May 23, 2002

Chinese nationals clashed with consulate officials here Wednesday, accusing them of refusing to renew certain passports as part of an international crackdown against [practitioners] of Falun Gong, a practice promoting spiritual discipline through exercise. Zhiwei "Tommy" Xu, a research scientist for Motorola, stood in the lobby of the consulate office at 100 W. Erie with his wife and 5-month-old son for more than an hour before he agreed to leave. Xu, who said his mother has been tortured for practicing Falun Gong in China, does not want to return home, where he fears jail and torture.

Xu and another national who practices Falun Gong, Jiang Zhu from St. Louis, demanded to know why their passports were not being renewed. Consulate officials offered no explanation and told them to leave because they did not have appointments. When Xu and Zhu asked to be given a specific time when they could return, the consulate's press secretary, Jin Zhijian, and other officials offered no answers. Zhijian did not return telephone calls later Wednesday.

In one exchange, when the Chinese pair asked Zhijian why their passports were not being renewed, he called attention to the Falun Gong logos on their jackets and on buttons they were wearing.

"If we go back to China, they will be totally free to persecute us," said Xu, with his wife, Jing, and their son, Henry, by his side.

"They may put me in jail," said Xu, who has a doctorate in physics. "They already have my name on a blacklist."

Xu said the passport problem is part of a Chinese crackdown on Falun Gong, a practice that promotes inner calm and spiritual discipline through exercise.

More than 250 Falun Gong [practitioners] have died in custody in China since the crackdown began in July 1999, an Amnesty International report said. Thousands more have been detained in "study classes," detention centers and labor camps, the report charged.

Four Chinese nationals living in the Chicago area have joined a national class-action lawsuit charging the Chinese government with carrying out "a criminal campaign of violent repression and intimidation against Falun Gong [practitioners].''

Xu and other Falun Gong [practitioners] say consulates nationwide are refusing to renew passports to try to force nationals to return to China, where they will face prosecution. "My case is not the only one," said Xu, who said that other Falun Gong [practitioners] in the United States and other countries also face harassment and problems getting passports renewed.

Zhu and her husband left St. Louis at 3 a.m. Wednesday to investigate the status of her passport, which expired April 24. She came to the consulate office because her passport renewal application had been returned three times without explanation after she tried to process it by mail.

Zhu, who came to the United States in 1997, said she is in no rush to return to China. On her last trip home to visit her sister, authorities interrogated her and tried to get her to sign a statement defaming Falun Gong, she said.