August 13th, 2008
As the eyes of the world focus on China, I thought I would take this opportunity to recount my experience with one remarkable Chinese woman. While my practice generally centres on commercial quarrels, I make it a point to devote a certain amount of time assisting asylum seekers who are persecuted in their own countries to obtain their status in Canada. It was in this capacity that I had the opportunity to meet Yao Lian, a woman who had suffered multiple injustices because of her religious beliefs. This is her story.
Last summer, I received at my offices Mr. Ma Jian, and Mrs. Yao Lian, both from China. They were both articulate and well spoken. In fact, the gentleman spoke nearly perfect Parisian French and was an executive for the large French oil pump company PCM. He asked me to help his friend Yao Lian apply for refugee status in Canada as she had suffered considerably because of her belief in the practice of Falun Gong.
Falun Gong is a spiritual movement with many adherents in China. Falun Gong, or Falun Dafa, was founded in Li Hongzhi in 1992. It has five sets of meditation exercises and seeks to develop practitioners' hearts and character according to the principles of Truthfulness, Compassion, and Forbearance. Unfortunately, the Chinese Communist Party views this organization as dissident and a threat to the established order. To the party, Falun Gong is a competitive threat to the doctrine of the all-encompassing state.
Some of the documented acts of oppression against the practitioners are nearly unspeakable. David Kilgour, former Canadian secretary of state for the Asia Pacific region, published a report that appeared to confirm allegations that the Chinese government was harvesting organs from imprisoned practitioners of Falun Gong.
Mrs. Lian took up the practice of Falun Gong in order to deal with personal health issues. She was working for the Chinese Academy of Sciences and her employer apparently informed the government that she was a practitioner.
Her life descended into a series of Kafkaesque scenes where she was required to attend, on two occasions, a detention camp aimed at brainwashing her to no longer be an adherent of the Falun Gong movement. She eventually lost her position and the apartment granted to her by the Chinese Academy of Sciences due to her refusal to disavow her commitment to her spiritual beliefs.
About a month after I met Mrs. Lian, she informed me that Ma Jian, the man who attended at my offices originally, was actually her husband. Afraid of the Chinese Communist Party informers in Canada, they decided not to tell me that at the time. More importantly, I was told that on Feb. 28, 2007 Ma Jian was arbitrarily arrested at the PCM office in Beijing. He was detained by the police without informing his family or his employer of his whereabouts. He apparently spent three weeks in a brainwashing centre and was then transferred to the East-Beijing Detention Center.
On April 19th, 2007, Ma Jian's family member in China received the official condemnation by phone call -- a verdict of 2.5 years in a labour camp for having Falun Gong-related documents at home.
By March 2007, the French political class had begun to manifest their discontent with Mr. Jian's detention. Both Jacques Pelissard, president of the conference of French Mayors, and Segolene Royal, Socialist party candidate for the French presidency, wrote letters supporting the release of Mr. Ma Jian.
The Canadian government, on the basis of this information, granted accelerated asylum to Yao Lian. While this granted some measure of security to her, she took no comfort as her husband was incarcerated and remains incarcerated to this day.
Canadians and the Canadian government have a moral obligation to demonstrate their refusal to tolerate the oppression of individuals based on their religious, ethnic, or political views. The past has taught us too often the high price of wilful blindness.
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