BEIJING, June 7--One morning in April, biologist Wang Lan was called to the security office of the government science laboratory where he works. He was told there was no time to pack a bag or telephone his wife. He was being taken away immediately by the police.

Nobody called it an arrest, or a sentence to a labor camp. It was, Wang recognized, an attempt at deprogramming.

For the next two weeks while in the custody of state security, Wang spent his days attending meetings in a prison lecture hall and his nights at a comfortable police guesthouse. It was all part of an effort by the government to persuade the 28-year-old biologist to renounce his belief in the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.

By the end of his stay, Wang said, he no longer was a Falun Gong member and was free to go.

China has used propaganda, police suppression and harsh sentences to labor camps in its two-year campaign against Falun Gong, the spiritual movement that the government considers an "evil cult." With stories such as Wang's, there is now evidence that the government has created a short-term, prison-run re-education program designed to quickly win back some adherents.

The program, which has been in place for at least several months but has not been publicized, illustrates anew how seriously China's government perceives Falun Gong as a threat. It also suggests that China is searching for more efficient, somewhat less draconian methods of battling the cult than lengthy imprisonments that destroy lives and careers.

Wang said his employer, a state-run organization, paid the government $725 for his stay at what was called "study class" and what amounted to a compulsory anti-cult seminar.

He was not mistreated or threatened, he said, but it was made clear to the 15 other Falun Gong members in the class, including other state university employees, that they were expected to renounce the movement by the end of their two-week stays or repeat the program. Those who continued to resist faced the possibility of a longer sentence, perhaps up to two years, in a labor camp.

China has been under attack by human rights groups, foreign governments and Falun Gong members abroad for quashing religious freedom and cruelly treating adherents.

Some members who have engaged in pro-Falun Gong activities and protests have been imprisoned, while others - perhaps thousands, according to Falun Gong - have been sentenced to terms of up to three years in so-called re-education-through-labor camps. There also have been credible reports of torture, mistreatment and as many as 200 deaths in custody.

China has denied reports of mistreatment, but acknowledges that some adherents have died of disease or committed suicide after being detained. The government has charged that the group and its belief system, which includes healing illnesses and attaining enlightenment, is dangerous to public health and security and has been responsible for more than 1,600 deaths.

In Chicago Tuesday, China's ambassador to the United States, Yang Jiechi, said his government considers Falun Gong an "evil cult" from which Chinese people need protection.

Even Falun Gong leaders "don't describe their activities as religion," Jiechi said. "It is a political organization with political motives."

Falun Gong, a spiritual movement that combines traditional Chinese exercises, some eastern religious thought and the teachings of its founder, has been outlawed since 1999 and has come to represent the most significant political challenges to Communist Party rule since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.

Membership estimates range from several million to tens of millions, but the group first gained attention when more than 10,000 adherents shocked the government by appearing outside Beijing's leadership compound in April 1999 against to protest police harassment.

Since then, the government has fought a battle of wills against the group and its exiled founder, Li Hongzhi. Li, who is said to live in New York but rarely appears in public, has encouraged protests via the Internet and speeches. The movement reached its most dramatic moment in January when a group of people claiming allegiance to the group set themselves on fire in Tiananmen Square. Falun Gong disavowed any connection to that protest.

Abroad, China's treatment of Falun Gong, including detention without trial in labor camps, has become a point of criticism as China competes to host the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.

Defending itself, the government for the first time two weeks ago allowed foreign reporters to visit a re-education-through-labor camp, where they saw detainees in neat track suits who attended classes, watched a video on the origin of the universe, played basketball and were thankful for the government's benevolence. They saw no signs of abuse, and several inmates told the reporters they had come to recognize that Falun Gong was bad.

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