- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement in the United States say they are being spied upon and intimidated by Chinese officials in an attempt to foil plans to protest this week's visit by Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

The spying includes high-tech listening devices used to record meetings of Falun Gong members in private homes, they say.

When the meetings end and members return to their own homes, they find parts of private conversations on their telephone answering machines, they say.

"That the Chinese government monitors Falun Gong is not news, but they usually only monitor native Chinese," said Tao Wang, a Germantown engineer and Falun Gong practitioner. "What is new is that they are now spying on Western practitioners.

"Usually when you spy, you do not want the other party to know, but they are taping the meetings and then playing them back. They want us to know we are being watched. The only reasonable explanation is to threaten," he said.

Officials at the Chinese Embassy did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

Recent visits by Mr. Jiang to the United States have been dogged by Falun Gong, Tibetan and other human rights activists, who chant anti-China slogans and attempt to interrupt the leader of the world's most populous nation.

Mr. Jiang arrived in the United States yesterday. When his plane landed, Chicago's O'Hare International Airport was free of protesters. About 700 people marched in downtown Chicago the day before to raise human rights issues.

Mr. Jiang will visit Chicago and Houston and meet with President Bush at the western White House in Crawford, Texas, on Friday.

Mr. Jiang, who is expected to hand over the reins of the Chinese government soon, hopes to leave the world stage with a successful and unblemished trip to the United States, and the Chinese government is trying to tamp down protests.

The Chinese government released several Tibetan activists from prison in the summer and invited the Dalai Lama's personal representatives to visit China and Tibet last month.

Partly because Tibetans view the moves as an opening in relations, Tibetan leaders have asked their supporters to put the whistles away and stay home during this visit.

But Falun Gong, which was outlawed in China in 1999 as an evil sect, plans to use Mr. Jiang's visit to draw attention to arrests and beatings of its members in China as well as harassment of its members by Chinese officials all over the world.

Karen Hong, who lives in Maryland, made reservations in September and received confirmation numbers for Washington-area Falun Gong members to stay at a hotel in Houston. The hotel is directly across the street from the Inter-Continental Hotel, where Mr. Jiang will be staying.

On Oct. 16, five days before her group was scheduled to arrive, her reservations for 16 rooms were canceled. A total of 50 rooms that were reserved for Falun Gong practitioners were canceled.

The Homestead Village Hotel said it was a simple overbooking problem, and it offered the group rooms at a discount 20 minutes away.

But Falun Gong members accuse the hotel of kowtowing to Chinese government pressure.

"All the big hotels use a computer system. It is impossible to make this kind of mistake," Mr. Wang said. "The Chinese government pressured them to cancel the rooms. They did not want us right across the street."

Mr. Wang also said that the Chinese government is inviting students to form a "welcome group" for Mr. Jiang, who is scheduled to speak at Texas A&M University in College Station.

Students are offered meals, T-shirts, transportation and other incentives to participate. But they also are asked to sign a waiver, which Mr. Wang says forces them to give up their constitutional rights.

"I agree that if any disturbances are caused by me to pay $5,000 as minimal damages for any harm that may result from such disturbances to the group's reputation," says a statement that all welcome group participants must sign. All signers must agree to report any contacts with Falun Gong to welcome group officials.

The document says the purpose of the waiver is to protect the "purity" of the welcome group. The document threatens anyone who violates conditions of the statement with legal action.

In late July, the U.S. House passed two resolutions condemning the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China and the harassment of U.S. members of the group.

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