CHINA'S CRACKDOWN on members of the spiritual group known as Falun Gong continues. In April 1999 Falun Gong frightened the Communist government by assembling some 10,000 people for a peaceful demonstration in Beijing. The government banned the "evil cult" two months later. Since then, China's Falun Gong adherents have been subjected to a systematic campaign of harassment aimed at forcing them to renounce their beliefs. The authorities' methods have included surveillance, detention, beatings and torture; some 22 Falun Gong believers have lost their lives, according to the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy.

Now come charges that China's rulers have resorted to another instrument of repression: forcibly committing Falun Gong adherents to psychiatric institutions. The old Soviet Union pioneered the misuse of psychiatry against political dissidents; China has followed suit in at least three documented cases in the past decade. But the story of 32-year-old computer engineer Su Gang, who had been repeatedly detained by the security department of his workplace for refusing to renounce Falun Gong, is dramatic nonetheless. After traveling to Beijing April 25 to protest the ban on Falun Gong, he was arrested again; on May 23, his employer, a state-run petrochemical company, approved commitment papers that authorized the police to drag him off to a mental hospital. According to Mr. Su's father, Su Dean, doctors injected Mr. Su twice a day with an unknown substance. When Mr. Su emerged a week later, he could not eat or move his limbs normally. On June 10, the previously healthy young man died of heart failure.

Falun Gong practitioners have since released what they say are accounts of similar abuses against more than 100 other members of the movement. None of these other cases ended in death, but the stories are broadly similar: Falun Gong members, usually those who either went to Beijing to protest or were accused of having done so, are arrested and told they must abandon their beliefs. Then, sometimes after spending days in jail, they are confined for additional periods in mental hospitals. Unfortunately, these still-sketchy reports are difficult to confirm, and none is as well-documented as the story of Mr. Su--whose confinement in the hospital has been confirmed to the Western press by an official of the institution itself. The job of shedding further light on this seemingly ominous turn in China's treatment of its own people falls to international human rights organizations--and democratic governments outside China.

2000 The Washington Post Company