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Chinese student fights for parents' release from jail

Mother's practice of Falun Gong leads to arrest by officials
By Cory de Vera, News-Leader
August 18, 2008

While most of the world is focusing on athletic feats in China, Missouri State University graduate student Pang Jin wants the world to think about her country's human rights record.

It's personal for her, and the latest news from home has her heartsick.

The 25-year-old MBA student from the Shandong province told the News-Leader she called her father Pang Xiaoquiang on July 9, and could tell by his voice something was wrong. He was nervous and told her he couldn't talk.

When she called back 30 minutes later, he told her the police had ransacked the family home, confiscating computers, books and money, and demanding to know where her mother, Cao Junping, was.

Cao's crime? She is a practitioner of Falun Gong, a spiritual practice banned by the Chinese Communist Party, said Pang Jin.

Cao was arrested on July 29 when police found her, said Pang. So was her father, even though he does not practice Falun Gong.

"As far as I know, the conditions in the detention centers are squalid and detainees are treated inhumanely," wrote Pang Jin in an e-mail to the News-Leader.

"The two most important people in my life are there right now. I'm their only child, and I'm also the only one who has the chance to rescue them, as the rest of my family is in China."

On Sunday she got word from relatives that her aunt Cao Gunfeng, 53, had just been sentenced to almost a year in prison for practicing Falun Gong. She is hoping that won't happen to her parents.

Earlier this month Pang Jin wrote to Congressman Roy Blunt who has appealed to Zhou Wenzhong, the Chinese ambassador in Washington to see if anything can be done to secure the release of Pang Jin's parents.

Falun gong

Falun Gong seeks to promote principles of truth, benevolence and tolerance, its adherents say.

They practice a form of meditation that combines disciplined reading and slow, synchronized exercise. Those who practice it believe as one's virtue improves, physical health will improve, too. Pang Jin said Cao credits Falun Gong with clearing a skin condition and improving her disposition.

But the Chinese government banned the practice in 1999, and persecution of practitioners has been documented by groups like Amnesty International.

Missouri State political science professor Dennis Hickey told the News-Leader in an e-mail that the Chinese Communist Party simply does not allow organizations to challenge its power. Falun Gong, he said, has criticized the party.

"Falun Gong publications call for the CCP's destruction. And CCP will not tolerate the Falun Gong," wrote Hickey. "Moreover, CCP views Falun Gong not as a religion, but as a dangerous cult."

Some practitioners have embarrassed the government, said Hickey.

"One might well remember when a Falun Gong member jumped up onto the stage when President Bush and President Hu Jintao were meeting in Washington a year or two ago and verbally abused President Hu (screamed her head off) for several minutes before being dragged away. I would not say that its an exaggeration to suggest that the two sides have declared war on each other," Hickey wrote.

Pang Jin said both her parents love China, and those who practice Falun Gong simply want the persecutions to stop -- of Falun Gong practitioners as well as those who practice forms of Christianity underground.

"We just want them to stop the persecutions, stop the killing. If they do that we won't request anything else," she said.

This isn't the first time Cao has been arrested for Falun Gong, said Pang Jin.

The first arrest was in January 2001, when Cao was held for 11 days, according to Pang Jin. Cao was able to return only after Pang Jin's father, a prison official, paid a bribe, said Pang Jin.

When Cao returned home, she had a broken tooth and burns on her legs that did not heal for about a year and a half, said Pang Jin.

Pang Jin, who herself practices Falun Gong, said she was questioned during her sophomore year at Qingdao University, but a university official intervened and convinced the interrogator that Pang Jin wasn't a threat.

Neosha Mackey, the associate dean of libraries at Missouri State, said she first met Pang Jin five years ago when she was part of the MSU faculty working in its program in China.

Pang Jin came to study at Missouri State last year, and last spring Pang told Mackey about Falun Gong and how the Chinese government had treated her mother.

"We're very concerned for her, and her family," said Mackey.

Human rights

In his letter to Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong, Congressman Blunt wrote "Part of the Chinese government's commitment when Beijing was under consideration for the Olympic Games in 2001 was to improve its human rights record. Liu Jingmin, who was the vice-president of the Beijing bid committee, told the media in 2001 that 'by allowing Beijing to host the Games you will help the development of human rights.'"

But Pang Jin said she is afraid the opposite is occurring -- that Communist Party officials are violating the human rights of her parents because of the Olympics.

She said reports she has seen indicate 40-50 Falun Gong practitioners may have been rounded up in Shandong province before the start of the Olympics. She's kept an eye on pro-Falun Gong Web sites, which say even more have been rounded up around the country.

"They are violating the spirit of the Olympics," she said.

For now, she keeps trying to call home for information. She's hoping media attention and letters from U.S. officials will help.

"Sometimes all it takes for someone to be released is a word or letter from a U.S. government official," Pang Jin wrote in an e-mail.

"The United States is founded on human rights and I hope that the government can recognize that personal freedom isn't just for Americans, but for anyone who desires it."

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