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Friday, 19 May, 2000, 16:25 GMT 17:25 UK
China targets religious group
Policeman stop Falun Gong member
China has cracked down on religious groups
Police in China have arrested 20 members of a religious movement that opposes Beijing's strict birth control policies, reports say.

One of the group's leaders has been sentenced to a year in a labour camp after being convicted of "using an evil cult", according to human rights workers.

Li Xueqing was said to be a key figure in the Society of Disciples which has criticised government regulations limiting most couples to one child.
chinese family
Most families are only allowed one child

He was sentenced on Wednesday following his arrest seven weeks ago, according to the Hong Kong Information Centre for Human Rights & Democracy.

It said police in Sichuan, south-west China, had detained at least 20 members of the group - called Mentuhui in Chinese - since late March.

One child policy

The Society of Disciples was reportedly founded in 1989 in the northern province of Shaanxi and has some 500,000 members in more than 10 provinces.

"The sect urges its followers to oppose the central authorities' 'family planning' policy," the Hong Kong rights group said.

Sichuan Religious Affairs Bureau and local police declined to comment, saying they were "not clear" about the case.

Falun Gong

The report comes amid a nationwide crackdown on all unauthorised religious activities and a major campaign against the spiritual Falun Gong movement.
Police arrest a Falun Gong follower
Police arrest a Falun Gong follower

It emerged on Friday that another follower of the outlawed group had died in custody.

Human rights workers said Zhou Zhichang, 45, died on 7 May after an eight-day hunger strike.

He is believed to have been in prison in the northern city of Shuangcheng since his arrest in September. Police said he died from heart disease.

Deaths

Mr Zhou is among thousands of followers who have been rounded up since the government banned the group last summer.

Unconfirmed reports by Falun Gong followers say at least 17 adherents have died in custody.

The government has denied that any sect members have died from mistreatment.

Underground church

The authorities have also reportedly closed down churches and arrested at least 10 leaders of underground Christian groups in southern Guangdong province.

International advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide said one minister, Li Dexian, had been arrested 14 times since October and tortured.

At one point Mr Li had his ankles and wrists chained together, forcing him into a stooped position for five days, the group reported.

An official of Guangdong's Religious Affairs Bureau confirmed an investigation of local religious groups was under way.

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See also:

05 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
China rejects torture allegations
09 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
UN urges China torture inquiry
23 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
China fury over human rights
26 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Falun Gong: Living in fear
13 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Falun Gong arrests in China
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