Falun Gong in Singapore Standoff
SINGAPORE (AP) _ About 35 members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement were in a standoff with police in a Singapore park late Sunday as they tried to hold a vigil in memory of fellow believers they claim have died in custody in China.
Demonstrations and protests are extremely rare in tightly controlled Singapore, where permits are required for any public gatherings. It was not clear whether the Falun Gong members had a permit to assemble Sunday.
The protesters _ mostly women and children _ gathered around a makeshift cardboard memorial pasted with pictures of the alleged Chinese victims.
At least two dozen police, who cordoned off the area and barred reporters, demanded that the group hand over the memorial. The Falun Gong members refused.
Human rights groups say authorities in China have arrested, beaten and tortured thousands of Falun Gong followers, and that at least 70 have died in detention since the government banned the sect in July 1999.
Followers say there are about 1,000 Falun Gong practitioners in Singapore, a wealthy Southeast Asian city-state whose 3.2 million people include about 78 percent ethnic Chinese.
``People here don’t know the truth about what is happening to our fellow practitioners in China,″ said Falun Gong follower Cynthia Chia, one of the organizers of the vigil.
Falun Gong attracted millions of members in China in the 1990s with its belief in promoting health and morality through exercise and meditation based loosely on Taoism and Buddhism. The Chinese government, fearing Falun Gong’s popularity and organization, banned the group as a dangerous cult and threat to Communist Party rule.
Though Singapore’s government is known for its strict controls on assembly and its wariness toward controversy, Falun Gong is a registered society in Singapore and authorities in the past have been tolerant toward the group.