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What's wrong with waving arms?

THE FIRST THING that strikes you when meeting Peter Jauhal, the man who introduced Falun Gong into Britain, is that he is Indian. Given that the papers have spent the past few months writing about a sinister cult which has put the wind up the Chinese government, it seemed reasonable to assume he would be, well, Chinese.

In three years the movement, which absolutely hates being described as a cult, has attracted around 300 supporters in the UK. And whilst the Chinese are up in arms about its subversive activities, there is absolutely no doubt that the British authorities are not in the slightest bit worried. Which is not surprising, given that members seem to do little more than spend their evenings in draughty halls waving their arms about whilst breathing deeply. Falun Gong, apparently, is a heady mixture of Buddhism, Taoism and meditation.

Mr Jauhal, a management consultant, lives in London and is angry at the behaviour of the Peking authorities.

"The Chinese government thinks it is not good for people to believe in something which they say comes from superstition. They should be encouraging it because there is no conflict of interest, it has no political dimension at all. The aim of a follower is to be truthful, compassionate and enduring. How can those qualities be perceived as sinister?

"The British followers, especially those who originate from China, are very upset at the treatment of those in China. Some have relatives who have been arrested and they are distressed."

On Thursday night in a hall in north London, a bunch of converts spent a long time moving their arms very slowly. Most were born in China and many are now none too happy at the prospect of returning. They looked harmless and vociferously insisted this was the case.

Yanyu Fan, a student from Henan, has practised Falun Gong on a daily basis since arriving in London a year ago. "I will keep it up wherever I am in the world. I was shocked at the way the Chinese government has acted against followers. All we do is exercise to keep our minds and bodies healthy.''

Christine Turner from Sale, Manchester, one of the minority of white converts, says she has been practising for two years and believes the Chinese government acted because "they are afraid of the sheer number who practise. It's not a religion, a cult, but simply a way of life. No money is exchanged, all the teachings are free."

Li Hongzhi, the world leader of the movement, claims Falun Gong gives him supernatural powers, including the ability to fly and become invisible - which on the surface does sound a little on the cultish side. But Edward Spence from Highgate in London, another of Thursday night's arm-wavers, was a lot more prosaic. "It hasn't done anything like that for me, I'm just a normal bloke but I feel fitter and healthier.

"There's a tremendous amount of misinformation coming out of China and it is very distressing. We have sent a letter to the Chinese embassy but they haven't responded yet,'' said Mr Spence, a worker at London Zoo.

The Chinese government has made the movement illegal but our own Foreign Office has no similar plans. A spokesman said: "We are disappointed at the decision of the Chinese authorities to declare the Falun Gong movement an illegal organisation and we are concerned about the arrests of the followers. Religious and spiritual freedom is a basic human right. We support this right and also the right to peaceful protest. We would not see the Falun Gong movement as a threat to social stability."

Which means that anyone interested in finding out for themselves about this extraordinary outfit can do so, safe in the knowledge that all they are risking is the danger of muscle strain from all that waving.

On Sunday 29 August the first UK conference of Falun Gong will be held - the "Falun Dafa" conference. Entry is free and anyone attending is promised "high level gigong". Which, apparently, is some form of spiritual calm.

And, to get you in the mood, there will be an hour of exercise in Hyde Park before the day gets going with a spot of meditation.