With the Beijing Olympics less than one month away, Chinese authorities have escalated their campaign against adherents of the Falun Gong spiritual discipline, conducting door-to-door arrests and imprisoning thousands in reeducation-through-labor camps and detention centers.
The Falun Dafa Information Center reported Monday that more than 200 Falun Gong adherents have been arrested in Beijing alone in the last seven months.
They say most of these Falun Gong practitioners are now being held in detention centers, while 30 have already been sentenced without trial to reeducation-through-labor camps for up to 2.5 years.
"The fact that these people are being sentenced to such long terms shows that these arrests are not about ensuring a 'harmonious Olympics' as Party officials may try to claim," says FDIC executive director Erping Zhang.
"Although Falun Gong adherents pose no threat whatsoever to the games, the Olympics are being taken as an excuse to put them behind bars for years."
Many of the incarcerated practitioners lived in the vicinity of Olympic venues.
Falun Gong, sometimes referred to as Falun Dafa, is an ancient practice of meditation with Buddhist roots and a moral philosophy whose central tenets are 'truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.' The practice was outlawed in mainland China in 1999 after the number of its adherents exceeded 70 million.
Since then, hundreds of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners have been imprisoned without trial, and thousands have been tortured to death.
Although Beijing authorities promised in 2001 that awarding China the Olympic Games would catalyze improvements to its human rights record, watchdogs such as Amnesty International have reported that Chinese authorities have instead been using the Olympics as a pretext to escalate persecutions of religious and political dissidents.
Chinese authorities fear that Falun Gong, along with Tibetans, Uighurs, and other dissidents, may use the international media presence during the games to draw attention to their causes.
The Falun Dafa Information Center has reported that approximately two thousand Falun Gong adherents have been imprisoned since the beginning of the year, many of them in door-to-door sweeps conducted by police. Several of those arrested were tortured to death within just weeks of their incarceration, including 42-year-old folk music star Yu Zhou.
"It is now imperative that the international community leverage real pressure and stop these deplorable actions, lest the legacy of the 2008 Olympics be hundreds of Beijing residents languishing in labor camps," Zhang said.
In November 2007, the Associated Press quoted a Beijing Olympics spokesperson as saying that "Falun Gong texts, Falun Gong activities in China are forbidden," and that the country's promises of extending religious freedoms during the games would not apply to Falun Gong.
The apparent animosity towards Falun Gong on the part of the Beijing Olympics organizer is hardly new. In 2004, the head of the Beijing Olympics Organizing Committee, Liu Qi, was found liable in a U.S. federal court for his role in the torture of Falun Gong practitioners while he was serving as mayor of Beijing.