China’s Falun Gong crackdown: ‘The persecution is almost underground’

SOURCE: The Guardian, UK

BY: Peter Beaumont, foreign affairs editor

The daughter of two held followers and a former detainee tell of continuing

abuse 10 years after China launched its crackdown

The men from China’s national security brigades came for Natalie Qiao’s
parents at 10pm on 8 June. Five young men in plain clothes bundled the
elderly couple into an unmarked car.

The crime of Qiao Yongfang and his wife, Yan Dongfei, both aged 60 and
residents of Huhot City, in Inner Mongolia, was to be practitioners of the
banned Falun Gong religion, which has tens of millions of followers in
China.

Ten years after the prohibition on Falun Gong was ordered by China’s former

leader Jiang Zemin, commencing a brutal crackdown on its adherents,
believers such as Qiao’s parents are still being pursued, despite
international protests.

The only change is that the persecution is now more secretive.

Amid new protests in Britain, including a march today from the Chinese
embassy to Chinatown to mark the anniversary of the Falun Gong crackdown,
Natalie Qiao and a former detainee have described the continuing abuse,
providing a detailed insight into how those deemed enemies of the Chinese
state are dealt with.

Anyone practising religious observance outside officially sanctioned
channels, including members of unofficial Catholic churches or Protestant
house churches, risk detention. Other groups at risk include Muslims in the

Xinjiang Uighur autonomous region, especially those branded as religious
extremists by the authorities.

Falun Gong has been treated most harshly. Supporters outside China claim
2,000 have died in custody since 1999, and the UN alleges that the group’s
members feature disproportionately among those who have suffered torture and

abuse. It is this that Qiao – who will hand in a petition to Downing Street

on Monday – fears most.

“They took my parents after dark. They don’t want people to know. The

persecution is almost underground,” said the 35-year old purchaser, who

lives in Watford. “I got a call from one of the members of my family in

China. They had tried to call my parents’ phone and a strange man had
answered and demanded to know who was calling. They do that to find other
members of Falun Gong.

“My uncle then went to my parents’ house. The building attendant didn’t
want
to talk but finally he said what happened. But even then the local police
would not admit they had been arrested. They said they didn’t know. In the
end we heard it through a friend in the police who told us they had been
taken to detention centre number one.

“We are not allowed to talk to them. When we rang the National Security

Brigades they said my parents were not co-operating. They have not written a

letter denouncing Falun Gong or given names of other practitioners. My
extended family at first refused to believe what was going on. They said the

persecution of the Falun Gong was over. But it’s happening every day.”

Natalie is terrified about what is happening to her parents, amid
well-attested reports of the serious maltreatment of Falun Gong detainees
who refuse to renounce their beliefs, as well as darker, unproven
allegations that some who have died in custody have had their organs
harvested.

Annie Yang, an antiques dealer who fled to London after being released from

a re-education through labour camp, knows at first hand what Qiao’s parents

are going through.

“I was arrested in March 2005,” she said. “I was living in Beijing
and was a
practitioner of Falun Gong. They came for me in the evening. I’m a single
mother and I was with my 16-year old son. Only one of the men was wearing a

uniform. None of them showed ID.

“I told them I was a mother. But they took me and left my son on his own.

They took me to a detention centre where they kept me for 40 days without
access to a lawyer. At the end they said I had been sentenced to two years
in a labour camp for being a member of Falun Gong.”

According to Yang, it was commonplace until 2004 to use physical violence to

make members recant and give up more names. She was subjected to a more
insidious abuse.

“The camp made gloves. But I was not allowed to work or have enough food
or
water until I renounced my beliefs. I was made to sit on a stool for 21 to
22 hours a day. I had to keep my back straight and my knees and feet pressed

together with my hands flat on my thighs. I was told I was not allowed to
close my eyes. If I did, they would swear at me.

“If I wanted a drink I had to say: ‘Please class leader…’ and before
I put
down my cup: ‘Please class leader…’. The only food I was allowed was half

a 30g Chinese bun. It was hard and sour. No vegetables. I became so thin. It

was so hot too. In the 40s. And they would not give me enough water.

“After three months I could not take it. I was nearly mad. I renounced.
They
force you to. They say if you don’t we will extend your sentence. Against my

conscience I gave them names too.”

The persecution of Falun Gong is all the more peculiar for the innocuousness

of the religion. Without any real formal leadership structure and no role of

membership as such, adherents of the religion, founded by Li Hongzhi in
1992, follow so-called traditional qigong practices for both spiritual and
physical development as detailed in Falun Gong’s literature. Without formal

rituals of worship, its central tenets are truthfulness, forbearance and
compassion.

Amnesty International’s UK director, Kate Allen, who has been following
Qiao’s case, said: “This is a heartbreaking story – Natalie’s parents were

due to visit the UK to see their grandchildren at the end of the month. Now

instead of preparing for a family visit, Natalie is worrying about their
safety in a Chinese detention centre.

“Nobody should be locked up for their peaceful religious beliefs. Yan
Dongfei and Qiao Yongfang should be released immediately and unconditionally,
unless the Chinese authorities are going to charge them with an internationally
recognised crime and give them a fair trial.”

Posting date: 21/July/2009
Original article date: 20/July/2009
Category: Media Report

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