Focus-China asks UK to bar Falun Gong leader

Reuters, August 17, 1999
By Dominic Evans

LONDON - China said Tuesday it had asked Britain to bar entry to the head of the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual movement after he was reported to be planning to attend the group's first British conference.

But Britain said it had no grounds for action against Li Hongzhi, the leader who claims 100 million devotees, despite China's call for international help in securing his arrest.

China's ambassador to London Ma Zhengang said he made the request for Li to be barred after a British newspaper said he would travel to Britain from the United States later this month.

"I hope the British government will take the interests of the two countries into consideration and keep Li out of the country," Ma told a news conference.

"He is not an ordinary citizen. He is wanted by the Chinese security department," he added. China, which has accused Li of attempting to replace the government by portraying himself as a god, asked Interpol this month for help in his detention.

But the international police organization rejected Beijing's request, saying it had religious or political motivation.

Britain confirmed the Chinese embassy had expressed concern that Li was planning to visit but said any application for a visa would be judged against normal British immigration laws.

"The Chinese made clear their position on Falun Gong activities in China and concerns Li might visit the United Kingdom for a meeting of Falun Gong here," a spokesman said.

"As the Falun Gong is not an illegal organization in the United Kingdom, and also in view of Interpol declining a Chinese request to treat Li as an international criminal, there is no case for action on our part," he said.

"The Chinese authorities are aware of our and the other European Union countries' disappointment at the banning of this organization and the restrictions being placed on the practice of individuals' spiritual beliefs," he added.

Beijing ruled Falun Gong illegal on July 22 after thousands of sect members surrounded government offices in 30 Chinese cities in the wake of a crackdown on sect leaders.

The country's top leaders have publicly waded into the battle against the movement. Thousands of followers have been detained and scores of its leaders are in custody.

Ma described Falun Gong, which mixes meditation with Buddhist mysticism, as a "cultorganization with political motives," preaching superstitious fallacies.

He said the group had become like a "tumour on society" which turned some of its devotees paranoid or suicidal.

"I know Li Hongzhi will not stop at spreading Falun Gong in China," he said. "He would like to spread it all over the world because this person has very big ambitions."

"He boasted the world could only be saved by himself... He will certainly try to spread Falung Gong to many other countries."

Li, a U.S. citizen, says the group has 100 million adherents. Ma said the number of followers in China was closer to two million, with a more modest figure in Britain.

"I just heard there are about 300 people," Ma said.

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