February 15, 2002

BEIJING--China arrested about 40 foreigners Thursday in Tiananmen Squarefor protesting the government's crackdown against the Falun Gongspiritual movement.

Police chased and tackled the demonstrators after they chantedslogans and unfurled Falun Gong banners. They are one of several groupsaround the world attempting to raise awareness of China's record ofreligious repression as a scheduled visit to Beijing by President Bushnext Thursday approaches.

The 40 foreign demonstrators from several countries includingEngland and Germany were the second foreign group to protest atTiananmen Square this week and the fourth since November.

"Members of various countries decided to go there to expose thetruth about the persecution of Falun Gong in China," said Gail Rachlin,a spokeswoman for Falun Gong.

"There are innocent people being tortured and persecuted," shesaid. "We want President Bush to bring up this issue in his meeting withPresident Jiang Zemin."

New York-based Falun Gong activists said that between 50 and 100members from Western countries had planned to demonstrate in TiananmenSquare. The group said an additional 14 Western followers were detainedby Chinese police in their hotels before the protest.

Witnesses at the square said that hundreds of uniformed andplainclothes police pursued and tackled the demonstrators, kicking andpunching some of them in the face before wrestling them into vans. Theprotests forced police to briefly clear the square.

"The trouble caused by these Falun Gong members was intended toprevent the Chinese people from celebrating" police said, referring theChinese lunar New Year.

China's repression of religion has been especially brutal towardFalun Gong, a quasi-Buddhist movement that was banned as a cult in 1999.Thousands of Chinese adherents have been detained, and internationalgroups claim that several hundred have died in custody.

On Monday, a Chinese Christian group from New York called theCommittee for Investigation on Persecution of Religion in China releaseda report citing internal Chinese government documents that purport toshow how persecution against Christians originates at the highest levelsof the government and includes the physical torture of victims.

Bush raised concerns last month about another case involving a HongKong man who faced the possibility of the death sentence for bringing30,000 Bibles into China for use by a Christian sect that had beenbanned as a cult. Hong Kong businessman Li Guangqiang, originallycharged with violating anti-cult laws, was convicted of a lesser chargeand quickly released, an apparent concession ahead of the Bush visit.

Christianity is permitted in China but only through government-runchurches. There is also a vibrant underground Christian movement that isoften left alone but faces periodic, severe punishments, especially whengroups are identified as a cult.

Chinese authorities deny mistreating detainees from Falun Gong orany other religious group. They have said some Falun Gong prisoners haddied after refusing food or medical treatment.

Falun Gong became a target after it challenged the government byorganizing public protests. In the last year, however, the Chineseadherents have nearly disappeared from public view.

On last year's lunar New Year, five people identified by Chineseauthorities as Falun Gong followers set themselves on fire in thesquare. Falun Gong has denied its followers were involved in the Jan.23, 2001, self-immolation that left two people dead.

Security was tight even before Thursday's protest. Westernersapproaching the square were asked to show identification. Foreignjournalists were turned away or restrained. At least seven foreignreporters were taken to a police station and questioned.

Chinese voices could be heard in the station shouting "Falun Gongis not a crime," though it was not known whether any Chinese nationalshad also been detained.