WASHINGTON — ; The international Falun Gong movement outlawed in China two years ago comprises an organized network of individuals who use advanced computer technology to communicate with one another.
Since Beijing outlawed Falun Gong in July 1999, practitioners have relied heavily on e-mail, Kou Tianli of RFA's Mandarin service reports, in a broadcast to be aired at 11:20 p.m. Saturday in China. Master Li Hongzhi, U.S.-based leader of the movement, e-mails messages to a Falun Gong Web site when he wants to communicate with his followers.
"I consider it a network," said Adam Montanaro, New York-based spokesperson for the Falun Dafa Information Center, disputing Beijing's view of Falun Gong as a political organization. "I would say (it's) a network of people who are very dedicated. I know what the Chinese government is trying to do by labeling it as an organization. What they are trying to do is politicize it."
Falun Gong practitioners created the Web site with their own skills and money, Montanaro said, adding: Every once in a while, (Li Hongzhi) would send something in if he feels that he wants to say something."
Two former members in China describe the Falun Gong movement as highly organized and funded primarily through sales of Li Hongzhi's books, tapes, and videos.
"Before July 1999, there was a Falun Dafa Studies Society (in China)," said Song Jianfeng, a former Falun Gong member and an educator from Liaoning Province. "Li Hongzhi was its president. Under it, each province had its own provincial headquarters, each of which was responsible for several municipal branches.... Under each counseling station, there were practicing sites.... Even now, in the United States, Canada, and certain other countries, there are Falun Gong groups such as the Falun Buddhism Studies Society."
Former Falun Gong member Wang Li, an engineer in Liaoning Province, said the group communicated by phone, fax, and e-mail until Beijing outlawed its activities in 1999. Then, she said, "our activity became 'underground' and we used e-mail increasingly."
Followers describe Falun Gong as a set of mostly age-old practices aimed at self-improvement through physical exercises and spiritual beliefs. The movement claims tens of millions of followers in China, and millions more in other countries.
In 1999, China's leadership was badly shaken when an estimated 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners were able to quietly mobilize and stage a silent protest around Beijing's Zhongnanhai leadership compound demanding official recognition of the group and an end to official harassment. Beijing outlawed Falun Gong three months later.