October 19, 2001

BEIJING (AP)--The Falun Gong spiritual [group] said Friday it suspected China was using fears of anthrax to further a smear campaign against it.

China's Foreign Ministry said a letter containing "suspicious substances" and publicity materials about Falun Gong, which is banned in China, was received Tuesday by an employee of a U.S. firm in China.

Health workers disinfected people who came into contact with the letter, ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi told reporters Thursday. Chinese police said the substances were being tested. The reported discovery came amid concerns worldwide of anthrax being sent through the mail.

But Sun and other government officials said they were unable to name the company that received the letter or even where in China it was based. Friday, the foreign affairs and police ministries said they still had no additional information.

A U.S.-based spokesman for Falun Gong, Adam Montanaro, said he found China's claims "highly suspicious."

"If the Chinese regime is using the anthrax scare to frame-up and attack Falun Gong, which it clearly looks like, then this is disturbing," Montanaro said in a statement. "Would someone who sends a package like this include literature that identifies him? That's absurd. But on the other hand, that's exactly how someone might choose to frame Falun Gong."

Montanaro also voiced suspicions that the announcement of the letter's discovery may have been timed to deflect attention from Chinese human rights abuses ahead of a summit this weekend of Pacific rim leaders in Shanghai.

"Falun Gong is a peaceful spiritual practice that is deeply against all acts of violence and hatred," the group's statement said. "For nearly 2 1/2 years now, China's [party's name omitted] regime has sought to discredit Falun Gong with demonizing propaganda."


Thousands of practitioners have been jailed in the crackdown. Falun Gong says many followers have been abused and tortured and that 300 have died.