NEWS

Falun Gong asks China to improve rights by 2008

Followers of the banned religious movement Falun Gong gathered here yesterday just days before the Athens Games to call on China to immediately improve human rights in the country ahead of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. In a news conference just eight days before the opening of the August 13-29 Olympic Games, Falun Gong accused China of violating the Olympic spirit. «In a few days, the Athens Olympics will belong to the past, while the Games’ flag… will be turned over to Beijing, the capital of a country which on the eve of the 21st century continues violating fundamental human rights,» the group said in a press statement. «Help China make sure that when it hosts the Olympics in four years’ time, it will respect human rights,» Wu Wenxin from the European Falun Gong union urged journalists. Two Greek Falun Gong activists also filed charges against three top Chinese officials, including former President Jiang Zemin and former Vice President Li Lanqing, for alleged torture and harsh treatment they suffered at the hands of Chinese authorities in 2001 and 2002 respectively. «We ask Greek prosecutors to issue an arrest warrant against them if they should come to Greece for the Games,» their Greek lawyer Stavros Tsakirakis said. Falun Gong, banned as an «evil cult» by China since 1999, once claimed millions of followers on the mainland but has faced a tough crackdown by the Beijing government, which considers it one of the most serious threats to its rule. The Chinese Embassy in Athens told AFP they have «no information» on Jiang coming to Athens for the Games. «It is the first time that Greek justice has been called on to rule on a case of torture abroad,» said Nikos Livos, a law specialist at Athens University. The lawsuit is the latest in a long list of similar actions Falun Gong has taken in other countries, such as the United States, Germany and France.