Followers banned for their beliefs

Activists representing the spiritual group, Falun Gong, which is outlawed in China, were detained on arrival in Iceland during a recent visit by the Chinese premier, Jiang Zemin.

About 70 protestors aged between 25 and 60 from several countries including the UK, were held in custody for 24 hours by the police after they arrived in the capital Reykjavik to demonstrate against the persecution of practitioners in China under Jiang Zemin’s regime.

However, many more protestors were prevented from boarding flights from European airports, as the Icelandic authorities feared numbers had ballooned over the original 140-person limit.

Icelandair, the country's state-run airline, cited "legal and security reasons" for their refusal to allow protestors with pre-paid tickets to board.

Li Shao, an architectural technology lecturer at Nottingham University was turned away from Heathrow airport. A British passport holder, he paid more than £300 for airline tickets.

He said: "I was queuing for my flight when I was approached by a man who later turned out to be an Icelandic Embassy official. He asked me to come to another desk away from the other passengers and asked me whether I was a Falun Gong practitioner.

"I thought it was a bit odd that an official would just walk up to you and ask you such a question about your personal beliefs but then he told me I could not get on the plane as I posed a threat to Iceland's national security."

Shao was thought to be one of at least five British passport holders turned away at Heathrow.

However, around 500 activists did manage to defy the ban and met in Reykjavik to stage a peaceful protest against Zemin during his visit.

Erping Zhang, a spokesman for Falun Gong, said: "I think it is quite clear that Jiang Zemin exerted tremendous pressure on Iceland to ensure he was spared the sight of peaceful demonstrations outside his hotel room during his stay in Iceland."

Cecilia Malmstrom, the Swedish Euro MP and long time advocate of Falun Gong’s allegations of human rights abuses, immediately sent an open letter to Mr Gunnar Snorri Gunnarsson, Ambassador of Iceland to the European Community, expressing her concerns over Iceland's action.

A spokesman for the Icelandic Embassy in London confirmed Falun Gong practitioners were banned from the country during the Chinese premier's visit.

He added there was a 'blacklist' of suspected practitioners circulated to airport officials.

The spokesman said: "It was assembled by the Icelandic Police on the basis of information from the individuals themselves and other sources, including foreign police."