(New York) --- Human Rights Watch today condemned the harsh sentences handed down to four leaders of the Falun Gong movement on December 27, 1999, and called for the release of more than one hundred others who have been formally charged but not yet put on trial for their involvement with Falun Gong. Following a summary trial on Sunday in Beijing, Li Chang, Wang Zhiwen, Ji Liewu, and Yao Jie were given sentences ranging from seven to eighteen years in prison.

"These Falun Gong members should never have been arrested, much less given heavy sentences," said Mike Jendrzejczyk, Washington Director of Human Rights Watch's Asia Division. "If freedom of association and assembly mean anything in China, then Falun Gong members should be free to recruit others, to practice their exercises and meditation in public, and to protest their own persecution."

Human Rights Watch called on the United Nations to publicly censure the Chinese government at the next meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva for the suppression of Falun Gong, imprisonment of pro-democracy activists, widespread torture and ill-treatment of detainees, and other violations of international human rights standards.

"Any hope that China's signature on two U.N. human rights treaties signaled a commitment by China to change its practices is just about gone," said Jendrzejczyk. In October 1998, Beijing signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, guaranteeing freedom of expression, belief, and association, but China has not yet ratified it.

The verdicts in the Falun Gong trials came just days after a China-European Union (E.U.) summit during which Premier Zhu Rongji called again for dialogue, not confrontation, on human rights. At the same time, China deflected all calls for change on specific human rights issues. Other human rights dialogues with the E.U., the U.S., Canada, Japan, and Australia, among others, have had disappointing results, but no government has yet decided to press for China's censure at the next regular session of the U.N. Commission which convenes in March.

By the Chinese government's own count, some 150 members of Falun Gong have been formally arrested; many others have been sent to labor camps after being administratively sentenced without trial. "We call on the Chinese government to immediately make public the names of all those formally arrested, where they are being held, and what they are being charged with," said Jendrzejczyk. "They should all be promptly released."

Since its decision on July 22 to ban Falun Gong, the Chinese leadership has made clear its intention to smash the fast-growing movement. First the authorities banned it, then later extended the reach of China's criminal law to justify the severe measures it has been taking. According to Chinese authorities, the crackdown has proceeded "according to law." But China's laws and regulations routinely flout international standards.