Monday, June 18, 2001

Australian followers of the Falun Gong spiritual movement called on the government on Monday to step up pressure on Beijing to stop persecuting members of the group. At the launch of the first National Falun Dafa Day in Australia, the seven-year old group said it had written to Prime Minister John Howard seeking help to end human rights abuses in China against followers of the movement.

''We know the Australian government is strong on human rights issues so we are asking them to speak out on behalf of those poor people in China,'' spokesman Tony Dai said during a demonstration by 300 Falun Gong followers outside parliament.

''The international community can help stop this pre-meditated murder occurring in China,'' Mr Dai said.

China denies reports from supporters of the group that detained Falun Gong members have been mistreated in custody.

A spokesman for Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Australia did not make judgment on the practices of Falun Gong.

''But we have raised our concerns with the Chinese government over human rights abuses in connection with Falun Gong,'' the spokesman said.

Australia earlier this month advised Hong Kong against adopting anti-xx laws similar to those passed in France which could be directed against Falun Gong followers, saying they would damage the former British colony's reputation for freedom.