China formally arrests 111 Falun Gong members, and two die in custody

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The Independent Online

Chinese police have formally arrested 111 Falun Gong members in their 3 1/2-month crackdown on the banned spiritual group, and at least two other followers died in custody, a government spokesman said today.

Chinese police have formally arrested 111 Falun Gong members in their 3 1/2-month crackdown on the banned spiritual group, and at least two other followers died in custody, a government spokesman said today.

Authorities in Beijing rounded up more than 1,000 followers who streamed into the capital in recent weeks to protest a tightening of the ban, said Li Bing, spokesman for the State Council, China's Cabinet.

Those followers were subjected to lectures about the supposed evils of Falun Gong - a process the communist government calls "education" - and most were then sent back home, Li said. A few, however, have refused to say where they are from, he added.

In an admission of the difficulties the government has experienced in intimidating believers, another State Council spokesman, Qian Xiaoqian, said more than 60 percent of those rounded up and sent home later came back to the capital.

Li's account is the government's most authoritative statement on arrests, and yet it does not convey the sweep of the crackdown. Under Chinese law, suspects can be detained without formal charges for weeks, and only those formally charged are considered arrested. In addition, an unknown number of practitioners who were not formally arrested have been sentenced without trial to labor camps.

Falun Gong, which blends slow-motion exercises with ideas drawn from Buddhism and Taoism, had millions of followers throughout China. Scared by the group's organization, its popularity and its ability to mobilize followers, Chinese leaders banned the group in July and last month declared it an evil cult.

The 111 formally arrested as of Thursday face charges of using a cult to obstruct law enforcement, gathering illegally to disturb social order, illegal business activities and stealing state secrets, Li said.

Li said there had been deaths of Falun Gong practitioners while they were under official supervision, although he claimed they did not die at the hands of the authorities. He gave two examples:

- Zhao Jinhua, accused of taking part in Falun Gong activities in September in defiance of the ban, suffered a fatal heart attack on her way to the toilet during an education session on Oct. 7 in eastern Shandong province.

- An 18-year-old student, Chen Ying, died jumping out of a train car's bathroom window while being escorted by government officials from Beijing to her home town of Jiamusi, in northeast Heilongjiang province.

Falun Gong members abroad and in China have accused the government of causing Chen's and Zhao's deaths through mistreatment. In Zhao's case, the group and a Hong Kong-based human rights group have said Zhao was beaten to death by police, who then tried to intimidate the family into keeping silent.

Li denied the claims, saying an autopsy found that Zhao had no internal injuries, broken bones or bleeding. Her family had been against her practicing Falun Gong and concurred that she did not die from a beating, he added.

Li also acknowledged the death of a third follower: 47-year-old Li Ruihua from the southwestern city of Chongqing died of heart problems after coming to Beijing.

Li said no followers died while being educated in Beijing or nationwide during the "implementation of legal measures." He also said no followers rounded up in Beijing were beaten or mistreated.

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