Fleeing China, Couple Urge Help for Falun Gong

April 23, 2011

By Shaun Tandon (AFP)

WASHINGTON — A husband and wife who said they endured years of ill treatment in Chinese camps for practicing Falungong are urging greater global attention to the plight of the spiritual movement.

Zhang Lianying and her husband Niu Jinping, two high-profile practitioners of Falungong who angered authorities by speaking out to foreigners, arrived in the United States in January with their daughter just as China was starting a major crackdown on dissent.

The couple said they have spent most of the past decade in detention. In the most recent period, they said police took them away from their home with sacks over their heads shortly before the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The two were separated, with Zhang saying she was taken to the Masanjia re-education camp. She said that hundreds of Falungong practitioners were held at the camp and that guards tried to make an example out of her.

“I went through all sorts of torture. I would shout, ‘Falungong is good!’, all the time and then they would beat me on the mouth with a big plank of wood or tie me up,” she said, showing indentations on her wrists she said came from rope.

“My face would be covered all black and blue from bruises,” she told AFP on a recent visit to Washington.

She said that guards at the Masanjia camp, which is near the northeastern city of Shenyang, put psychological pressure on Falungong practitioners to renounce their faith and then to beat fellow inmates who would not.

One woman “was cursed and verbally abused so much by the guards, especially during public meetings, that instead of beating others she began to bite them and the officials encouraged her,” Zhang said.

Her husband said he was told that he was detained for meeting in Beijing with Edward McMillan-Scott, a Briton who serves as a vice president of the European parliament, to discuss the Falungong’s plight.

Upon arrival at a detention center, Niu said a policeman said, “Go!” and immediately more than a dozen officers and four inmates stripped him to his underwear and administered electric shocks across his body.

Niu said he was freed as scheduled in October last year and Zhang was released a month later. While many dissidents try to leave China by sneaking into third countries, a Falungong representative said that Niu and Zhang left on a normal commercial flight.

Zhang had connections with a police officer who assisted with visas, said Levi Browde, spokesman for the Falun Dafa Information Center in New York.

“It was a miracle, really,” he said. “I have never seen this before.”

Zhang said she wanted the United States and other countries to put greater attention on the Falungong.

“The Chinese news media do not talk about the Falungong persecution, but it is still going on intensely behind closed doors,” she said.

Falungong — a movement loosely based on Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian philosophies — enjoyed growing popularity among the Chinese in the 1990s.

China’s communist government banned the group in 1999 after thousands of practitioners — including Zhang and Niu — silently converged in Beijing to air their grievances, showing their organizational might.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang last year defended measures against the Falungong, calling it an “anti-human, anti-society and anti-science cult.”

While China has tightly restricted Falungong for the past decade, it has recently launched one of its broadest clampdowns on dissent in years amid a wave of anti-government protests in the Middle East.

The United States and China will hold an annual dialogue on human rights in Beijing starting on Wednesday. Michael Posner, who will lead the US side at the talks, said at a recent press conference that China’s labor camps were “full of people that have affiliation with Falungong.”