U.S. concerned about China's ban on meditation group

CNN News, July 22, 1999

WASHINGTON -- The United States said Thursday it was "disturbed" about China's repression of a quasi-religious sect that staged protests across the communist country this week.

"We have seen and are concerned about the reports that 70 organizers from the Falun Gong movement have been arrested," said Mike Hammer, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council. Chinese state television announced a ban of the group Thursday, accusing Falun Gong of spreading "superstitious, evil thinking" to undermine social stability. 3 days of protests The announcement came after three days of protests by as many as 30,000 people in dozens of Chinese cities over the arrest of the 70 leading sect members.

The U.S. State Department urged China to adhere to international human rights principles.

"While we take no positions, as a government, on the teachings or practices of this movement, we do urge China to adhere to its obligations under the international human rights instruments to permit Falun Gong practitioners to engage in peaceful expression of their views and in peaceful assembly," said spokesman James Rubin.

Falun Gong is estimated to have up to 70 million followers. By comparison, the ruling Chinese Communist Party has 60 million members. Founded in 1992 by Li Hongzhi, an ex-soldier who now lives in the United States, Falun Gong, or the Wheel of Law, mixes slow-motion martial arts with ideas from Buddhism and Taoism.

Its leaders have argued that the sect, not the Communist Party, has the answers to make China a more stable, moral society. Dissent, discontent With discontent widespread over unemployment and stagnating incomes, Chinese leaders are worried that independent groups could defy their rule. Beijing has been cracking down on dissent to prevent any challenges to the government in the months before the 50th anniversary of the communist's victory on Oct. 1.

In recent weeks, state media have accused Li and other sect leaders of defrauding and misleading their followers.

"The Falun Gong Research Society conducted illegal activities, spreading superstitious, evil thinking to blind people, to stir up trouble and sabotage social stability," said the announcement of the ban, carried by the official Xinhua News Agency.

The ban, which also was reported by state television, was issued by the Public Security Ministry and the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. Chinese leaders have regarded Falun Gong with suspicion since more than 10,000 of its members gathered in a silent, daylong protest on April 25 around the Beijing compound where President Jiang Zemin and other Chinese leaders live and work.

The group said it was protesting harassment by the government.

On Tuesday, Chinese police arrested 70 leading sect members in Beijing and other cities, seized Falun Gong literature and smashed images of Li, its founder, according to the sect and human rights groups. Since Tuesday evening, as many as 30,000 members have held silent, peaceful protests in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and as many as 27 other cities, according to the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China. Drawing a line The government announcement today ordered Communist Party members not to take part in Falun Gong and to "draw a clear ideological line of demarcation with Falun Gong, and expose the problems of Falun Gong."

The announcement said the party would expel any members who continued to practice Falun Gong's beliefs.

A state newspaper today hinted at the involvement of foreign provacateurs in Falun Gong.

"Foreign forces are trying to push power politics and are grasping at every opportunity for fear that you are not disturbed," the Science and Technology Daily said in an article criticizing the sect.

Police have been ordered to step up a crackdown on "feudal superstition" that already resulted in 5,800 arrests by the end of May, another newspaper said.

Sect members arrested this week include Li Chang, a representative in talks with the government, the group's Web site said.

The Web site reported arrests in at least eight cities and said coordinators' homes were ransacked and books and other Falun Gong materials confiscated.

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