Security tight on anniversary of Falun Gong crackdown

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 April, 2009, 12:00am

Security was tightened in Tiananmen Square and on roads surrounding Zhongnanhai in Beijing yesterday on the 10th anniversary of the central government's crackdown on the Falun Gong spiritual movement.

More uniformed and plain-clothes police officers were patrolling around the heavily guarded leadership compound and the square. But tourists still flooded the square on a fine spring day.

Police, some armed, occasionally stopped people carrying bags to check their identity and belongings.

A taxi driver said security appeared tight but that was not unusual at politically sensitive times.

'You can't say anything is unusual today in view of security in the national capital,' he said, while driving along the roads surrounding Zhongnanhai, the compound which was encircled by more than 10,000 practitioners in a surprise protest that stunned the leadership.

Ten years ago, the Falun Gong was a little-known group, one of many in a national craze for qigong, or breathing meditation. However, the massive protest against the government changed that forever.

At the time, Falun Gong members were mostly retirees, unemployed workers and housewives. It claimed to have 50 million to 70 million members, almost outnumbering the 60 million Communist Party members.

The decade-long crackdown has driven the Falun Gong underground on the mainland but it has flourished abroad, where it has morphed from a spiritual movement into a vehicle opposing Communist Party rule.

Its overseas members, most of them from the mainland, have caused Beijing a few public embarrassments over the years, including hijacking satellite broadcasts to the mainland and heckling a speech by President Hu Jintao at a White House reception in 2006.

Several tourists in the square yesterday said they were unaware of the anniversary. One teenager said she had never heard of the Falun Gong. 'It is probably something about a computer game,' he said.

His father, a Hunan businessman, said people were more interested in making money. 'In China, it's all about economics, not politics,' he said, though he added he was neutral about the movement.

Hu Xingdou , a political commentator at Beijing's University of Science and Technology, said public opinion had turned against the spiritual movement in the past decade following the government's outlawing of the group.

The leadership is facing several politically sensitive anniversaries, at a time when fears of social discord are rising as economic growth falters and unemployment soars.