BEIJING – China has expelled 53 foreigners who staged a protest against the government crackdown on the Falun Gong religious sect, and six more remain in custody, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said Saturday.
Diplomats said Friday that 42 foreign demonstrators had been expelled after the protest Thursday in Beijing's central Tiananmen Square — 33 Americans, four Britons and five Germans. They were put on planes back to their countries Friday, the diplomats said.
Police initially said more than 40 foreigners had been detained. The Chinese government did not confirm the total number expelled until Saturday.
The government spokeswoman, who gave only her family name, Qiu, said the protesters came from 12 countries, though she didn't know which.
Six of those detained Thursday remained in police custody because they carried no passports and refused to identify themselves, Qiu said.
Thursday's protest of China's brutal suppression of the Falun Gong movement was the largest so far involving foreigners. Falun Gong was outlawed in July 1999 as a threat to social order and communist rule.
The protest came a week before a visit by President Bush to Beijing. Possibly to avert a diplomatic backlash, Chinese authorities took the unusual step of issuing a statement saying they had treated the detainees humanely.
Some of the detained Americans said they were beaten by Chinese police. About 25 who landed in Detroit on Friday displayed bruises, cuts and scrapes from what they said were police beatings.
The protesters said they were tackled and hit as they tried to unfurl a banner and shout slogans during the demonstration.
New York-based Falun Gong activists said as many as 100 followers had planned to take part. It said 14 Europeans were detained in their hotel rooms before the protest.
The nationalities of the others detained were not immediately clear. Falun Gong supporters in Canada released a statement saying they came from Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, Sweden, Taiwan, Vietnam, Norway and Canada.
In contrast to previous protests, many of which took police by surprise, authorities appeared to have been tipped off about Thursday's event.
Checkpoints were set up around Tiananmen Square and foreigners were forced to show identification and open their bags for inspection. Foreign reporters were turned away or kept from the square, so they could not see what was happening.
In November, 35 Western members of Falun Gong were expelled after a mass protest on the square.
Falun Gong, loosely based on traditional Chinese religions and martial arts, drew tens of millions of followers in the mid-1990s as China underwent disorienting social and economic change.
Thousands of members have been detained, and activists abroad say 365 have been killed. Chinese authorities deny abusing anyone but say some members died in hunger strikes or after refusing medical treatment.