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Thursday, October 28, 1999 Published at 09:11 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

China hits out at sect

Police detained dozens of protesters in Tiananmen Square

China has stepped up its attack on the banned Falun Gong sect, as its followers continue their protests in Beijing.

For the first time, China branded the movement a "cult", with the official People's Daily newspaper saying that Falun Gong "seduces, brainwashes and blackmails" its followers.

In a front page editorial, the paper described Falun Gong as an "epidemic", and said that, according to incomplete statistics, it was responsible for the deaths of 1,400 people.

"The party and the government will not show the devil-cult any mercy, because any benevolence shown to such heretics will trample the human rights of other citizens," it said.

Sect calls for help

At a secret news conference, members of Falun Gong appealed for international help to stop persecution from the Chinese government.

Almost 30 members invited foreign journalists to the news conference at a hotel in suburban Beijing. Several members detailed abuses they have suffered from Chinese authorities.

Until recently, the Chinese Government had referred to Falun Gong simply as a deceitful, illegal organisation. The BBC's Duncan Hewitt in Beijing says the newspaper attack constitutes the most formal definition yet of the movement as a cult - a move which may herald tougher measures against its supporters.

[ image: Falun Gong combines exercises and meditation]
Falun Gong combines exercises and meditation
The People's Daily compared Falun Gong to the US Branch Davidians and the Japanese Aum Shinri Kyo sect, which was responsible for nerve gas attacks on Tokyo subways in 1995.

The paper also repeated the official line that ordinary Falun Gong followers who had renounced their beliefs should be treated sympathetically and said they could not be expected to change their views completely overnight.

But members of cults can face tough jail terms under Chinese law and the paper appeared to hint that criminal trials, so far expected only to include a handful of key Falun Gong members, could be expanded, according to our correspondent.

The People's Daily attack on Falun Gong came as the National People's Congress met to discuss legislation curbing cults.


Hundreds of Falun Gong members have been protesting against the anti-cult legislation since Monday in Tiananmen Square outside the Great Hall of the People, where the parliament is meeting.

Dozens more supporters were taken away from the square by plainclothes and uniformed police. The Falun Gong members were herded on to minibuses and taken away to a nearby police station.

Falun Gong supporters rejected the government's accusations, and said they were gathering in Beijing to demonstrate that they were harmless.

[ image: Protesters have been gathering in Beijing since Monday]
Protesters have been gathering in Beijing since Monday
Li Yuling, from Beijing, said: "We heard last night that the government was going to declare Falun Gong a cult.

"We came here to explain our situation, to show people we are neither a cult nor a political organisation."

The proposed anti-cult law urges increased vigilance by law enforcement agencies against cults and calls on local governments to deal leniently with rank-and-file members while singling out "a small number of cult leaders" for punishment.

The ban on Falun Gong was imposed in July after followers surrounded government headquarters to protest at being labelled a dangerous superstition.

Falun Gong combines traditional slow motion exercises and meditation with elements of Buddhism and Taoism.

Since it was founded in 1992, the group estimates that it has attracted 100 million followers worldwide, most of whom are in China. The government puts membership in China at only about two million.

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