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China Tells U.N. It Did No Wrong in Death of Falun Gong Member

May 08, 2000 |   By Ian Johnson

The Wall Street Journal

May 8, 2000 Page A25

BEIJING -- Called to account by the United Nations for allegedly torturing Falun Gong practitioner Chen Zixiu to death, China has denied all wrongdoing in the case and justified the arrest of Ms. Chen's daughter.

In a statement delivered Friday to the U.N. Committee Against Torture, which monitors an international convention that China and 119 other countries have signed outlawing torture, China said the 58-year-old woman died Feb. 21 of a heart attack. The statement said she was sent back home on Feb. 17 after she tried to leave her hometown of Weifang for Beijing to protest the government's banning of Falun Gong as a cult.

"Chen had never been held in custody in a detention house, nor [sic] she had been beaten, subjected to corporal punishment," according to the statement delivered before the U.N. panel in Geneva, where China's compliance with the treaty is up for regular review.

That answer, however, appears to contradict an earlier statement regarding Ms. Chen. In it, China implied that Ms. Chen spent the period from Feb. 17 to Feb. 21 in a re-education center run by a "street committee" -- technically not a "detention center" but still a government office. The earlier statement said that after Ms. Chen was stopped on her way to Beijing, she was given "helpful education from the street committee."

On Feb. 21, Ms. Chen was sent to the hospital because she felt uncomfortable and died despite rescue attempts.

Ms. Chen's case was detailed on page one of the April 20 edition of The Wall Street Journal, which drew on written and oral accounts provided by cellmates, family and friends, who said she died on Feb. 21 after spending four days at a re-education center where she was beaten for refusing to give up her belief in Falun Gong.

China banned Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, for being a dangerous cult that controls people's minds and forces them to spend money on its books and tapes. Adherents, however, say they spend little money on the group and simply learn breathing exercises and the moralistic teachings of founder Li Hongzhi.

During the past year, tens of thousands of Falun Gong adherents have come to Beijing to demand the government lift its ban. Most have been detained and released after being sent home, but repeat protesters have been detained without charge or trial for weeks and hundreds sent to prison.

Human rights groups believe about a dozen, including Ms. Chen, were beaten to death by zealous police officers.

In its statement Friday, China also said it was justified for detaining without trial Ms. Chen's daughter, Zhang Xueling, because she "distorted the fact of her mother's death and spread the rumors, disturbing social order." The local Public Security Bureau in Weifang picked up Ms. Zhang on April 17 and released her on May 1, China's statement said. In a telephone interview, Ms. Zhang confirmed her release last week, saying she hadn't been mistreated by police during her stay. "I'm fine, but I have not changed my views on my mother's death," she said.

The U.N. committee will meet again tomorrow to release its findings on Ms. Chen's case and other issues brought up during the two-day hearing last week. The review, which all signatories have to undertake at staggered intervals every four years, rarely brings up specific cases such as Ms. Chen's. Committee members, however, felt Ms. Chen's case so strongly violated international practice that they took the unusual step of asking China for an explanation on her case, according to non-governmental organizations that advise committee members.

The 10-member committee was established to monitor the 1987 Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The committee falls under the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, who reports directly to the U.N. secretary-general. Signatory countries are obliged to eradicate torture and take specific measures suggested by the committee.

Although the committee's recommendations aren't binding, they help focus international pressure on China, which is trying to improve its international image. China's state-run press has carried reports on the hearings, reporting that the U.N. has commended the country for fulfilling its obligations under the treaty.

During its two previous sessions before the committee, in 1996 and 1992, China was criticized for not training police officers well enough and tolerating their use of force to obtain dubious confessions and crack down on minority discontent, especially in Tibet.

(Copyright Wall Street Journal 2000)