HONG KONG (AP) — Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi attacked China’s deadly crackdown on the meditation group, claiming in a rare television appearance Wednesday that it was rooted in Beijing’s “jealousy” over Falun Gong’s mass following.
Taking aim at former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, Li said the campaign against Falun Gong was ordered by “the most evil person in China,” although he did not mention Jiang by name.
“People who care about power don’t care about people suffering,” Li said in an interview with a New York-based TV outlet that appears to have close ties to Falun Gong. “The Chinese leaders couldn’t tolerate so many people practicing Falun Gong. It’s a form of jealousy. This jealousy led to the oppression.”
In response, China renewed its denunciation of Li as “a criminal” who must be stopped.
“Falun Gong is a cult. Li Hongzhi is the head of the cult, and he is a criminal who is wanted by Chinese public security,” the Foreign Ministry said Wednesday.
Falun Gong claims hundreds of its mainland followers have been killed in police custody, although China denies abusing any of them.
Li, a former mainland grain bureau clerk who now lives in the United States, rarely makes public appearances.
Many Falun Gong followers were seeing Li for the first time.
“I’m very happy to see my teacher. He looks very benevolent,” said Yeung Sau-ling, a 40-year-old woman who has followed the movement for more than four years.
Li’s interview appeared on the New Tang Dynasty Television station and was monitored in Hong Kong via satellite by local Falun Gong followers, who let an Associated Press reporter watch it.
Hong Kong-based Falun Gong spokesman Kan Hung-cheung said the station is independent. But some Falun Gong followers are affiliated with the station, and a message on its Web site says “the issue of Falun Gong will help to unite the Chinese people all over the world with a bond of peace and freedom.”
Mainland authorities have banned Falun Gong as an “evil cult” and have worked to eradicate the group. But it remains legal in Hong Kong, which continues to enjoy Western-style civil liberties.
China outlawed Falun Gong as a threat to communist rule in 1999.
“The Chinese government’s legal ban on Falun Gong is intended to protect the basic human rights and freedom of the Chinese system and to uphold its constitution and laws,” the Foreign Ministry said. “This decision has the support of people all over the country, and has also won more and more understanding and support from the international community.”
Li disputed contentions that Falun Gong was a threat to China’s political system.
“We take power very lightly,” Li said. “We never wanted to seize power from the communist government. We just wanted to keep practicing according to our spiritual beliefs.”