- BEIJING (Agence France Presse)
- Eight followers of the mystical Falungong sect have been sentenced to
forced labor in China for practicing the banned group's meditation exercises
at home, a human rights group said Friday.
- The cases indicated Chinese authorities were stepping
up pressure on the sect, the Hong Kong-based Information Center of Human
Rights and Democratic Movement in China said.
- The eight people -- all residents of Daqing city in the
northernmost province of Heilongjiang -- on Monday were sent to Shuanghe
Ranch in the province's city of Qiqihar, one of the harshest labor camps
in the country, the information center said.
- They were ordered to serve terms of one to three years.
- The information center said the eight people were not
leaders, but merely members of the sect.
- "In recent days, several Daqing practitioners who
were caught practicing at home have been sent to labor camps. This means
the government doesn't care who it sends to labor camps," the center
- "This puts the several million people who are still
practicing at home at great risk."
- Since the government banned the sect in July, they have
arrested many group leaders as well as hundreds of others who participate
in silent demonstrations, but there have been few reports of arrests of
ordinary members for practicing Falungong rituals at home.
- The government has said it would be lenient on mere members,
urging them to give up their beliefs and leave the sect.
- However, center director Frank Lu estimated there were
at least 70 Falungong members working at the Qiqihar camp and that at least
1,000 Falungong practitioners, many lower-ranking members, have been sent
to the country's 300 labor camps since the sect was banned in July.
- Police in China are free to send people to labor camps
for up to three years, without having to put them on trial as the punishment
is considered an administrative sentence.
- Meanwhile, a medical college instructor has been arrested
in the central Chinese province of Henan for promoting the healing powers
of Falungong on the Internet.
- Li Fujun, who taught in the Xinxiang City Medical College,
was arrested last Friday. Police accused him of calling Falungong "an
advanced science" and trying to convince doctors it could help them
heal their patients.
- A staff member at the college confirmed Li's arrest.
- She said Li was sent to Beijing to study for a masters
degree last year, during which time he became involved with Falungong.
- Li on Thursday was formally charged with "using
evil religion to destroy laws."
- China banned Falungong in July and last month declared
it a cult, passing regulations to expand courts' powers to prosecute members
for a variety of offenses.
- The group focuses on traditional Chinese meditation and
breathing exercises and advocates high moral values.
- It rattled China's leaders with a 10,000-strong protest
against the arrest of some of its leaders in front of Communist Party headquarters
in Beijing on April 25. ((c) 1999 Agence France Presse)