Protests Over Attacks on China Sect

The Associated Press, July 18, 1999

BEIJING (AP) - About 5,000 followers of a popular exercise and meditation group protested for two days running outside government offices in eastern China to complain about a magazine's criticisms of the group, a human rights group said Sunday.

The protests Wednesday and Thursday in Weifang city in Shandong province ended after the city's mayor intervened, the Hong Kong-based Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China said.

The practitioners of Falun Gong were unhappy with articles in a local scientific magazine that attacked the group as superstitious, its leader, Li Hongzhi, as a aswindler'' and the group's followers as "fools,'' the Information Center said.

Members of the group first protested outside the magazine's offices, but were dispersed by police who also detained three practitioners for a day, it said.

On Wednesday, 5,000 practitioners gathered on a square outside Weifang's government offices and returned for another protest Thursday, it said.

The protesters finally dispersed after Weifang's mayor met their representatives and after the city government posted a notice promising that the magazine and other media in the city would no longer publish articles about Falun Gong, the Information Center said.

The government notice also promised an investigation into police detentions of Falun Gong practitioners and efforts to suppress the group, it said.

Falun Gong members have staged a number of protests in recent months demanding that the government stop suppressing their movement.

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 banned it from holding large public gatherings.

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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