Despite demonstrations around Asia, Beijing was quiet Saturday a decade after the spiritual group Falungong was outlawed as an evil cult and made the subject of a brutal crackdown.
On April 25, 1999, over 10,000 Falungong members surrounded Communist Party headquarters in central Beijing in a demonstration against what subsequently became a 10-year crackdown on the spiritual group.
On Saturday, the streets were quiet around the Zhongnanhai compound near Tiananmen square, but police vehicles, plain-clothes police and public order “volunteers” lined the streets near the party’s headquarters.
“Ten-years later, Falungong practitioners… are remembering the tremendous price Falungong adherents and their families in China have paid for their unyielding dedication to their faith,” the exiled group said in a statement.
“Hundreds of thousands-if not millions-remain unlawfully imprisoned in Chinese labour camps and prisons, the largest single population of prisoners of conscience in the country.”
The group first emerged in 1992 behind charismatic leader Li Hongzhi, who preached “truth, compassion and forbearance,” while promising better health through group meditation and traditional breathing exercises.
His ideas were loosely based on Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian philosophies.
The group once boasted up to 70 million followers in China, including Communist Party members and government officials.
At the time, the government called the 1999 gathering the biggest threat to the party’s rule since the 1989 Tiananmen democracy protests.
According to the US-based Falun Dafa Information Centre, commemorations would occur around the world on Saturday in solidarity with those members jailed in China.
In Yokohama, Japan, some 300 Falungong members defied heavy rain at a rally that called for the downfall of China’s ruling Communist Party, which protesters said was responsible for the torturing of members.
Nearly 1,000 Taiwanese members of the Falungong spiritual movement gathered in Taipei demanding Beijing stop what they say is the brutal persecution of their group.
“The Chinese communists must immediately stop persecuting Falungong,” Chang Ching-hsi, economics professor at National Taiwan University and spokesman for the spiritual movement on the island, told reporters.
“Numerous Falungong members have been jailed or killed by the evil regime. However, Falungong does not collapse. Instead, it has spread to more than 100 countries,” he said, adding that he estimated there were half-a million members in Taiwan.
According to the information centre, up to 3,000 followers have died through torture and beatings while incarcerated in China over the last 10 years, while over 63,000 cases of torture have been documented.
But Beijing on Thursday said authorities had broken no laws during the crackdown on the spiritual group, while insisting it was a cult that violated human rights through mind control.
“Ten-years ago the Chinese government outlawed the Falungong cult in accordance with the law,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told journalists.
“The Falungong violated human rights by controlling people’s minds, causing illness, disablement or even death of many innocent people and practitioners.”