Beliefnet
HONG KONG, Jan. 14 (AP) -- The Falun Gong meditation sect, outlawed in mainland China and subjected to an often-violent crackdown there, staged a global conference here Sunday with followers saying they are locked in a struggle between good and evil.

``Over 100 of our great Falun members have lost their lives to spread the truth,'' adherent John Hue told the group assembled in Hong Kong - one part of China where speech remains free.

``But this won't change our beliefs and determination to practice Falun Gong, and I want to advise those who have treated us wrongly not to do it any more for the sake of their own future,'' said Hu, a real estate agent from Singapore, inside a crowded concert auditorium in Hong Kong City Hall.

Falun Gong -- also called Falun Dafna -- is demanding the right to practice freely in communist mainland China and an end to the suppression that it claims has resulted in the torture-killings of 120 followers at the hands the mainland authorities.

``There's no human rights in China because you cannot even say a word about Falun Gong in Tiananmen Square,'' complained Hong Kong practitioner Fiona Ching.

Authorities round up and often beat Falun Gong practitioners on the mainland, but the sect remains legal in Hong Kong.

Falun Gong spokesman Kan Hung-cheung said about 1,200 followers attended Sunday's well-publicized gathering that has drawn sharp criticism from pro-Beijing forces, who are furious that the ``evil cult'' can attack Chinese policies right on Chinese soil.

Falun Gong said the presence of 700 overseas followers from 23 countries shows the movement born in mainland China has become a worldwide phenomenon with many millions of adherents.

Hong Kong immigration officers barred 13 practitioners from entering the territory, but said late Saturday they had failed to meet visa requirements and were not being kept away because of their Falun Gong affiliation.

``Even though there's some pressure, I'm happy that the conference can be held smoothly here,'' said Ching, a local clerk who read from a book by Falun Gong master Li Hongzhi on her way to the venue.

A life-sized drawing of Li, seated in a Buddhist meditation pose, was the central backdrop on a stage where Falun Gong members spoke about their experiences in the group.

One follower read aloud from a letter purportedly coming from another follower in Beijing who had been arrested and beaten in December - and later released - but he was not identified for fear of retaliation.

``There are evils which should not exist in this cosmos,'' the letter said.

Hong Kong practitioner Hui Kwok-hong opened the conference by applauding the territory for letting the sect rent space in City Hall.

``We sincerely thank the government officials for giving us their special support,'' Hui said, although there is no indication Falun Gong has been treated any differently from any other group in Hong Kong.

Amid sharp criticisms from pro-Beijing newspapers, Hong Kong officials said they rented the City Hall auditorium to Falun Gong because any locally registered organization is allowed to use it for legal activities.

The English-language Sunday Morning Post editorialized that the event provided excellent worldwide publicity for Hong Kong, showing ``that freedom of religion and assembly remains intact.''

On Saturday, about 800 Falun Gong members meditated and protested.

Falun Gong's claims that more than 100 followers have been fatally tortured by Chinese security personnel are impossible to verify, but mainland authorities have often been seen beating followers.

Falun Gong insists it has no political motives, but Beijing has been alarmed by the group's organizational ability.

``I do not get involved in politics, but when people see a mass of people, they see it as a threat,'' said Sterling Campbell, a follower from New York.

Mainland Chinese media were silent Sunday on the Falun Gong meeting, but the Beijing Daily launched a fresh editorial attack accusing Falun Gong of teaming up with unidentified ``anti-China'' forces abroad to sow discord and destabilize the country.

``Li Hongzhi's claim that he doesn't take part in politics and doesn't oppose the government is a cheap lie,'' the editorial said.

``The result will only be to make people even more aware of the sinister political machinations of Li Hongzhi and his Falun Gong cult organization.''

Falun Gong combines elements of Buddhism and Taoismn with traditional Chinese qigong physical exercises and meditation practices.

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