Swiss government meets Falun Gong group on rights

BERNE, Switzerland (Reuters) - The Swiss government received a delegation of Falun Gong adherents Thursday and reiterated its concern about what it called a Chinese "campaign of repression" against the spiritual movement.

In a rare meeting with foreign officials, the Falun Gong members met representatives of the Swiss foreign ministry's human rights section who outlined Berne's human rights policy, the ministry said in a statement.

"Switzerland is very concerned about the campaign of repression which the Falun Gong movement has faced for two years. Switzerland has exhorted China in concrete terms to respect the freedom of religion, the freedom of expression and the individual rights of Chinese citizens," it said.

It recalled that Foreign Minister Joseph Deiss had expressed his concern before the U.N. Human Rights Commission last year about the "massive repression of religious groups and minorities whose basic rights are regularly disregarded."

Switzerland, which has conducted a human rights dialogue with China for the past decade, will continue to press Beijing to respect basic human rights, the ministry said, singling out the rights of detained Falun Gong members.

The subject will next come up when a Swiss delegation visits China later this year to meet Chinese officials and organizations, it added.

China portrays its campaign against the Falun Gong as needed to protect Chinese from an "evil cult," but several governments and human rights groups have expressed alarm at the many reported abuses of members' rights since the Beijing government banned the movement in July 1999.

The Falun Gong says 50,000 followers have been detained and many sent to labor camps without trial. The movement follows a mixture of Taoist and Buddhist beliefs and traditional Chinese physical exercises.

Dutch Foreign Minister Jonas Van Aartsen scrapped a trip to China at the last minute in February after a dispute with the Chinese authorities over Falun Gong.

China played down his decision as arising from a scheduling conflict, but the minister's spokesman said the visit was postponed because Beijing publicly opposed a planned meeting between Dutch diplomats and members of the Falun Gong.

Swiss ties with China have traditionally been good, although Chinese President Jiang Zemin rounded on his Swiss hosts when his visit to Berne in 1999 was briefly disrupted by a noisy demonstration against Chinese rule in Tibet.

12:54 08-23-01

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