China hints at trials for spiritual movement

Washington Post, August 25, 1999
By Michael Laris

BEIJING - In an escalation of the government campaign to crush the Falun Gong spiritual movement, China's Communist Party signaled for the first time yesterday that it will soon put key leaders of the group on trial.

A government circular released by the official New China News Agency said that "the few organizers . . . who damaged social stability and committed crimes will be punished in accordance with the law."

The Hong Kong-based Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement said more than 50 organizers were expected to face prosecution. It said that lawyers throughout the country had been told to notify authorities if families of arrested followers sought to hire them.

China banned the group on July 22, calling it the most significant political threat to the government since the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations centered around Tiananmen Square.

The group was estimated to have more than 10 millions members at its peak.

The government also vowed yesterday to intensify its grassroots efforts to force followers to cut ties with the banned exercise and meditation group.

It said that China's vast network of "neighborhood committees," the lowest level organs of the ruling Communist Party, would provide "greater care and help" for those who remain "deceived" by Li Hongzhi, the U.S.-based leader of the group.

In an acknowledgment that many believers have refused to give up Falun Gong, the government circular said that local Communist Party officials are organizing "work groups" to buttress efforts "in the countryside where the numbers of practitioners are relatively high."

A Western diplomat said China appeared to be entering the last stage of its anti-Falun Gong effort. "The final phase is the big show trials," the envoy said.

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