Six Falun Gong seek refugee status

Six Chinese members of the Falun Gong group, banned by Beijing, have applied to the Japanese government for refugee status, their lawyers and supporters said Monday.

The six students and former students from China first arrived in Japan several years ago. Five have tried to return to China via Hong Kong or Macau between 1999 and this spring but were refused entry by Chinese authorities.

At a Tokyo news conference, the lawyers said that even if the six are allowed to return to China, they may be placed in custody or tortured.

Tadanori Onitsuka, one of the lawyers, said Japanese immigration officials have yet to interview the six Chinese even though more than six months have passed since they applied for refugee status.

Noting that Japan rarely grants Chinese nationals refugee status, Onitsuka said, "I want the government to think of the situation the six are in."

Several thousand disciples of Falun Gong, a Buddhist-oriented meditation movement, are believed to be in Japan, the lawyers and the supporters said.