Page last updated at 06:18 GMT, Wednesday, 22 July 2009 07:18 UK

China says Falun Gong ban 'works'

By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing

Falun Gong session in Thong Nhat Park in central Hanoi
Falun Gong is banned in China, but tolerated in other Asian countries

A Chinese official says the country has been successful in efforts to crack down on the spiritual movement Falun Gong, 10 years after it was banned.

Li Anping, from the China Anti-Cult Association, told a national newspaper that people now realised the true nature of the movement.

But Falun Gong still exists, and has organised protest events outside China to mark the anniversary.

Falun Gong was banned in China in 1999 for carrying out "illegal activities".

'Violent campaign'

The Chinese government is not keen to mark this anniversary and there has been little mention of Falun Gong in the media over the past few days.

But Mr Li told China's Global Times: "As people have realised the true essence of the cult, it's [now] impossible for them to organise a massive activity."

His association is a non-governmental body made up of volunteers, although it receives government backing.

Falun Gong practitioners demonstrate in front of the Chinese Consulate July 20, 2009 in Chicago
Protests outside China have been held to mark 10 years since the ban

But the Falun Gong information centre, based in New York, puts forward a different picture.

It says the Chinese government has carried out a violent campaign against practitioners over the last 10 years.

It claims that more than 3,000 people have been killed and tens of thousands tortured in China's crackdown on the movement.

"This anniversary is a time of commemoration for the millions whose lives have been unalterably changed by this violent campaign," said Levi Browde, executive director of the centre, in a statement earlier this month.

In China, the centre's claims are almost impossible to verify.

Falun Gong was initially tolerated in China, but was banned after 10,000 practitioners staged a protest outside the central government's leadership compound in Beijing.

Officials said the ban was introduced because the group carried out illegal activities, promoted superstition and disrupted social order.

It is often referred to by the government as an "evil cult".

Since then the Chinese government has waged a relentless publicity campaign against Falun Gong and its followers.

But it is clear that some Chinese people continue to support the movement, which is based on breathing and meditation exercises.

Although the group is banned in mainland China, it is legal in Hong Kong, which was returned to China in 1997.

There have also been demonstrations against China's crackdown on the movement in Hong Kong, Taiwan and the United States over recent days.

And there are still people in the mainland who ignore their government's ban and continue to practise in secret.

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