11/25/2005, 00.00
CHINA
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UN official investigating torture unable to visit Shandong for lack of time

Millions of Falun Gong members are victims of relentless persecution in this province.

Beijing (AsiaNews/SCMP) – UN special rapporteur on torture yesterday said he was unable to visit Shandong province to investigate claims of torture mostly against Falun Gong practitioners during his China tour because of time constraints.

Manfred Nowak, the first UN official invited to visit Chinese prisons, said he cancelled yesterday's trip to Jinan, the capital of Shandong, because he needed to spend more time in Beijing and Tibet.

"I had to take this decision because there are so many people who want to see me in Beijing," he said. "I really wanted to go to Shandong, but I think this was a good decision."

Falun Gong is a spiritual movement that involves meditation and practices inspired by Buddhism and Taoism such as callisthenics and breathing exercises to improve health and seek immortality, peace and harmony.

On April 15, 19999, more than 10,000 adepts demonstrate peacefully in Beijing against the violation of their rights. But beginning in July of that year on the urging of the President Jiang Zemin a vicious persecution was launched against the group, which at the time had about 100 million followers, on the grounds that it was an "evil cult" that "threatened social and political stability".

Since then Falun Gong members have been defamed, imprisoned and tortured (more than 38,000 documented cases according to the Falun Gong); some have even been killed.

Between July 1999 and April 2005 Falun Gong collected the names of 1,880 victims, including details about the circumstances of their death, often a result of physical and psychological torture. However, the total number is probably higher since such deaths are deemed state secrets and releasing any information about them constitutes a crime punishable by incarceration.

Hundreds of thousands of followers, including whole families, are in fact in prison, and more than 200,000 have been sent without trial to labour camps for re-education.

Many have been sent to mental hospitals and subjected to virtual "brainwashing" and medication dangerous to the nervous system in order to get them to forsake the movement.

After deciding against finding the truth in Shandong, Mr Nowak arrived today in Lhasa, Tibet's capital, where he is scheduled to visit prisons, government staff and civilians. He will then travel from Lhasa to Xinjiang.

The United Nations insisted on visiting these two autonomous regions known for the violence security forces visit upon local prisoners accused of separatism.

The UN envoy announced that he was going to stay on in Beijing because of statements received from different sources according to which people who were willing  to testify were placed under house arrest or taken away.

"Such statements are hard to prove and I am trying to solve the problem with Foreign Ministry," Nowak said.

But the ministry itself has been co-operating with him since his arrival on November 21.

The two-week trip is scheduled to end on December 2 when he will hold a press conference to take stock of the situation.

A written report should be ready next year for the UN Commission on Human Rights.

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