WASHINGTON, Feb. 6 -- China's opposition to foreign involvement in its handling of the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual group has prompted a Dutch government official to postpone a scheduled visit to the country.

"The trip has been postponed because we thought the ideal circumstances under which it should take place were not there," said a spokesman for Dutch Foreign Minister Jozias Van Aartsen, according to Reuters.

China's foreign ministry had announced Monday it opposed interference from foreign governments in its dealings with Falun Gong. The news came two days before Van Aartsen was scheduled to arrive in China.

A Falun Gong spokeswoman said the meeting with Van Aartsen would not have been political. She said the group simply wanted to make known its displeasure with China's treatment of the group, which has been banned in China since July of 1999.

Authorities branded Falun Gong -- a combination of traditional Chinese meditation exercises and Buddhist and Taoist principles -- an "evil cult" and a threat to the Communist Party.

Thousands of Falun Gong practitioners have been arrested since then, and movement leaders have been sentenced to prison terms as long as 18 years. But adherents insist Falun Gong -- also called Falun Dafna -- simply promotes good health and mental well-being.

Earlier this month a judge and nine students were sentenced in separate cases for their involvement with the group.

Provincial high court judge Hu Qingyun received a seven-year prison term on Jan. 10, according to the Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy. The group is based in Hong Kong, where Falun Gong is legal.

The judge, who had already been in detention for a year and a half, was accused of "engaging in illegal business" by selling books about Falun Gong.

In central China's Hubei province, nine students in Wuhan city were given two- to six-year prison terms for distributing information about Falun Gong and encouraging others to participate in demonstrations.

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