A Londoner's Struggle to Rescue His Fiancée from a Beijing Labour Camp

"She was on her way to the British Embassy when the police took her" says Weiguo of his fiancée, Yongjie, who is unjustly imprisoned in a forced labour camp in Beijing. She was living on the streets of Beijing to escape arrest when Weiguo told her to go to the British Embassy to seek help. He believes that her mobile phone was tapped by the police, and that is how she was caught.

What was her crime? She practises the peaceful spiritual discipline of Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa. Falun Gong is a traditional Chinese practice that includes exercises and meditation. Its principles are "Truthfulness, Compassion, Tolerance." Practitioners try to follow these principles in everyday life.

Weiguo said at a peaceful demonstration in London, "I worry constantly about her safety. I read everyday about practitioners being subjected to severe physical, mental, and sexual abuse and I dread to think what Yongjie might be suffering. She is a sweet-natured person who always thinks of others before herself and would not hurt anyone. She has not committed any wrongdoings and poses no danger to anyone."

Weiguo and Yongjie

Freedom of belief is written into the Chinese constitution and this freedom is guaranteed by law. Falun Gong was introduced to the public in 1992 and spread very quickly, even gaining government acclaim. At the end of 1998, the Chinese government estimated that 70-100 million people in China had taken up the practice. As this number exceeded the membership of the Chinese Communist Party, the government felt threatened. In 1999, Chinese Communist Party leader Jiang Zemin declared that this very popular spiritual practice should be banned and Falun Gong practitioners would not even be allowed legal representation.

In October of last year, Yongjie was forced to give up her job because she refused to stop practising Falun Gong. She also left her home on the 29th of October last year and went into hiding to escape arrest. Chinese police frequently harass and arrest practitioners prior to major political events or anniversaries, and October 2002 as just before the 16th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. Yongjie was arrested on the 4th of November, detained and sentenced to two years in Daxing County Female Labour Camp in Beijing. Her family was neither notified of her whereabouts nor the sentence until the 10th of February 2003 after Weiguo made many phone calls from the UK.

Weiguo is also a Falun Gong practitioner, currently working and living in London. "I have just completed my PhD studies at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology. I planned to go back to China as I promised to marry Yongjie once I obtained my PhD degree. Unbelievably, only a few days before my PhD Viva day, she was arrested."

The U.S. State Department Annual Human Rights Report states "Mere belief in the discipline [Falun Gong], without any outward manifestation of its tenets, has been sufficient grounds for practitioners to receive punishments ranging from loss of employment to imprisonment, and in many cases, to suffer torture and death."

Sources state that the death toll of Falun Gong practitioners is estimated to be well over 3,000. The confirmed death toll from eyewitness reports is currently 746. Due to extreme difficulty in discovering and verifying information in China related to wrongful deaths, this higher figure is also a likely underestimate of the true death toll. Part of the difficulty in discovering information is due to individuals being charged with "leaking state secrets" and imprisoned if they expose the illegal detention, torture and death of Falun Gong practitioners in China.

Sources from China have been saying for many years that there are "over 100,000" Falun Gong practitioners in labour camps. The true figure by now is more likely to be ten times that amount.

Amnesty International writes in "Torture - A Growing Scourge in China": "Reports continue of deaths of detained practitioners following torture and extreme ill-treatment" and states that perpetrators of Falun Gong deaths are not investigated or prosecuted and "the government has denied any wrongdoing, even in the face of multiple eye witness testimonies."

According to the report on the question of torture to the UN Economic and Social Council's Commission on Human Rights (E/CN.4/2003/68/Add.1), Falun Gong practitioners have been brutally beaten to the point of internal injuries, debilitation and death; deprived of sleep; frequently subjected to extensive electric shocks; forced injections of psychotropic drugs causing brain damage; forced to sleep on the ground only wearing light clothing in temperatures of -20C; often held and beaten in very small isolation cells for up to 7 months; hung up in handcuffed torture positions and beaten for up to two weeks; thrown out of a 12th floor building; raped by inmates or guards; had needles forced into their fingers; not given adequate food despite the heavy labour and extensive work hours; and not allowed to have visits, talk or wash.

On 20 March of this year, medical student Dong Cuifang was murdered at the same labour camp where Yongjie is being held. Ms. Dong was arrested while handing out Falun Gong flyers. When she was taken to the hospital minutes before her death, doctors found her entire body covered in bruises, and she had a puncture wound that pierced her skull. The Hebei Security Bureau listed the cause of death as "mental collapse."

Weiguo thinks about his fiancée often: "On my graduation day at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, every student was excited except me. My heart was with her in China because she might be beaten or tortured to death at any minute. My heart feels as though it has been broken into pieces."

Weiguo has known Yongjie since they were at primary school together at the age of 7. In 1994, Weiguo started practising Falun Gong; Yongjie started in 1995. "Falun Gong brought us closer because we had this same interest, and also because Falun Gong teaches us to become more truthful, compassionate and tolerant; that's really contributed positively to our relationship."

"Her parents are really very worried about her situation. Her mother tried to visit her twice in Beijing. This is a really hard time for her family, I think, because Yongjie didn't do anything. She just tried to become a better person by practising Falun Gong and was arrested, and this situation is really difficult for her family to understand."

"I write to her, but I don't know if she gets the letters or not. Also, I tried many, many times to phone her but I was not allowed to speak with her."

Since Yongjie's arrest, Weiguo has contacted his MP, Tony Lloyd, who expressed great concern. Mr. Lloyd wrote to the Chinese Ambassador who has not replied. Weiguo also started an international petition to appeal for support from the public and has received over 9000 written signatures and over 1000 signatures on the www.falundafa.org.uk web site.

On 25 April 2003, Weiguo handed in the 10000 signatures and a letter to Tony Blair at 10 Downing Street. He said "I seek Yongjie's immediate release. I won't stop until she is free. I hope that the British people and government can help to free my fiancée and all imprisoned Falun Gong practitioners in China." He was wearing a suit that Yongjie had bought him. “She is like that,” he says, "She is a very gentle person and also she is very caring."

When asked if he could tell her anything right now, he said "I am really missing you now. I hope that you can be freed immediately from this very, very harsh time."

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