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AFP: China's Zhonggong urges IOC to help free members

Monday, February 19 5:21 PM SGT
BEIJING, Feb 19 (AFP) -

Chinese spiritual group, Zhonggong, has urged the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to push the Chinese government to release its jailed members, a human rights group said Monday.

The group, which is similar to the banned Falungong, has seen 600 of its key members jailed in a crackdown that followed the government's ban on Falungong in July 1999.

Like Falungong, it promotes physical and spiritual well-being through meditation exercises and Buddhist-based philosophy.

Zhonggong members called on the IOC to pressure China to release jailed members in a message sent to the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy.

The group, which relies on the center to publicize appeals, plans to send another letter to the IOC, said center director Frank Lu. Among their list for release is Yan Chanjuan, a member of the Beijing People's Congress jailed for Zhonggong activities.

Seventeen IOC members are due in Beijing this week to inspect the city before deciding on July 13 which city will host the 2008 Olympic Games.

Other contenders are Paris, Toronto, Osaka and Istanbul.

In the statement, Zhonggong, which has remained relatively silent, revealed for the first time it launched a quiet large-scale protest in August 1999 against the crackdown on qigong groups, the center said.

The incident helps explain why the government treated the group with as much suspicion as Falungong. Zhonggong boasts 38 million practitioners and authorities have closed 3,000 practice sites and businesses.

Zhonggong members sent statements opposing the crackdown to 100,000 government websites, including websites for courts, procuratorates and police departments, the center said.

Statements include essays written by two police officials opposing government dictatorial attitudes and criticizing Chinese President Jiang Zemin for ordering the crackdown, the center said.

The letters also accused Jiang of "trampling on laws and crushing traditional Chinese culture" likening the suppression of qigong to "a second Cultural Revolution."

The center said the publicity campaign shocked China's judicial and law enforcement entities and eventually led Jiang to order the arrests of Zhonggong members.

Twenty of 600 Zhonggong people arrested have been sentenced to prison or labor camps on charges of subversion, the center said.

China once considered qigong groups -- like Zhonggong and Falungong -- simply as exercise groups.

But since Falungong staged a 10,000-strong protest around the leadership's compound in April 1999, the government has viewed it as a threat to its rule.

It has sentenced hundreds of Falungong members to prison and tens of thousands to labor camps. Relatives of jailed dissidents have also appealed to the IOC to push for their release.

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