China expels Western Falun Gong demonstrators
Beijing, China -- Western members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement arrested by police have been ordered to leave the country after a protest in Tiananmen Square, state radio reports.
The 35, including American, European and Israeli nationals, unfurled a yellow banner bearing the Falun Gong motto of "Truth, Benevolence Forbearance."
They were then herded by plainclothes and uniformed police onto about seven minivans, and driven to a nearby police station, witnesses said.
"The relevant departments have given the 35 foreigners who broke Chinese law a warning for disrupting public order and have dealt with them according to the law by ordering them to leave the country by a specified time," state radio said.
It was one of the largest protests involving foreigners on the vast plaza in the center of Beijing.
A statement from the protesters said they were from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Sweden, Switzerland, Britain and the United States.
The statement also said the protesters included a chief executive officer, a nuclear engineer, college students, a medical doctor, a housewife and mother, and a technology consultant.
"We are here to appeal on behalf of tens of thousands of innocent people who suffer imprisonment, torture or even death at the hands of their own government in China," said the statement issued by the U.S.-based Falun Dafa Information Center.
"And we are here to appeal to China's leaders and to seek an end to the violence and terror they have waged against Falun Gong for two and a half years."
Falun Gong says more than 50,000 adherents have been sent to prisons, labor camps and mental hospitals in China since the group was banned in 1999, and about 300 have died in custody.
China brands the group an "evil cult" and accuses it of plotting to overthrow the Communist Party and causing more than 1,700 deaths by suicide or refusal of medical treatment.
In the dark
Most of the relevant embassies said they had no confirmation of the involvement of their citizens in Tuesday's protest.
But Swedish ambassador Kjell Anneling told Reuters news agency there were five Swedes in the group.
"We have seen it on the Swedish press because some of the Swedes who have been arrested telephoned to their families to tell them about it," he said.
"We know that they have been taken by the police and we think they are at the police station close to the square and we are trying to locate them now," he added.
The U.S. embassy for its part said it had asked Chinese authorities to confirm the reported detentions and to grant immediate access to any detained U.S. citizens.
However, there was no immediate response.
China's intense police and media campaign appears to have suppressed Falun Gong within its borders.
But the Falun Dafa Information Center has kept up its own media war from overseas with almost daily reports of abuse and deaths in police custody, which have fuelled criticism of China's human rights record.
The Falun Dafa Information Center said there were 36 protesters on Tuesday and police kicked some to the ground and slapped one woman unconscious.
But the official Xinhua news agency said police merely removed 35 Falun Gong protesters from the square for breaking China's laws on demonstrations and on cults.
Xinhua also said a U.S. permanent resident serving a three-year sentence in a Chinese labor camp for gathering information on the crackdown on Falun Gong had rejected her allegiance to the group.
Teng Chunyan, detained in May last year, had received training in herbal medicine while in custody and was allowed contact with her family, Xinhua said.
"I have not been abused since my detention and have not seen any sign of beating or admonishment here," Xinhua quoted her as saying. "Police in the center are very polite and kind."
Chinese authorities have acknowledged several deaths of Falun Gong members in custody, but say most resulted from suicide or illness.
China banned Falun Gong in 1999 after adherents shocked leaders with a mass protest around the Zhongnanhai leadership compound near Tiananmen Square demanding official recognition of their faith.
The group follows a mixture of Taoist and Buddhist beliefs combined with traditional Chinese physical exercises.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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