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Monday, October 25, 1999 Published at 21:21 GMT 22:21 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

China accuses sect leaders

Falun Gong was banned in July amid protests outside official buildings

The Chinese authorities have accused leaders of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement of posting state secrets on the internet.

The official news agency, Xinhua, said 13 of the movement's leaders had illegally obtained classified material and published it on the net.

Earlier, Chinese police arrested several dozen followers of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement who were protesting in Tiananmen Square.

Beijing police officials confirmed the arrests but gave no indication of how the detainees would be treated.

Reports said the Falun Gong followers gathered around the Great Hall of the People, where Chinese legislators were beginning discussions of a draft law against cults.

[ image: Members do regular breathing exercises]
Members do regular breathing exercises
As in previous protests, they stood in silence and carried no banners.

But when they were spotted by police and bundled into a bus, some of them reportedly chanted "Falun Gong is good!"

Gail Rachlin, a spokeswoman for the movement in New York, said the protestors wanted to express their concern at the draft law and to ask for the ban on Falun Gong to be lifted.

The proposed new law urges increased vigilance by law enforcement 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.

Miss Rachlin said followers simply wanted Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, to be recognised as a legitimate spiritual practice.

But the authorities have denounced the movement - which draws on elements of Buddhism and Taoism, as well as traditional breathing exercises - as a heretical cult and have accused it of trying to overthrow the government.

Trials soon

[ image: Founder Li Hongzhi is in exile]
Founder Li Hongzhi is in exile
A number of key members are due to go on trial soon, and while the authorities have promised that ordinary followers of Falun Gong will not be punished if they renounce their beliefs, one woman who refused to do so recently died in police custody.

China's official news agency quoted legislators as saying the new law was necessary to curb cult activities, which they said had seriously damaged social stability and economic development.

In another sign of official anxiety about social stability, four members of the banned China Democracy Party are reported to have gone on trial in the eastern city of Hangzhou.

Li Hongzhi, the leader of the Falun Gong sect, remains in exile in the United States. China has announced $6,000 reward for his arrest.

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