At times during Chinese President Jiang Zemin's visit to Germany, downtown Berlin has felt more like Tiananmen Square to protestors against Chinese human rights abuses.
Dan Cheng (front) and two fellow Falun Gong followers doing what the Beijing government calls "evil"
The excuses given by Germany's government may be unsurprising: diplomatic protocol and heightened security.
But followers of Falun Gong – a meditative martial art banned in communist China as an "evil cult" yet considered unthreatening elsewhere – were plenty surprised Monday and Tuesday when they faced German police resistance to their peaceful protests during the visit of Chinese President Jiang Zemin.
Between a dozen and 20 believers in Falun Gong, similar to tai chi or yoga but with an element of religious teaching, were forced out of their reserved rooms Monday evening at Berlin’s exclusive Hotel Adlon, where Jiang is staying, by German police working with Chinese state agents.
Some of those forced out were U.S. and British citizens who complained of rough treatment – highly uncharacteristic of German police tactics, especially in protest-friendly Berlin.
Li Shao, a Chinese-born Briton and senior lecturer at Nottingham University in England, was one of those forced out of the hotel. He said he was also detained in a police van outside Berlin’s city hall and searched by five "reluctant" German policemen on the request of a Chinese guard.
Li Shao, a Falun Gong follower, says his sister-in-law was senenced to a Chinese labour camp for practicing her beliefs. According to Shao, his sister-in-law's friend, also sentenced, died during her internment.
"They are really exporting Chinese tactics to Berlin, which I think is very said," Shao (photo) told DW-WORLD. "We should use German democracy to influence China and not let the Chinese dictatorship, bullying ordinary citizens, export those techniques to Berlin."
No public meditation
Germany’s Bundeskriminalamt (Federal Criminal Investigations Office) spokesman, Gerhard Schlemmer, said the action was justified by "information received that some people may disturb the visit of the Chinese delegation."
Answering protestors’ allegations that German police had granted Chinese security agents extraordinary access in Berlin – including direct access to the private hotel’s computer registry to track Chinese names – Schlemmer said only that "it is normal that there is cooperation between the German security police and the police of a visiting delegation."
Some 400 Falun Gong followers, all with apparently peaceful intentions, came to Berlin and staged silent protests at locations visited by Jiang, but they were kept hundreds of metres away from the leader by police fences and vehicle blockades.
Most sat cross-legged on the pavement, meditating, and others walked with placards opposing Beijing’s policies
Charge and counter-charge
They repeated accusations, backed up by human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, that Falun Gong followers have been killed, tortured, subjected to unfair trials and imprisoned in a general Chinese crackdown against the loosely-organised group.
According to the Falun Gong’s central information centre, at least 390 deaths have occurred, as well as 100,000 detentions, 20,000 sentences to labour camps and 1,000 wrongful forced stays in mental hospitals.
China on the other hand accuses the "crooked" practitioners of Falun Gong of running a "typical cult", luring followers with false promises of healing without medicine and then deceiving them with "bewitching and mind-controlling power". Yet there is little organised hierarchy in Falun Gong and no membership rolls.
Jiang out of reach
Protestors’ chance for direct confrontation with Jiang, which some said they had hoped for, never materialised. The Chinese leader, who had been forewarned that human rights issues could overshadow his visit, limited public exposure, saying he would hold no press conference because of time constraints.
Dan Cheng, a US citizen born whose appearance and surname betray her Chinese nationality, said that when police forced her out of the Adlon on grounds of "security", she asked "what about my security?" before being taken out of her room without a chance to recover toiletries.
Mild though the protestors’ allegations against German police were – Shao repeatedly said that they seemed "reluctant" in their actions and at times apologised for the orders they carried out – they said the actions were more reminiscent of Beijing than Berlin.
Stepped-up security in the German capital since the September 11 attacks against the United States may be partly to blame.
Germany’s lips sealed
Germany’s government has previously criticised Beijing’s strict policy against unregistered religious groups, exerted also against Christians and Tibetan Buddhists.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder
But Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (photo) opted not to speak out during Jiang’s visit.
Higher-level politics and trade were on the agenda, as the Chinese president came promising to support the idea of a permanent German seat on the United Nations Security Council.
"The leaders exchanged views on human rights. Both agreed there were differences of opinion and agreed on dialogue to resolve this problem and improve the global human rights situation," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan told a news conference.