Religious affairs chief says 'dangerous' cult banned to protect human rights

Falun Gong has been smashed on the mainland and will soon disappear, Beijing said yesterday.

But a senior official refused to say exactly how many members of the banned Buddhist-based sect were in detention or facing prosecution.

In a move to restore the mainland's international image following the three-month long crackdown on Falun Gong, the director-general of the State Administration of Religious Affairs, Ye Xiaowen, answered questions and showed video clips of sect leader Li Hongzhi.

Mr Ye said the crackdown did not threaten the mainland's 100 million religious believers, but described the Falun Gong as a dangerous cult.

Mr Li had advocated the 'Doomsday theory' on many occasions and created an atmosphere of panic, an essential feature of a cult, said Mr Ye.

The official compared Mr Li to Shoko Asahara, of Japan's Aum Shinri Kyo; David Koresh, founder of the Branch Davidians in America; and Luc Jouret, founder of the Solar Temple in Europe.

In clips from videos distributed among Mr Li's followers, he was shown saying the earth was like a rotten apple that had been destroyed 81 times and he alone was the only higher being left in China who could save it.

In other clips, Mr Li was shown saying Sir Isaac Newton's laws of gravity were wrong and the earth could fall into the sun, that he was the oldest being in the universe and had created his parents, not the other way around.

Books were distributed containing photographs of some of the 1,400 followers who had died or killed themselves by taking Mr Li's words as the truth.

'To indulge in such a cult is tantamount to a reaction against science, a blasphemy against civilisation and trampling on human rights,' Mr Ye said.

He argued that Mr Li had vilified and blasphemed other religions and the Chinese Government had a duty to protect the human rights of its religious communities.

Explaining why it had taken the state so long to recognise a problem, Mr Ye said: 'It takes time for a cult to reveal itself. The Government has never opposed physical exercise or normal religious activities.' Falun Gong's readiness to disrupt social order began with protests in August 1996 when followers besieged the office of the Guangming Daily for printing a critical article. Subsequently, there were 78 illegal protests, Mr Ye said.

It was wrong to compare Maoism to a religious cult, Mr Ye said in answer to another question.

'How can anyone compare trash, a fly, to a huge mountain?' he asked.

The death sentence would be meted out only to a 'very few' leaders of Falun Gong and the police had only detained a few people.

Those detained after staging protests in Tiananmen Square recently were mostly from other parts of the mainland and would be sent home after their addresses were obtained.