China Pavilion bars Falun Gong ranks for fifth time

Tokyo, Japan - Falun Gong practitioners made over the weekend their fifth attempt to enter the China Pavilion and for the fifth time they were refused.

On a sunny Sunday afternoon, approximately 20 adherents of Falun Gong, some sporting vivid yellow T-shirts proclaiming their affiliation, joined the line in front of the pavilion at around 1:30 p.m. and tried to enter.

They were met with an equal number of security personnel, including uniformed guards, plainclothes police and pavilion staff. Within minutes, pavilion staff had redirected the line away from the group and stood guard at the doors.

One member of the group made it into the pavilion, donning her Falun Gong T-shirt once inside. Pavilion staff exhorted her to leave. Although they did not physically remove her, they eventually closed the pavilion for 10 minutes and cleared it of all guests.

The standoff outside continued for hours, as pavilion staff and Falun Gong members defended their positions. When it was clear the group was not going to be allowed to enter, its members held up A4-size fliers denouncing the pavilion for refusing them entry.

A pavilion security detail then moved in close to surround the group and obstruct its message from the view of nearby Japanese visitors. Expo Committee staff were eventually summoned from the main office to ask the group to desist. The Falun Gong members finally cleared out around 6 p.m.

The previous attempt by Falun Gong to enter occurred Aug. 28 when about 10 people individually tried to enter. This time, the group was better organized and more numerous, with adherents made up of both Chinese and Japanese traveling from all over Japan to take part.

Police knew of the protest beforehand thanks to a news conference the day before in downtown Nagoya. Falun Gong members who arrived at the expo wearing their distinctive T-shirts were followed by site security.

The increased presence of police and guards in Global Common 1 became noticeable as the group members gathered in front of the China Pavilion. Throughout the faceoff, both sides were disciplined and well-behaved, even using humor at times to try to sway the other side.

Practitioners consider Falun Gong a traditional Chinese spiritual discipline that improves mental and physical health, while the Chinese government regards it as a subversive cult and has actively suppressed it since 1999.

Falun Gong members were equally critical of the Expo Association, which they see as permitting China to import its discrimination of Falun Gong.

"Is it right that the China Pavilion can refuse us entry here in Japan?" asked Xin Li Xiao, one of the protesters. "I paid for my ticket like everyone else and I don't see why I should be refused entry to the pavilion just because of what T-shirt I am wearing."

Ayumi Okamoto, deputy director of public relations, explained the Expo Association's position. "For each foreign pavilion, who they let in and who they refuse is an internal matter," Okamoto said.