No 'forbearance' for Falun Gong in Auckland airport lounge

Auckland Airport has bowed to pressure from the Chinese Government and removed a display promoting a spiritual movement banned in China.

The display promoting the Falun Gong, outlawed in China in 1999, was removed last week after the Chinese Embassy complained.

In April, Falun Gong New Zealand practitioners signed a 12-month contract with advertising agency Look Outdoor to display a sign showing a woman meditating and the words, "The world needs truth, compassion and forbearance", at the airport.

But Look Outdoor received complaints from the Chinese Embassy, which wanted the sign removed.

The embassy said it was offensive to Chinese travellers because Falun Gong was banned in China.

Aimee McKay, a media consultant for Look Outdoor, said she explained to the embassy that advertising the movement was not illegal in New Zealand and that the agency had a contract with Falun Gong.

But the agency received instructions from Auckland Airport to remove the sign.

The airport's commercial general manager, Murray Barclay, said the decision to remove the sign was made after complaints were received from the embassy.

"The decision was made on the balance of everything," he said.

A spokesman for the embassy said the consulate-general in Auckland made the complaints because Chinese residents and tourists were offended by the message, which was deceptive and misleading.

"It is an evil cult that uses mind control," the spokesman said.

"It is also misleading the general public of New Zealand, which is harmful."

The decision follows a similar incident in May, when a banner on Queen St advertising the Dalai Lama's Auckland visit raised the ire of Chinese diplomats and was taken down.

The Auckland City Council said the banner contained a political message.

Shelley Shao, one of around 100 Falun Gong followers in New Zealand, said she was shocked that China had so much influence in New Zealand.

"It breaks the law because we have a contract; it also breaks human rights."

She said Falun Gong was a meditation system, similar to yoga or tai chi - which were allowed in China.

It was founded on high moral values, and China had made a mistake in banning it.

Ms Shao said it had not been decided if the movement would take legal action over the removal of the sign.

Look Outdoor had offered to refund its money, but she would prefer the sign to be reinstalled.

The Falun Gong movement was formed in 1992 by Li Hongzhi and has followers in more than 40 countries.

Organisers say that since China outlawed Falun Gong, more than 50,000 followers have been jailed, sent to labour camps or put in mental institutions and many have been tortured, some to death.

The Chinese Government accuses Falun Gong - which stunned China's leadership with a mass protest outside its central Beijing compound in April 1999 - of wanting to overthrow it.

Falun Gong denies that it has any political aims.

The Chinese Government has acknowledged several deaths in custody, but said they were as a result of suicide or illness.