhi has nothing in common with the socialist ethical and cultural progress we are striving to achieve,'' the commentary said.

The article called the crackdown a ``serious ideological and political struggle'' and urged party members who practiced Falun Gong to ``draw a clear ideological line'' against it and ``return to the side of the party.''

China doesn't allow independent religious or political groups for fear they might challenge the Communist Party's monopoly on power.

Falun Gong members stunned the government April 25 when at least 10,000 adherents surrounded the headquarters of the Communist Party and central government in Beijing in a silent protest of what they said was harassment by local officials.

Government estimates had put the number of Falun Gong practitioners in China at as many as 70 million, although officials now say that number was greatly exaggerated.

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