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Human Rights Watch today strongly condemned the Chinese government's nationwide ban on the practice of Falun Gong. It urged the release of the organization's leaders and members arbitrarily detained in a nationwide sweep aimed at suppressing the group.

Human Rights Watch called on the international community to protest the ban, and urged Mary Robinson, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, to intervene with Chinese officials at the highest levels. Robinson visited China and Tibet in September 1998. In 1994, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance also visited China and made recommendations for specific reforms, but none of them have yet been implemented.

"This ban affects thousands of ordinary Chinese citizens," said Mike Jendrzejczyk, Washington Director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch. "The Chinese people have a right to exercise their faiths peacefully." Jendrzejczyk said the rights to freedom of belief and free association and assembly were guaranteed by the Chinese constitution and international law.

On July 22, the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs denounced Falun Gong as an "illegal organization," banned its practice in public or private, and accused the group of "engaging in illegal activities, advocating superstition and spreading fallacies" as well as "jeopardizing social stability." Beginning on July 20, organizers of the group were detained in several cities and provinces. There have also been reports of many Falun Gong followers detained in cities around China as they tried to mount protests against the detention of the organization's leaders.

Falun Gong is a worldwide organization committed to the improvement of its practitioners' physical and mental well-being through exercise and meditation. It has a growing following in China, though exact numbers are difficult to determine.

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