2016-06-30
HONG KONG, Feb. 5 (AP) - Beijing lashed out angrily Monday at foreign ``interference'' in Hong Kong - one week before a Dutch human rights official plans to meet here with followers of the Falun Gong meditation sect.

Hong Kong affairs ``are the internal matters of China,'' said a spokesperson for the local Chinese Foreign Ministry office in a statement.

``We are firmly opposed to any foreign government and its officials interfering in China's internal affairs by making use of the 'Falun Gong' issue,'' said the spokesperson, who was not identified by name.

The Dutch ambassador for human rights, Renee Jones-Bos, will meet with Falun Gong representatives during a visit beginning Sunday so the Netherlands can gain a better understanding of the sect, the Dutch consulate said over the weekend.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not identify the Netherlands by name in its statement, which referred only to ``a certain foreign country.''

But the Foreign Ministry fired off a fresh war of words against Falun Gong, calling it ``an anti-human, anti-society, anti-science evil cult with political purposes.''

Falun Gong -- also known as Falun Dafna -- is outlawed in mainland China and subjected to an often-violent crackdown there.

The group remains legal in Hong Kong, which enjoys considerable freedoms that are a holdover from British colonial days. But pro-Beijing forces are pressuring Hong Kong to clamp down on Falun Gong - and charging that Falun Gong is abusing its freedoms here to mount a campaign of subversion against China.

Two U.N. human rights officials are set to visit Hong Kong this week, and local human rights groups say they plan to bring up the Falun Gong issue.

Pro-democracy and human rights campaigners here fear that any curtailment of Falun Gong's freedoms would be a serious blow for free expression and religion in Hong Kong.

Beijing says Falun Gong is going too far, however, a little less than a month after the group rented out space in Hong Kong City Hall for an international conference at which followers demanded the right to practice freely in China and the end to violence against members on the mainland.

Falun Gong says at least 120 people have died in Chinese custody and thousands more have been locked up - claims that are impossible to verify.

The Foreign Ministry said Falun Gong followers have ``directed their target of attack at the central government.''

``No organization or person is allowed to try to turn Hong Kong into a center for 'Falun Gong' activities, to use Hong Kong as an anti-China base, to tarnish the 'one country, two systems' principle, and to damage the social stability and prosperity in Hong Kong, and their efforts are doomed to failure,'' said the statement.

``One country, two systems' refers to the government arrangement created for Hong Kong when Britain handed its former colony back to China in July 1997. It grants considerable autonomy and freedom to Hong Kong but leaves the central government in control of matters such as foreign affairs and defense.

No one was available at the Dutch consulate late Monday afternoon to comment on the Chinese statement, according to a man who answered the phone.

China's government has also seized on the dramatic suicide attempt by purported members of the Falun Gong sect to try to sway a public that has stood on the sidelines during the 18-month-long crackdown on the banned group.

State media, the only kind there is in China, have intensified attacks on Falun Gong. Scholars are denouncing it in a symposium-like forum touring Beijing. Schools have been ordered to hold classes criticizing it once the Lunar New Year vacation ends this month.

"Blood Debts Old and New Will be Thoroughly Reckoned," the People's Daily, the ruling Communist Party's newspaper, blared in a typical headline. China Central Television has shown people identified as ordinary citizens expressing hatred and revulsion for the sect and its U.S.-based founder, Li Hongzhi.

Touching off the campaign was the attempt by seven people to burn themselves on Tiananmen Square on Jan. 23, eve of the Lunar New Year, China's biggest holiday. Kept out of state media for a week, the group suicide attempt - which left one dead and four injured - got its first airing last Tuesday with reports scripted for maximum impact.

Gruesome footage showed the people bathed in flames in what media described as an attempt "to ascend to heaven." The reports dwelled on one of the injured, 12-year-old Liu Siying, who lies in a Beijing hospital with burns over 40 percent of her body. Her mother died in the suicide attempt.

China claims the immolators were obsessed Falun Gong members, their act the most outrageous in a series of outrages instigated by founder Li. Spokesmen for Li in New York deny the seven followed Falun Gong and suggest the government orchestrated the act. The only known foreign witnesses, a camera crew from Cable News Network, said the protesters struck meditation poses typical of Falun Gong.

Li's denials are absent from the one-sided state media accounts. Seizing on shock over the television footage, the government's propaganda machine has featured scathing testimonials from former Falun Gong practitioners and group condemnation sessions.

"I felt extreme outrage at seeing that self-immolation and now realize even more Falun Gong's cult nature," said a woman identified by China Central Television as a resident of Beijing. "I bitterly hate Falun Gong. ... I want the government to get even tougher in its attacks, not to go soft."

At an anti-Falun Gong seminar, scientist and longtime sect opponent He Zuoxiu accused "overseas anti-China forces" of nurturing the group. A 1999 article He wrote provoked a massive demonstration outside Communist Party headquarters, which in turn prompted the government crackdown.

At last week's forum, He suggested official complacency contributed to Falun Gong's rise, reading off a list of honors bestowed on Li by various government agencies in China before the crackdown.

The government has maintained a steady drumbeat of attacks on Falun Gong since banning the group as a public menace and a threat to communist rule in July 1999. Still, the campaign failed to convince many Chinese, who had grown used to seeing members of the popular spiritual movement practicing their slow-motion exercises in public parks.

Falun Gong drew millions of members in the 1990s with a regimen of exercises and an eclectic, often unorthodox philosophy drawn from Buddhism, Taoism and traditional Chinese "qigong" physical and meditative exercises that practitioners claim promote health and morality and give experts supernatural powers, like flying.

The timing of the suicide attempt couldn't have been better for the government. Embarrassed by persistent peaceful displays of defiance by Falun Gong on Tiananmen Square, the government over the past month had backed a signature campaign encouraging people to take a public stand for the crackdown.

Chinese have long grown attuned to the demands of government campaigns, making objective assessment of public attitudes difficult, but the television footage seems to have hit its mark.

"It was horrible and I found it hard to eat afterward. I don't know how a mother could do that to her child," said a middle-aged retiree, who gave only her surname, Zhang. Where before she merely had an unfavorable impression of the group, Zhang said she now considered it dangerous.

"Falun Gong is bad," said a construction

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