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Monday, November 8, 1999 Published at 13:16 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Mass trials for Falun Gong

The Chinese authorities have been cracking down on the Falun Gong

The Chinese authorities say they have so far brought criminal charges against 111 members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual group.

The BBC's Adam Brookes: ''Practitioners who refuse to renounce their beliefs have become outcasts''
The government has also acknowledged that several of the group's followers have died in custody.

Apart from those charged, many others have been detained and sent for re-education or sentenced without trial to labour camps.

Li Bing, of the State Council information office, said the charges against those formally arrested included stealing state secrets - which could bring the death sentence - using a cult to obstruct the law, disturbing social order and illegal business practices.

[ image: A follower prays after being arrested in Bejing]
A follower prays after being arrested in Bejing
He said police had not compiled numbers to show how many Falun Gong members were under other forms of detention.

A BBC correspondent in Beijing, Adam Brookes, says those who have been charged are almost certain to be found guilty and face prison sentences or time in a labour camp.

China declared Falun Gong a cult last month and passed legislation promising jail for its leaders.

The organisation, which boasted millions of followers in China before the crackdown, blends exercises with ideas drawn from Buddhism and Taoism.

But the ruling Communist Party has been alarmed by its rapid growth, its international links and its keenness on demonstrations.

Human rights workers in Hong Kong say a student from Heilongjiang was charged on Monday for "using the Internet to spread subversive information".

They said Zhang Ji, 20, could receive up to five years imprisonment after sending information from Falun Gong websites through cyberspace to the United States and Canada.

Deaths in custody

Under Chinese law, suspects can be detained without formal charge for weeks, and only those formally charged are considered arrested.

Practitioners rounded up during the recent peaceful protests in Beijing "were not arrested, but were picked up, given re-education and sent back to their home towns", Mr Li said.

[ image: Police question suspected followers]
Police question suspected followers
He denied reports that some followers had been beaten up and had died at the hands of police.

But he said three women had died since their apprehension - two from heart failure due to previous conditions.

The third, an 18-year-old high school student, died after jumping from a train while being accompanied home by local officials, he said.

But human rights workers in Hong Kong say the teenager was beaten to death by police. They say at least five other Falun Gong members have died in custody since August - four have committed suicide and one has died on hunger strike.


Beijing has branded Falun Gong a threat to social and political stability.

China's leadership was stunned when 10,000 members descended on Tiananmen Square in April to stage a silent protest demanding official recognition of their faith.

Mr Li estimated that more than 1,000 sect members from different provinces had converged on the square in recent weeks while parliament deliberated the anti-cult legislation.

As many as 60% had returned to Beijing even after being picked up by police and sent home.

Our correspondent says practitioners who refuse to renounce their beliefs have become outcasts, often losing their homes and jobs. Thousands appear to have chosen to become fugitives, living rough or in safe houses.

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