In a week in which it emerged that three more Catholic priests have been sentenced to three years forced labour in China, for practising their faith, ICN has learnt that an American inter-church Christian women's organisation has appealed on behalf of Falun Gong, a Chinese indigenous religious practice, many of whose members are also in prison. Church Women United, who are based in Washington, DC, has issued a statement saying that since a "crackdown on Falun Gong began in 1999, there have been documented reports of 431 persons who have died in custody or from extensive torture inflicted in custody." They said: "Other sources have cited that as many as 1,600 may have died at the hands of the Chinese authorities since July 1999. Currently, there are more than 25,000 Falun Gong practitioners that have been detained and tortured by the Chinese government. It is clear to say that Falun Gong practitioners in China are living in a state of intense fear and persecution because of their peaceful beliefs of truth, tolerance and compassion. "As early as 1948, Church Women United has recognised the need for governments to respect the dignity and worth of every person in every area of life. Our statement on the "Respect of Human Personality" said: "... we affirm certain basic freedoms, namely, freedom of conscience; of belief, including political and economic; freedom of movement, association and assembly; freedom of press and speech; and in the freedom of the mind in searching for truth." Church Women United appeal for "the United States government and its people to stand up against the uncivilised and inhumane treatment of people of faith in China." On Sunday, Irish MEP Patricia McKenna, sent a message of support to a Falun Gong demonstration in Dublin. She said: 'I convey a message of deepest sympathy to the victims of persecution in China. This massive clampdown on practitioners of a spiritual, completely peaceful and historic practice is one of the greatest tragedies of our times." Ms McKenna appealed for the Irish government to put more pressure on China to "stop persecuting innocent people and denying them the right to exercise their basic human rights." In May this year the Pope is reported to have offered a blessing for Falun Gong practitioners during an audience. In Portland Place, London, near the Chinese Embassy, more than a dozen Falun Gong members and their supporters have been holding a 24-hour silent vigil for the past two weeks.
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