A demonstration by about 1,000 members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement has taken place outside the United Nations building in Geneva, after reports that it had been banned proved to be false. The protest coincided with the start of the annual session of the UN Human Rights Commission.
The Falun Gong members staged a peaceful and silent protest in the Place des Nations. They carried banners proclaiming: "Stop the Persecution", "Freedom for Falun Gong Practitioners in China" and "Truth, Compassion and Patience".
"We are appealing to the United Nations and the whole world to pay attention to the brutal persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China," one protester, Ying Nian-wu, told swissinfo.
"The Beijing regime should be criticised for their brutal crackdown on this peaceful, non-political meditation group. The world must speak up to stop this barbaric persecution. It should not go unnoticed," Ying said.
At last year's Human Right Commission session, as in previous years, China used a procedural manoeuvre to avoid being criticised by a US-sponsored censure motion.
Demonstrations in the square in front of the United Nations are common during the six weeks of the Human Rights Commission session. The Falun Gong has staged a number of such protests in previous years.
Falun Gong, which is outlawed in mainland China, received permission to stage the demonstration in the Place des Nations on February 7. But reports over the weekend suggested it had been told to move the protest to the Plaine de Plainpalais, a square on the other side of the city.
The head of the city's security department, André Hediger, explained to swissinfo that there had been a mix-up. "We never banned the demonstration."
He said the confusion arose because Falun Gong had applied to hold a demonstration in the Place des Nations, and then asked to stage five more protests in other squares around Geneva.
"There was confusion in their request. It seemed as though they wanted to change the location of the demonstration. But in reality, they wanted to use these sites as well as the Place des Nations," Hediger said, adding that he had met Falun Gong representatives on Monday to clear up the misunderstanding.
He also strenuously denied that the Chinese embassy had put pressure on the city to ban the Falun Gong protest.
However, Rubin Ging, a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Bern told a Swiss newspaper that it had approached the Geneva authorities: "Such demonstrations should not be permitted," he was quoted as saying.
Beijing describes Falun Gong as an "evil and heretical cult".
by Roy Probert