- The Washington Times - Friday, February 15, 2002

BEIJING Police detained more than 40 foreigners in Beijing's central Tiananmen Square yesterday, prompting "concern" by President Bush just one week before he is to meet Chinese President Jiang Zemin in Beijing.

The crackdown followed the largest protest ever by foreign members of the banned Falun Gong religious sect. At least three followers of the sect from the Washington area are believed to be among those detained.

New York-based Falun Gong activists said as many as 100 followers from Western countries had gone to China to demonstrate. They said 14 European members were detained in raids on their hotel rooms before the protest. These detentions were in addition to those at Tiananmen Square.

In Washington, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Mr. Bush is "concerned" about the arrests and will raise the issue of religious freedom during his Beijing visit.

"The president remains very committed to taking this up, personally and directly, with Chinese officials," Mr. Fleischer said.

Mr. Bush is due to visit China next week as the final stop in a three-nation swing through Asia that also includes stops in Japan and South Korea.

Foreigners detained on Tiananmen Square were "reprimanded" but treated humanely by authorities, the official Xinhua news agency said. It accused them of violating laws barring illegal assemblies and "evil cults" the term Beijing often uses for Falun Gong.

Falun Gong said the demonstrators tried to unfurl banners and shout slogans to protest a brutal 2½-year crackdown on the group.

Relatives and friends of at least three Americans detained yesterday in Tiananmen Square protested in front of the Chinese Embassy in Washington to focus attention on their loved ones' freedom.

"In China if they arrest you in secret, they can do anything with you," said Lisa Nappi, who believes her husband is in Chinese custody.

Robert Nappi, 47, of Alexandria is one of three U.S. members of the Falun Gong who went to Tiananmen Square, protesters said yesterday.

Heidi Malhotra, who is in her early 60s and lives in Vienna, Va., and D.C. resident Nathea Lee, who is in her 40s, are the two other Americans protesters believe are in Chinese custody.

Protesters said Georgetown University freshman Brian Maple, 18, of Maine, and an unnamed friend also could be among those detained.

The Falun Gong activists in New York said seven Germans were among those seized on the square. Britain's Foreign Ministry said four of its citizens were detained, apparently before the protests, and later released.

Beijing outlawed Falun Gong in July 1999 as a threat to social order and communist rule. Since then, thousands of arrests and a massive propaganda campaign have stripped the group of its public following in China.

This was the fourth and largest protest to date on Tiananmen Square by foreign followers of the group.

On Monday, an American and a Canadian were detained. Levi Browde, a 29-year-old software expert from New York City, was expelled from China two days later. He told reporters in New York on Wednesday that he did it to "let people know about the persecution" of religion in China.

H.J. Brier contributed to this report in Washington.

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