China detains Westerners protesting for banned sect

Wednesday, November 21, 2001

BEIJING -- Protesting to draw attention to China's brutal crackdown on the Falun Gong spiritual movement, two dozen Westerners chanted slogans and unfurled a banner Tuesday on Tiananmen Square -- the first Falun Gong demonstration to involve Westerners exclusively.

They were quickly hustled away by police as hundreds of surprised Chinese looked on. State media said they would be expelled.

The men and women, most in their 20s and 30s, initially looked like tourists, talking among themselves and taking photographs. But then they sat down together, legs crossed, eyes closed and hands pressed as if in prayer. "Purge the evil," some chanted in Chinese.

Police vans quickly encircled the protesters. Uniformed officers separated those who interlocked arms. After brief resistance, police loaded them onto vans and drove away. The incident lasted 10 minutes.

State television said 35 foreigners were detained. They were given warnings and would be expelled, it said.

"Their behavior violated Chinese laws governing parades and demonstrations and cults," the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Until now, the vast majority of the thousands of protesters detained on or around Tiananmen Square since the government banned Falun Gong in July 1999 have been Chinese.

Intense security

Protests had trailed off in recent months, in part because of intense security on the square. Many followers are in jail, have renounced the group under government pressure or have switched to protesting covertly, distributing leaflets and daubing slogans in public places.

On Tuesday, police appeared to have advance word of trouble. They moved into position before the protest and refrained from the rough tactics -- including punches, kicks and beatings -- they often use in arresting Chinese.

In a statement distributed by Falun Gong representatives in New York, the protesters said they wanted to draw attention to persecuted Chinese adherents.

"We appeal today for the benefit of all Chinese citizens, to let them know that Falun Gong is good and that its practitioners are good people from all over the world," the statement said.

Falun Gong says more than 300 followers have died of torture and abuse in custody. Thousands have been sent to prisons and labor camps. The sect, which says its philosophies and slow-motion exercises promote health and good citizenship, attracted millions of Chinese followers in the 1990s.

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