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Thursday, July 22, 1999 Published at 13:58 GMT 14:58 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

War of words over sect

A peaceful protest outside Xinhua offices in Hong Kong

BBC News Online has received a flurry of e-mails on the quasi-religious Falun Gong sect which China has now outlawed as illegal.

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But China's official news agency justifies the banning of the sect saying its practices have led to health problems, suicides and even murders

Many of the e-mails object to the arrest and harassment of practitioners in China.

The Falun Dafa Practitioners of North America say the crackdown by the Chinese authorities violates human rights and calls for the immediate release of all those arrested.

One e-mail from California says the authorities in China are persecuting and arresting practitioners who are just "striving to become better and better people in society".

Another says that devotees in China are displaying "unbelievable patience" and courage in response to the provocations of the Chinese authorities.

'Oriental exercise group'

E-mails also object to the movement being labelled as a sect or cult.

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One from Detroit describes Falun Gong as simply an Oriental exercise group composed of "people who are trying to improve ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually".

Another from Ohio says Fulun Gong "teaches us to be good citizens".

"No matter how policemen treat us, we will return them our compassion _ That is the real difference between us and any other sect or cult."

Another practitioner describes the group as respectful people, "genuinely good people, physically and mentally healthy human beings."

'Suicides and murders'

China's official state news agency Xinhua has carried a number of reports expressing a very different view on the Falun Gong sect to coincide with the ban on the group.

In addition to spelling out justification for the ban, the reports attack the movement's founder.

Xinhua also gives prominence to a Chinese Communist Party Central Committee statement forbidding party members from belonging to the sect or following its practices.

The statement says party members who currently practice Falun Dafa must "separate themselves from Falun Gong organisations and make a clean ideological break from them".

It accuses the movement of "propagating a set of malicious fallacies, seriously corroding the minds of some people" and warns that those who refuse will be expelled from the party".

"Every party member should have a deep understanding of the political nature and severe harm of the Falun Gong organisation," said the statement.

Xinhua also accused the movement's founder, Li Hongzhi, of "seriously disrupting social order and sabotaging hard-earned social stability, establishing illegal organisations to erode and harm people in body and soul" and "using fraudulent methods".

In a fourth item, Xinhua reported that the "dire consequences caused by Falun Gong to the psychological and physical health of people are innumerable, according to facts collected by certain departments".

"Serious results have been reported, including sickness, handicaps and even death from the practice of Falun Gong."

"A number of people jumped into rivers or off buildings, or killed themselves in other ways. Some even cruelly injured or killed relatives and friends," the agency reported.

It went on to cite examples of illness and suicide amongst sect followers, including the case of a clerk who allegedly killed his wife with a kitchen knife when she tried to stop him from practising.

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