Chinese leaders criticized for handling of Falun Gong
January 10, 2000
BEIJING (CNN) -- Chinese leaders' efforts to eliminate the Falun Gong movement are counterproductive and are giving the group's leader credibility, suggests a Chinese man who is trained in ancient breathing exercises.
Sima Nan is trained in the ancient breathing art known as qigong. He has been urging China's leaders to educate the public about Falun Gong, which China has declared illegal, rather than intimidate and prosecute its members.
"The government bans them, but (the members) make trouble anyway because they believe in it. You can only help them by treating them as psychological patients. They should be respected and treated humanely," Sima Nan said.
But his appeals appear to have fallen on deaf ears.
China's government banned Falun Gong, which mixes Buddhist and Taoist beliefs with meditation and breathing exercises, a few months ago. China's leaders claimed the group was an evil cult, dangerous to the public and a threat to social stability. Several Falun Gong members have since been arrested.
On Sunday, witnesses reported that three Australian Falun Gong followers were questioned by police as they tried to send China's top leaders a letter urging the decision to ban the group be reconsidered.
The three tourists -- Ana Turco and twin brothers Simon and Nicholas Vereshaka, from Melbourne -- were reportedly detained at Xinhua's Beijing headquarters shortly before they were to depart from Beijing's airport, witnesses said. The three reportedly returned home on their scheduled flight.
In December, China expelled three ethnic Chinese Australians after they protested against Beijing's crackdown on the movement. A month earlier, a Swedish follower was detained briefly, along with 14 local followers seized at a Falun Gong gathering in southern China.
Last month, a Chinese court sentenced four Falun Gong leaders -- including a former deputy director of the Public Security Ministry -- to up to 18 years in prison on charges ranging from stealing state secrets to causing deaths.
Sima Nan: Televising trials backfires
Sima Nan suggests the televised trials of Falun Gong members -- and condemnation of their leader Li Hongzhi, who claims to have special healing powers -- have given the group legitimacy.
"The result is the people say, 'This Li Hongzhi must really have something. Otherwise, why would the government talk about him every day?' " Sima Nan said.
He said he wants to show the public that Falun Gong's claims of having healing powers are nothing more than parlor tricks. He has teamed with American magician James Randi, and they are offering $1 million to anyone who can prove, without question, to have supernatural powers.
Said Randi: "I'm very alarmed at the growth of Falun Gong. If it's only a religion, I have no problem. If it's only a philosophy, I have no problem.
"But the minute they begin to claim they have supernatural healing powers, or any other kind of supernatural powers, I think it becomes very dangerous. I prefer, rather than legislation, education," he added.
Li reportedly promised good health
Li, a 47-year-old former Chinese government official who founded Falun Gong seven years ago, now lives in exile in New York. He has reportedly promised his followers good health and has claimed his practitioners could become divine under his tutelage.
"Li Hongzhi wants to turn himself into a god. He's trying to trick people," Sima Nan said.
Falun Gong claims 100 million members throughout the world. The Chinese government says the group has only 2 million adherents in China. The group stunned Chinese leaders in April when it staged a 10,000-member protest outside China's leadership compound, Zhongnanhai, in Beijing to demand an end to persecution.
Human rights groups have reported Chinese leaders continue to detain and try Falun Gong members. Rights activists say hundreds of the group's followers have been sent to labor camps for "re-education" -- punishment which does not require a court hearing -- and that at least six practitioners have died in police custody.
A senior Chinese cabinet spokesman said about 150 Falun Gong members had either been arrested through November or were being sought on charges ranging from disturbing social order to stealing secrets. The government claims 1,400 practitioners have died from suicide or from refusing medical help when ill.
Beijing Bureau Chief Rebecca MacKinnon and Reuters contributed to this report.
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