Thursday, February 14, 2002 BEIJING The police detained about 40 Western members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement Thursday after they protested in Tiananmen Square against the Chinese government's [persecution] on their faith.

A Falun Gong spokeswoman in New York said the demonstration was meant to highlight Beijing's persecution of the movement before a visit by President George W. Bush, who is due to arrive in Beijing next Thursday. [...]

On Thursday, clusters of demonstrators in Tiananmen Square pulled yellow banners out from under their clothes and shouted "Falun Gong is good!"

Several of the protesters, mostly young men and women, sprinted across the vast square waving banners and screaming slogans as hundreds of uniformed and plainclothes police officers pursued them.

Police officers seized and threw demonstrators to the ground, kicking and punching some of them in the face before wrestling them into police vans, witnesses said.

Astonished Chinese tourists, sightseeing on the square during the Chinese Lunar New Year holidays, crowded around to watch as almost every Westerner in the square was detained.

Altogether, the incident lasted about 15 minutes.

A spokesman for Falun Gong in New York said that 14 other Western followers of the movement were seized by the police from their hotel rooms in Beijing overnight and that seven others, from Germany, were detained Thursday morning.

Religious freedom is expected to be one of the most contentious subjects that Bush will discuss with Chinese leaders during his two-day visit.

The president is under pressure from American religious groups over China's treatment of the Falun Gong movement, particularly after the release in the United States this week of what are purported to be leaked Chinese government documents detailing Beijing's drive to crush unauthorized religions.


It was the second demonstration this week by Western Falun Gong members in the square, and security there was unusually tight, with police officers checking foreigners' identity papers and searching their bags.

China expelled a Canadian and an American follower of the movement Tuesday, one day after they protested in the square.

China has imprisoned Falun Gong leaders for subversion and sent thousands of others to " re-education through labor" camps, according to the Falun Gong movement and rights groups.

Falun Gong spokespeople assert that more than 1,600 followers have died in China as a result of abuse in police custody or detention centers.