Human Rights in China (HRIC) strongly condemns the current crackdown on Falungong practitioners, including the detention of more than 100 group leaders and thousands of followers, apparently solely for engaging in peaceful protests and exercising their rights to freedom of association and freedom of thought, conscience and religion. In some of China's major cities, large numbers of followers have been detained in stadiums and other locations, and in certain cases police have been seen to use excessive force in arresting people engaging in non-violent demonstrations. HRIC believes that the order to ban the group is a violation of the right to freedom of association, which is enshrined in China's constitution, as well as in international human rights instruments.
"The scope and intensity of the campaign against Falun Gong attest to a new high tide of repression in China." said Xiao Qiang, HRIC executive director. "This clearly demonstrates that China's human rights abuses directly infringe upon the everyday lives of its vast population. China's human rights abuses are not only a matter concerning political dissidents. By banning this group and suppressing its practitioners, the Chinese government is merely increasing tensions in society. Real stability can only be constructed when people's human rights are respected and protected."
The moves against the spiritual group are the latest in a series of actions to restrict the efforts of Chinese people to organize independently of the Party-state, demonstrating a pattern of systematic violations of the freedoms of association, assembly and expression by the Chinese government. Since late 1998, government authorities have intensified their ongoing campaign of persecution against individuals associated with unofficial Christian groups, independent labor organizing and the human rights and democracy movement. In October 1998, the Chinese government also enacted a series of regulations that further curtailed the already-limited right of association available to people in China.
These regulations, which require that all non-profit entities be sponsored and managed by government agencies and mandate no association without registration, were cited in the banning order on Falun Gong issued yesterday by the Ministry of Civil Affairs. The order labeled the Falun Gong group "an illegal organization." The Ministry of Public Security followed with a decree prohibiting the posting and distribution of Falun Gong materials, as well as the spiritual practice, assembly and demonstration of its members, threatening those who disobey with criminal penalties. The Ministry of Public Security's decree effectively bars Falun Gong supporters from exercising their constitutional right to petition against the actions of the authorities, and bans all opposition to the government's crackdown.
The Chinese government has routinely employed the pretext of criminal charges to dissolve religious and spiritual groups and to punish their leading members. Over the last 20 years, among the harshest sentences for "counterrevolutionary crimes" have been imposed on those accused of "organizing and using reactionary sects or secret societies for counterrevolutionary purposes." To our knowledge, almost all of the "counterrevolutionaries" sentenced to death in this period have been in this category. Although the revisions to China's criminal code enacted in 1997 abolished counterrevolutionary crimes, the government's attitude towards such issues evidently has not changed. Involvement in so-called "secret societies and heretical religious organizations" is now categorized under "Crimes of Disturbing Social Order." Serious offenses carry sentences of seven years or above.
In addition, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has launched a nationwide "education" campaign amongst Party members, who are required to cease all practice of Falun Gong exercises, as well as cutting themselves off from the organization.
HRIC urges the Chinese government to respect international human rights standards and to abide by the provisions of the Chinese constitution. HRIC believes the ban on the Falun Gong group should be lifted, and demands the release of all practitioners detained. HRIC will be raising this case with the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and will be asking the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance, who visited China in 1994, to take up this issue with the Chinese authorities as a matter of urgency.
We also urge the Chinese government to take note of the Special Rapporteur's recommendations following his visit. As well as asking the Chinese government to eliminate the categorization of certain types of spiritual practices as "abnormal"-a category which is completely arbitrary and undefined, and which now certainly includes Falun Gong, according to the authorities-and thus proscribed, the Special Rapporteur encouraged the government to show more tolerance towards practice of religion by Party members. His report (E/CN.4/1995/91) said that he recommended "the adoption of a text recognizing the right to freedom of belief and freedom to manifest one's belief for all, including members of the Communist Party and other socio-political organizations." He reminded the government that according to international law, freedom to manifest one's religion or belief may only be subject to such limitations as "are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others."
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