KAITLYN OFFER, THE SUNDAY TIMES
FOR most West Australians there is nothing special about the name “Frank”.
But for one new citizen it is a badge of honour in his fight against oppression.
“I found in the dictionary that freedom has Frank behind it and I came to Australia for freedom, so, it’s heaven to me,” the 40-year-old told The Sunday Times.
In 2008, Frank and countryman Sam fled China after they had been detained, beaten and subjected to forced labour.
Their crime was practising a peaceful meditation ritual known as Falun Gong.
Both changed their names when they became Australian citizens and since coming to Perth – Frank as a refugee and Sam as a skilled migrant – they have been campaigning with fellow Falun Gong practitioner Albert Lin to raise awareness of the human rights abuses inside WA’s biggest economic partner.
Part of raising awareness is telling their story of abuse.
But they are so afraid that loved ones still living in China could be persecuted for their actions they have asked to have only their new first names printed. They also asked to be partly obscured in their photo.
Falun Gong gained popularity in China in the early 1990s and by 1999 had tens of millions of followers.
But the ruling Communist Party saw it as a threat because of its size and independence.
By mid-1999 the Chinese officialdom started suppressing the movement and ordered a nationwide crackdown on the practice.
Frank was detained in 2001 for two years. He was forced to make cheap products, such as Christmas decorations and suits.
“To be sent to a labour camp, it does not need any judge or lawyers, they just have to say you are breaking these rules, you are damaging to society, you need to stay in labour camp,” Frank said.
When he was not in a sweat shop, Frank said he was tortured. In one instance, police tied him to a chair and subjected him to electric shocks for hours.
One night fellow prisoners tied him to a bed and beat him until his arms were black and swollen.
Sam, a chemical engineer, and his wife, an accountant, went from living a comfortable life to becoming targets for persecution.
In 2001, Sam was babysitting a friend’s children when he was arrested.
At the police station, Sam was hung from a window frame, beaten and had ice poured down his pants.
He was then put in detention for the next nine months where he made plastic flowers.
Sam said he was never sent to a labour camp because the government wanted him to spy on his friends.
After he was released, Sam and his wife tried to not meet their friends to keep them out of danger.
The men say Falun Gong practitioners are still abused.
Dr Lin said he felt forced to speak out after it was revealed in 2006 that practitioners were being rounded up for organ harvesting.
“There are about two million people in forced labour camps in China at this time … and that’s how China has caught up so quickly economically,” Dr Lin said.
To raise awareness of about the oppression of Falun Gong in China, Dr Lin has organised free screenings of two documentaries Free China and Transcending Fear at the State Library. The next screenings will be on Thursday from 6.30pm.