Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - Chinese authorities have ordered 35 American and other foreign followers of the Falun Gong meditation movement to leave the country after they were arrested during a protest in Tiananmen Square.
The foreigners were given a deadline to leave China, after the group, posing as tourists, suddenly unfurled yellow banners bearing the words "Truthfulness, Compassion, Forbearance," adopted the lotus position and began chanting Falun Gong slogans.
Witnesses said the westerners were detained within 30 seconds by police who patrol the area to prevent such demonstrations, and that some were manhandled.
"The police removed them from the site, as their behavior violated Chinese laws governing parades and demonstrations and cults," the official Xinhua news agency said.
State-run radio reported that "the relevant [government] departments have given the 35 foreigners who broke Chinese law a warning for disrupting public order, and have dealt with them according to the law by ordering them to leave the country by a specified time."
The 35 are Falun Gong practitioners from the U.S. and nine other countries, including Canada, Britain, Australia and Israel. Akin to Buddhism, the spiritual movement was declared a cult and outlawed in China in October 1999, after thousands of adherents held a protest outside the headquarters of the Communist Party.
Human rights groups say thousands are in jail or labor camps, and more than 150 have been convicted of charges such as creating chaos. The movement claims more than 300 practitioners have died in police custody.
A statement released by the 35 through the U.S.-based Falun Dafa Information Center identified the group as a diverse collection of Falun Gong practitioners including students, a housewife, a nuclear engineer, a doctor and a CEO.
"We are here to appeal to China's leaders and to seek an end to the violence and terror they have waged against Falun Gong for two and a half years," the statement said.
The group said it also wanted to let Chinese citizens know that the movement was "good" and practitioners were "good people from all over the world."
It outlined five demands, including an end to harassment, maltreatment and imprisonment of adherents and a restoration of Falun Gong's legal standing.
The Falun Dafa Information Center said the protest took the same form as regular protests by Chinese practitioners in Tiananmen Square, except that this time the demonstrators were all from abroad.
"The significance of this is clear," said center spokesperson Gail Rachlin. "The persecution of Falun Gong is not just a China issue."
Noting Beijing's stated intention to "smash" the Falun Gong, Rachlin added: "That's tens of millions of lives at risk. This must end now."
Last month, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom met with Chinese government officials to express concern about religious freedom abuses in China.
Among other violations, the commission said Beijing had over the past year "intensified its campaign against the Falun Gong movement and its followers."