May 13, 2002

BEIJING (AP) - The French computer engineer sent a final e-mail to friends back home, then headed to Beijing's Tiananmen Square to stage his protest. Seconds after pulling out a banner and shouting slogans supporting the banned Falun Gong meditation movement, he was bundled into a van by police.

The man was the only known Falun Gong follower arrested in China for protesting against the ban on the group on Monday, the tenth anniversary of Falun Gong's founding.

The day's low-key passing in Beijing seemed to show how much the Communist Party's relentless pursuit of the group has decimated its public membership and willingness to protest openly.

In the first years after Falun Gong was banned in July 1999, May 13 brought dozens of protesters to Tiananmen Square. They were assaulted by police and quickly detained.

The date marks the birthday of Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi and the day he began the group in 1992. Chinese officials say records show that Li was actually born on July 7, 1952.

Falun Gong drew millions of followers with its slow-motion exercises and doctrines drawn from traditional Chinese beliefs and Li's own unorthodox teachings. Li, a former Chinese government clerk, now lives in the United States.

Thousands of followers have been detained in the frequently brutal crackdown, and supporters abroad say at least 400 have been killed. Authorities deny mistreating anyone, but say some detainees have died on hunger strikes.

Chinese members have since shifted to underground agitation, spreading their message by Internet and fliers posted in secret. Supporters have broken into cable television systems in at least three Chinese cities to show protest videos.

Dozens of green-uniformed and plainclothes guards patrolled Tiananmen Square Monday under a light rain and searched tourists' shoulder bags. A gray-haired man in a blue Mao suit chuckled as he showed them that his bulky bag held a folded raincoat.

The detained Westerner, a man with blond hair who appeared to be in his 30s, had been stopped earlier by police who searched his bag but apparently failed to find his banner. He later waved it and, using another name for the group, shouted in Chinese, ``Falun Dafa is good!'' Observers were too far away to see what was written on the banner.

Falun Gong supporters in Paris released a statement saying the man was Martial Bachoffner, a 34-year-old French computer engineer who has lived in Montreal since 1995.

Alain Tong, a Falun Gong spokesman in Paris, said Bachoffner began practicing Falun Gong in 1999 and arrived in Beijing on May 2. Tong said Bachoffner e-mailed friends late on Monday morning saying he was about to go to the square. He said the French Embassy in Beijing has been informed of Bachoffner's detention.

There was no immediate comment from police or the French Embassy.

Falun Gong supporters overseas said events were planned in Tokyo, Sydney and other cities. Barefoot followers in Hong Kong lined up to form the Chinese characters for ``Falun Gong is good.''

Authorities have blamed Falun Gong for more than 1,600 deaths, saying its teachings inspired members to commit murder or end their own lives by refusing medical help.

On Monday, state media reported accusations that Falun Gong member Guan Shuyun choked to death her 9-year-old daughter on April 22, believing the girl was possessed by a demon.

The reports by the main Communist Party newspaper People's Daily and state broadcaster China Central Television said 40 Falun Gong members who were watching did nothing to stop Guan.

State media have issued numerous similar reports, none of which have been independently confirmed. Falun Gong supporters abroad deny the group is to blame for deaths, saying it cherishes life.

There was no indication why the government waited three weeks to report the death of the girl, Dai Nan.

Guan had spent six months in a labor camp for ``illegal cult activities'' and was released in February, 2001, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. ``It was Falun Gong that has killed my daughter,'' Xinhua quoted Guan's husband, Dai Keqin, as saying.

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