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Local Falun Gong Members Protest Crackdowns

By Sanjay Basu

Continuing a recent crackdown against members of the Falun Gong sect, Chinese police arrested 1,200 government workers Saturday, accusing the officials of practicing the banned exercises characteristic of the Falun Gong meditation system. Hours later, 200 Falun Gong members occupied a park in Hong Kong to protest the government’s hostile actions toward the group.

Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a Qigong system of meditation and exercise introduced to the Chinese public in 1992 by Li Hongzhi. Li, known as “Master Li,” currently lives in New York. China has issued an arrest warrant against him, although the U.S. State Department has refused to extradite the Falun Gong leader.

“We are not a political group or a religion,” said MIT alumnus Michael He Ph.D. ’96, a member of Falun Gong. “We are simply following an exercise system, similar to Tai Chi. It’s designed to improve a person’s lifestyle, morality, and health. But the Communist party is afraid of any group that has so many members.”

He and other MIT practitioners of the movement have begun a campaign against the crackdown, claiming that the government has abused innocent citizens and violated international human rights.

“There are over 200 of us here in Boston,” He said. “Many are alumni of MIT, BU, Harvard, and Tufts. We even had a practice group centered at MIT a few years ago,” he said.

“But what we’ve been hearing from friends and family in China is that a crisis is going on there,” He said. “Falun Gong practitioners are not anti-government by nature. They just want to practice benevolence, tolerance, and truth.”

Since issuing a ban on Falun Gong last Thursday, over 1,600 members of the group have been detained, although leaders of Falun Gong claim that the movement has over 100 million followers in China alone.

Chinese police have ransacked the homes of Falun Gong practitioners and have confiscated books, videotapes, and posters. Many of those arrested by the police have been detained in “re-education camps.” Letters written by the detained members claim that followers are being held without food or other provisions.

Movement threatening to some

Not all agree with He’s statement that Falun Gong has no political agenda.

“If they didn’t have a political agenda, they wouldn’t have organized a protest against the government with 10,000 people last April,” said Brandon Chemers, an Indiana University Sino-American relations expert and member of the Chicago Chinese Consulate. “I’ve talked to people who supported the Tiananmen Square movement, and even they think that Falun Gong is dangerous to China.”

Li has repeatedly denied that his practice is politically-motivated. However, China’s communist leaders maintain that they are attempting to preserve stability in China and are even helping those people they have detained. The Xinhua news agency has issued reports that members of Falun Gong have been killing themselves and others, and therefore need to be treated or re-educated.

“That’s mostly fabricated,” He said. “Realize that when you have so many people following this system and one person commits suicide, you can’t blame their meditation practice for their death.”

He explained that Falun Gong is based on ancient Chinese principles that convince people to give up anger, anxiety, jealousy, and desires for fame. The group’s guidebook, Zhuan Falun, explains that each individual possesses a falun, or law-wheel. The falun is like a miniature universe and has its own form of existence and process of evolution.

“The people who believe in this are fundamentally dangerous,” said Chemers. “Some of them have split open their stomachs to find their magical wheels. And they’re a threat to the [Communist] Party. What’s bad for the Party is bad for China.”

Chinese government hacking sites

Recent reports from the members in charge of American Falun Gong websites have claimed that their websites have been hacked in attempts to shut them down. Unconfirmed reports from webmasters say that the hacks have been traced to Beijing and government offices.

Meanwhile, two of Hong Kong’s largest bookstores have stopped selling Falun Gong books, although spokesmen for the bookstores have refused to indicate why the books have been removed from shelves. Hong Kong, has not banned the movement.

“Basically, the movement against the Falun Gong is spreading,” said He. “Lots of practitioners in North America have tried to ask governments for help. If dialogue is possible between Master Li and the Chinese government, there may be a way to save many people who are being mistreated and abused.”