Expulsion of Falun Gong members from Dominica ignites criticism of government

Roseau, Dominica – Dominica expelled eight tourists belonging to the Falun Gong spiritual movement during a visit by a senior Chinese official, prompting opposition criticism Thursday that the government was squashing free speech rights.

The eight French women – adherents to the sect outlawed by Beijing – were distributing copies of a U.N. report on Chinese human rights violations last week as China's deputy parliament speaker, Gu Xiulian, made diplomatic rounds on the Caribbean island.

They were detained and sent to the nearby French island of Guadeloupe for engaging in “activities incompatible with their status as tourists,” police spokesman Jefferson Ferrol said. He did not elaborate.

Opposition leader Edison James accused Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit's administration of “subverting democracy” to placate China, which established relations with Dominica after the Caribbean nation severed diplomatic ties to Taiwan in 2004.

“It is the attitude of this government to stifle discussion in this country that might not be comfortable for our Chinese friend,” James, a former premier, told The Associated Press.

Government officials declined to comment on the expulsion of the French tourists.

Falun Gong has attracted millions of followers with a mix of traditional Chinese calisthenics and doctrines drawn from Buddhism, Taoism and the ideas of its founder, Li Hongzhi. Beijing banned it as a threat to public safety and communist rule in 1999.

Since then, thousands of followers have been detained in China, and scores are reported to have died in police custody from beatings or mistreatment.