BEIJING, April 25 (AP) -- In a swirl of chaos, Chinese police detained dozens of Falun Gong protesters who unfurled banners and meditated Tuesday in Tiananmen Square, defiantly marking a massive demonstration a year ago that prompted a government ban on the spiritual movement.

Despite swarms of plainclothes and uniformed police who patrolled the vast square, small-scale protests erupted in all directions, and police detained more than 100 people over a period of several hours. One group of 15 people sat down together to meditate and were pulled to their feet and pushed into a minibus.

Police quickly tackled four people who unfurled a banner, punching one man in the face. Police muzzled a middle-aged woman and pulled her backward as she tried to yell. A group of at least six other women, all carrying children in their arms, were bundled into a van on the square's edge.

"The Great Way of Falun is good," shouted one middle-aged protester, leaning out of a police-bus window, his fist raised.

Adding to the chaos were throngs of Chinese tourists who excitedly ran across the square to glimpse the rare acts of civil disobedience. Police, sometimes using loudspeakers on their vans, shouted at bystanders to disperse.

Foreign tourists also watched, mouths agape in surprise. Police made an American woman rip the film out of her camera because they suspected her of photographing an arrest. A tour guide told one group of American tourists not to photograph anyone in uniform.

"China is still a comparatively strict country," the guide explained.

Plainclothes police tried to separate Falun Gong followers from the tourists, asking people: "Do you practice Falun Gong?"

The charged atmosphere and firmly executed, sometimes violent, arrests contrasted with the event practitioners were commemorating. On April 25 last year, 10,000 followers surrounded the communist leadership's compound near Tiananmen, meditating in silence for a day to protest official harassment.

Then police kept their distance. But the group's ability to mobilize followers alarmed Chinese leaders. President Jiang Zemin ordered a crackdown. In July, Falun Gong was officially banned, its leading members were arrested, and its rank-and-file told to recant or face jail.

Since the April 25 demonstration, 35,000 followers have been detained, with another 5,000 sent without trial to labor camps, a New York-based spokeswoman for Falun Gong said in a statement.

At least 16 followers have died in custody, either from abuse or from hunger strikes, since the July ban, a Hong Kong-based group, the Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy, said.

In the latest case, 40-year-old practitioner Li Huixi was beaten to death April 21 by police in eastern Shandong province, who also cremated his body without first informing his family, the group said today. The government says detained practitioners have died from suicide or health problems, but not from official mistreatment.

Falun Gong attracted millions of followers with its blend of traditional beliefs, slow-motion exercises, and the ideas of founder Li Hongzhi, a former government grain clerk who now lives in New York. Followers say Falun Gong promotes health and good citizenship.

The government says Falun Gong is an evil cult that threatened public order and Communist Party rule and led 1,559 followers to their deaths.

In response to the suppression and a smear campaign in state media, Falun Gong followers have staged almost daily protests in Tiananmen Square -- a difficult feat in the most sensitive part of the tightly controlled capital.

Tuesday's demonstrations were larger than usual. Police rushed from one part of the square to another, putting a stop to the outbursts.

Protesters included all types of Chinese, evidence of the group's popularity: elderly women, young men, a man in a civil-servant's uniform.

The protests materialized swiftly. Much of the square was closed off early Tuesday so the Kazak defense minister could lay a wreath at the Monument to the People's Heroes in the plaza's heart. The protests erupted soon after the square reopened.

more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad