The Falun Gong is Banned in Mainland China, and Practitioners Says They Fear it May Soon be Outlawed in Hong Kong as Well
'Tortured to Death' 'Barred'
(By Joe Havely 7/1/2002 16:53)
HONG KONG, China (CNN) --
The Falun Gong was one of many groups to take to the streets during Jiang's visit to the former British colony on the fifth anniversary of the handover to Chinese rule.
However, despite being restricted to a designated "protest area" well out of sight of the Chinese leader, the group's followers were keen to distance themselves from others using the anniversary to voice their concerns over such issues as democracy and the shaky Hong Kong economy.
"This is an appeal, not a protest," said one follower. "We're not a political movement -- we just want the truth to be heard and appeal for an end to the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China."
For three years China's ruling Communist Party has labeled the Falun Gong the state's virtual enemy number one.
Practitioners say theirs is a loosely organized spiritual movement, based on three guiding principles of "truthfulness, compassion and forbearance."
Xiao says the reason China fears the Falun Gong is simple and can be summed up in one word: "Popularity."
"In the 10 years since Falun Gong was founded, we have 70 to 100 million regular practitioners in China -- that's more than the membership of the Communist Party."
'Tortured to death'
Xiao says that scared by such a weight of numbers, China's leaders are encouraging often brutal methods in their efforts to wipe out the group.
"We have documented cases of 429 followers tortured to death by police since the crackdown began in July 1999," she says, adding that unconfirmed reports from sources indicate that number may be closer to 7,000.
Although banned outright on the mainland, the Falun Gong remains legal in Hong Kong, which has a separate legal system from the rest of China.
However, Xiao says there are signs of a growing trend towards banning the group in Hong Kong as well and she says a controversial anti-subversion law backed by the territory's Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa could well be used against them.
She pointed to the trial last month of several followers arrested for holding meditation exercises outside the Chinese government liaison office in Hong Kong.
They have been charged with obstruction and assault against police officers -- charges that Xiao says are "absurd" and symptomatic of the massive political pressure she says Beijing is putting on the Hong Kong government.
In the run-up to the handover anniversary, the Falun Gong says almost 100 of its followers have been barred from the territory, among them the husband of Australian practitioner Amanda Dowie.
Although she was allowed into Hong Kong, she told CNN her husband John had became separated from her shortly after their plane from Australia landed at the weekend.
Since then, she said, she has only received a brief phone call from him, in which he told her he had been refused entry and was being detained pending his return to Australia.
The Hong Kong government says it never comments on individual cases.
Speaking ahead of Monday's anniversary, security chief Regina Ip said no one was being targeted purely because of their beliefs, but she added immigration officials had a duty to prevent potential troublemakers entering the territory.
(By Joe Havely 7/1/2002 16:53)
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