China admits sect resists eradication

Official news agency reports persistent activity of Falun Gong

April 21, 2000|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BEIJING -- China's state-controlled media acknowledged for the first time yesterday the government's persistent difficulty in stamping out the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, even as fresh allegations emerged about police brutality toward its practitioners held in detention.

Three jailed members of the movement have died as a result of beatings or hunger strikes in the past month, according to human rights groups and family members, bringing the total number of deaths to 15.

The government has been mostly silent about Falun Gong in recent months, and the state media have never openly acknowledged the sporadic silent protests by small groups of its members on Tiananmen Square over the past nine months.

For observers, it has been difficult to tally the frequency of such scattered protests because the square is vast and police immediately whisk away protesters.

Yesterday, the official Xinhua News Agency acknowledged that the protests have occurred daily and sometimes involved many.

"Since July 22, 1999, Falun Gong members have been causing trouble on and around Tiananmen Square in central Beijing nearly every day," the government news agency quoted a high-level official as saying.

"Some of the troublemakers were practicing Falun Gong, some were protesting, banners in hand and shouting slogans, and some were even attempting to detonate explosives," the agency said.

It added that a protest at the Chinese New Year holiday involved 1,000 Falun Gong members from China and abroad. Li Hongzhi, the Chinese founder of the movement, now lives in the United States.

Although the quoted official contended that "the Chinese government has won a decisive victory in its ongoing battle against Falun Gong," he added that "the cult group led by Li Hongzhi has not recognized their defeat and continues to cause trouble."

The official was not named and was identified only as in charge of the State Council Press Office.

Falun Gong was widely popular in China until the government denounced it as an "evil cult" and banned it in July. Combining Eastern philosophies and slow-motion, traditional Chinese exercises, the group attracted international attention a year ago when 10,000 members staged a sit-in around a government compound to seek official recognition.

The anniversary of that protest falls Tuesday, and the government is clearly nervous.

Since the ban last summer, most members have broken with the movement. But a group of devoted followers has remained, and the police have detained tens of thousands of people in connection with the practice, although many of them only briefly.

According to official statistics released yesterday, there are 2,591 cases related to Falun Gong in the courts. Ninety-nine of them have been concluded, according to Xinhua, leading to 84 prison sentences, some longer than 10 years.

But human rights groups say that at least 5,000 more members are in "re-education" camps and many others are being held in lesser forms of detention.

Their harsh treatment led the United States to seek censure of China this month at the United Nations Human Rights meeting in Geneva, but the motion failed.

Many of the imprisoned Falun Gong members have been mistreated, human rights groups say.

Three have died in the past month, according to the Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy, a watchdog group based in Hong Kong.

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