Dear Senator,

Thank you for your letter of 21 October 2002, [...] concerning China's treatment of Falun Gong practitioners.

Australia takes no position on the doctrine or practices of Falun Gong, but considers China's ban on Falun Gong breaches fundamental rights of assembly and expression. The Government believes the maltreatment of Falun Gong practitioners in China contravenes the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which China has signed, but not ratified, as well as the Convention Against Torture. Australia has repeatedly urged China to ratify the ICCPR, and with a minimum of reservations.

Australia has put its views about the treatment of Falun Gong practitioners in China, including Australians and relatives of Australian citizens, to the Chinese. I have raised the Government's concerns with my Chinese counterpart, Mr Tang Jiaxuan -- most recently in Canberra in March 2002. The Government's concerns were also put to the Chinese at the most recent round of the bilateral Human-Rights Dialogue in August 2002. Particular concerns raised included constraints on freedom of association, expression and assembly, cultural and religious freedoms, China's criminal justice system, the treatment of prisoners, torture, the death penalty, and the system of re-education through labour.

Though the Chinese response did not suggest an easing of its stance on Falun Gong, the Chinese side did say China recognised the need to revise its laws to conform to ICCPR obligations, an important step towards ratifying the ICCPR. The Chinese also said they were reviewing their Criminal Procedure Law with a view to introducing stricter provisions to prevent the admission of evidence obtained through torture. The Government will pursue human rights issues, including the treatment of Falun Gong practitioners, with China for as long as necessary.

Yours sincerely

Alexander Downer

6 Nov 2002