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Thursday, 7 March, 2002, 11:26 GMT
China detains Falun Gong protesters
Police struggle to detain a Falun Gong protester
The protesters are all thought to be foreigners
China has detained seven members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual sect following a protest by sect members in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

Hopefully they will be released soon because they have done nothing illegal

Falun Gong spokeswoman
The protest was held as delegations from all over China met for the annual National People's Congress in the Great Hall of the People alongside the Square.

Police bundled the protesters into a van and also briefly held three onlookers who were taking photos, including an Australian television producer.

All seven members of the religious group were foreigners.

'Evil cult'

Police arrive on the scene in Tiananmen Square
Western protesters have been detained on several occasions in recent months

The protest lasted only a few seconds, onlookers told the Associated Press news agency, with one protester holding up a banner and another briefly chanting the sect's name in Chinese.

China banned the Falun Gong sect in 1999, denouncing it as an "evil cult" and severely punishing those found to be members.

Kati Vereshaka, a spokeswoman for the group in Australia, confirmed that three of those arrested were Australian and also said she had asked the embassy in Beijing to intervene on their behalf.

"Hopefully they will be released soon because they have done nothing illegal," she said.

"They went there to appeal on behalf of the Chinese Falun Gong practitioners. All they did was unfurl a banner saying Falun Dafa is good in Chinese characters."

It is the fifth protest in or around Tiananmen Square since November last year.

In February this year Chinese authorities deported more than 50 sect foreign members, including five Britons, following a protest involving hundred of supporters.

Controversial sect

The Falun Gong movement, which claims millions of followers around the world, teaches meditation and exercises loosely based on eastern philosophies such as Buddhism.

It first came to public notice in China in 1992, but after attracting millions of followers it alarmed the ruling Communist Party.

Since the ban came into force three years ago, Chinese police have rounded up tens of thousands of practitioners. Many have been sent to prison without trial - a form of punishment known as "re-education through labour".

Falun Gong claims that more than 1,600 followers have died as a result of abuse in police custody or detention centres - a charge the government denies.

In turn, Beijing says Falun Gong has caused 1,900 deaths by suicide, refusal of medical treatment, or hunger strike in detention.

See also:

15 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Falun Gong Britons expelled from China
14 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
China arrests foreign Falun Gong activists
14 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Eyewitness: Falun Gong arrests
12 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Falun Gong protesters expelled
21 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
China expels Western 'cult' members
08 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
'Why do they persecute us?'
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