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Expelled Protesters Rally in D.C.

February 19, 2002

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Some two dozen Americans expelled from China after staging a protest against the crackdown on the Falun Gong religious sect are complaining to Congress and the State Department.

The Americans, and about a dozen supporters, said the protesters had been mistreated during their detention, an accusation U.S. diplomats could not verify because they were not permitted to see the Americans while they were held in China.

With Congress in recess Tuesday, the protesters met with aides to the lawmakers. Similarly, at the State Department, they talked to low-level officials.

As a result of their account, the State Department will ask the Chinese government about the accusations of abuse, a department official said.

President Bush is due in Beijing on Thursday. He is expected to make a point of human rights in his talks with Chinese officials, but the topic, a familiar one, is unlikely to dominate his agenda.

In the meantime, 94 House members sent Bush a letter last weekend asking him to express concern over what the Falun Gong calls a campaign of terror.

In a separate letter, five U.S. senators expressed concern about restrictions on the sect and treatment of its adherents.

The Falun Gong information center says it has verified 358 deaths since persecution of the sect began three years ago.

Last Thursday’s protest in Beijing’s central Tiananmen Square resulted in the expulsion of 42 foreign demonstrators _ 33 Americans, four Britons and five Germans. All were put on planes back to their countries Friday.

The protest was the largest involving foreigners. Possibly to avert a diplomatic backlash during Bush’s visit, Chinese authorities took the unusual step of issuing a statement saying they had treated the detainees humanely.

Falun Gong was outlawed in July 1999 as a threat to social order and communist rule.

Update hourly