April 22, 2001

NEW YORK (AP) -- Hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners marched in silence Saturday to demand that Beijing stop persecuting followers of the spiritual movement that is banned in China.

About 300 people, most of them Chinese immigrants, walked through Chinatown waving placards in Chinese and English demanding the right to practice Falun Gong -- a mix of spirituality, meditation and slow-moving exercise.

``China: End injustice, stop persecution,'' one placard said. ``Respect human rights and religious freedom,'' another one read.

Hundreds of people have been jailed in China, with scores tortured to death in detention, since Beijing branded the movement "[Chinese government's slanderous term omitted]" and banned it in July 1999, human rights groups say.

Beijing fears the movement, which attracted millions of followers in the 1990s, could threaten [party name omitted] rule, but the group claims it has no political motives.

Xiaoyan Qi, a marcher, said Chinese leaders are facing many social and economic problems as the country opens up. "So they made Falun Gong public enemy No. 1, and by persecuting us, they hope the people would think that they're doing something to solve their problems.

"It's very typical of any authoritarian government," said Qi, of Newark, Del., an analyst at MBNA, a major credit card issuer.

The march was interrupted by loud protests organized by the pro-Beijing United Chinese Association of New York. About 500 people gathered at several points along the march route, with some shouting through bullhorns denouncing the movement as a [Chinese Government's slanderous term omitted].


The practitioners were gathering in New York for a conference that marks the second anniversary of an unannounced mass demonstration at the [party name omitted] leaders' compound that surprised Beijing and eventually led to the crackdown.

Many marchers said their relatives at home have been harassed or interrogated because of their activities abroad. A few admitted that they're staying here illegally to avoid persecution.