Mainland Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji said Monday Falun Gong had become a tool for hostile domestic and overseas forces, and he threatened “severe punishment” for the banned spiritual movement’s leaders.
But in a speech to the annual plenum of parliament, the National People’s Congress, Zhu also called for a forgiving attitude to rank and file Falun Gong practitioners who have merely been “taken in.”
“We need to continue our campaign against the Falun Gong cult, and further expose and condemn the anti-human, anti-social and anti-science nature of the cult, which has become a tool for domestic and overseas forces hostile to our socialist government,” Zhu said.
“We need to mete out severe punishment to the small number of criminals while making unremitting efforts to unite, educate and rescue the vast majority of people who have been taken in.”
The Chinese premier also urged continued combat with “legal means” against “religious extremist forces,” “cults, and illegal activities carried out under the guise of religion.”
As Zhu delivered his speech to the 2,870 NPC delegates gathered at the Great Hall of the People facing Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, there was intense security around the Square to prevent any protests by the Falun Gong.
As Zhu gave his speech last year, police rounded up scores of Falun Gong followers who held a protest under the giant portrait of Mao Zedong at the northern end of the Square, within sight of the Great Hall.
Last year Falun Gong followers from around the country flocked to Beijing before and during the 10-day meeting to formally petition against the banning of the movement. Thousands were detained and prevented from lodging protests.
No protest or arrests were seen Monday, but Falun Gong officials and human rights groups said police had rounded up many known practitioners and hauled them off to “study sessions” to prevent them converging on the square.
Tight security has also made it impossible for Falun Gong followers to get to the square or even to Beijing, the group’s Hong Kong spokeswoman Sophie Xiao said.