WASHINGTON, June 14 (AFP) - The United States said Friday it was looking for an explanation from the government of Iceland as to why authorities there briefly detained five US citizens [practitioners] of the Falun Gong spiritual movement this week.
"We have asked the government of Iceland for an official explanation of its actions," deputy State Department spokesman Philip Reeker told reporters.
The five US citizens were among some 70 Falun Gong [practitioners] from a number of countries who were detained on their arrival in Iceland ahead of this week's visit to the country by Chinese President Jiang Zemin.
China, [...] has banned the movement and the Falun Gong [practitioners], who claim they are subject to severe repression in the country, were travelling to Iceland to protest during Jiang's stay there.
Icelandic authorities said they were not opposed to protests but could not control large numbers of demonstrators and so limited the number of Falun Gong [practitioners] allowed into the country to 140.
Reeker stressed that the United States, which has been highly critical of China's policy toward the group, did not contest that Iceland could determine who it wanted to let into the country.
"Obviously, as a sovereign state, Iceland has the right to make immigration decisions as it sees fit," he said.
But, he added that Washington had an interest any time US citizens were detained abroad.
The Falun Gong members were detained on Tuesday at Keflavik airport, two days ahead of Jiang's arrival. They were later released.
Reeker said that a US diplomat had visited the Americans while they were held.
"All were in good health and there have been no allegations of any mistreatment by Icelandic authorities," he said.
Since China banned Falun Gong in July 1999, tens of thousands of [practitioners] have been jailed or sent to labour camps, according to activists.
The group's New York [Information Centre] also alleges that up to 200 [practitioners] have died in police custody, mostly from beatings and maltreatment.
In September 2000, Chinese Prime Minister Li Peng visited Iceland but cancelled a planned appearance at the parliament due to a human rights protest outside the building.
Jiang was holding talks with Icelandic leaders on Friday, before dedicating Saturday to tourism issues. He is to fly home to China on Sunday.
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