(New York, November 9, 1999) -- As the Chinese government continued its nationwide roundup of Falun Gong members, Human Rights Watch said that China's intensified campaign against the exercise and meditation group clearly violated United Nations human rights standards. Chinese officials have formally arrested more than one hundred individuals and are preparing to put them on trial.
"Cloaking this campaign in rhetoric about the ‘rule of law' doesn't give any greater legitimacy to China's crackdown on Falun Gong," said Mike Jendrzejczyk, Washington Director of Human Rights Watch's Asia Division. "The official ban on Falun Gong should be lifted. The government's announcement that it was a ‘true cult' and must be suppressed should be rescinded. All Falun Gong members in detention, formally charged, or sentenced to labor camps for peaceful activities should be immediately released," he added.
The Chinese leadership's attempt to contain Falun Gong is part of a broader government effort to try to control all organizations, religious, civil, social or economic. The number of members, their ability to organize, and their use of modern tools of communication have made the Falun Gong especially threatening. Concerns about social instability, fed by large-scale unemployment, a stagnant rural economy, and the demoralizing effects of pervasive unemployment, add to the leadership's need to ensure that the Chinese people's first loyalties remain with the Chinese Communist Party.
On November 8, 1999, China's State Council confirmed the formal arrest of at least 111 members on charges of gathering illegally to disturb social order, stealing state secrets, and other charges. Many others not formally arrested have been administratively sentenced without trial to "reeducation through labor" camps by the police for up to three years, or are undergoing anti-Falun Gong education, though actual numbers can't be confirmed. The government insists they are not compiling figures nationwide.
The authorities, in carrying out the crackdown, seem to be carefully distinguishing between organizers and ordinary Falun Gong followers. In a November 5 circular, the People's Supreme Court admonished the courts to make a sharp distinction between "criminal elements" and cult leaders who should be treated harshly, and common Falun Gong practitioners who should be extricated from cults, educated, then reintegrated into the social fabric.
Human Rights Watch also expressed concern about the Beijing police's use of regulations controlling lodging in the city by people from the provinces, to prevent Falun Gong members from assembling. The police newspaper, Shoudu Gongan Bao, or Capital Public Security News, reported on November 5 that since October more than 800 Falun Gong members who came to Beijing were picked up in hotel sweeps and detained. Seventeen landlords and hoteliers who "illegally rented out rooms" to Falun Gong members were punished with fines or forced out of business. This policy targeting landlords and small and mid-sized hotels seemed aimed at preventing the group's members from exercising their rights of free association and the right to liberty of movement -- rights expressly protected in a U.N. treaty China has signed.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which was signed by China in October 1998 but not yet ratified, guarantees freedom of belief, expression, association and assembly. It also guarantees fair and open trials before an impartial tribunal, and protection against arbitrary detention.
Roundups of Falun Gong members in Qingdao, Shandong province and Yinchuan City, Ningxia Autonomous Region, were recently reported in the official Chinese Legal Daily (November 5 and 6, 1999). It said those arrested are being accused of "organizing illegal gatherings," "spreading anti-government propaganda and illegal publications and books," and carrying out "illegal link-up activities." Similar activities and arrests also reportedly took place in Urumqi in Xinjiang province, Jinan in Shandong province, and Changchun in Liaoning province. All of these activities are clearly protected under international law.
The crackdown on Falun Gong began with the Ministry of Public Security's announcement on July 22, 1999 declaring Falun Gong an unlawful organization. It banned advertising Falun Gong, distributing its materials, gathering to exercise and meditate, and petitioning to protect Falun Gong. Two additional articles banned disturbing the social order through factual distortion and fabrication or spreading rumors; and prohibited any organized protest against government decisions. They were vague in describing which violations constituted crimes and which might result in administrative punishment.
On October 9, the Supreme People's Court and Supreme People's Procuratorate (prosecutor's office), issued a series of interpretations that encourages authorities to apply existing laws harshly to Falun Gong members. In particular, these authorities pressed for the punishment of "heretical sects" under a section of the criminal law that prescribes stiff penalties for the most serious crimes, penalties that include life imprisonment or execution. They stated explicitly the kind of cult activities that are punishable under provisions in Article 300 of the Criminal Law--the only article that refers specifically to cults. The article gives possible sentences for those who organize or use superstitious sects, secret societies and evil religious organizations. The Court added "those who set up and make use of cult organizations" to other articles dealing with intentional murder or injury, sexual exploitation and rape, fraud, splitting the country, or overthrowing the socialist system. The "interpretations" also laid out the characteristics of a cult organization. Article 300 mandates a minimum sentence of seven years for "especially serious" or otherwise grave acts. In all other categories, penalties run as high as life imprisonment or death.
On October 27, Xinhua, the official news agency, using the definition in the October 9 interpretations, published evidence "proving" that Falun Gong was indeed a "true cult." It cited the group's tight hierarchial structure, the doomsday theory promulgated by its leader, the systematic mind control it said Falun Gong members were subject to, and the physical and psychological suffering it claimed was induced in many followers.
With these preliminary steps in place , the Chinese leadership is now claiming its crackdown is occurring under the rule of law. On October 30, 1999 the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) banned all heretical cults, set out preventative measures, and mandated punishment. This decision had the effect of extending existing laws. The NPC called for a severe crackdown on the criminal activities of cult leaders, while educating and seeking to reintegrate the bulk of believers. It urged an all-out effort to disclose the "inhumane and anti-social nature of heretical cults."
"China's major trading partners should increase pressure on Beijing to halt the crackdown on Falun Gong. It makes little sense to bring China into the World Trade Organization and expect it to abide by global trading rules when Beijing flaunts international rules of human rights with total impunity," said Jendrzejczyk.