Wednesday, September 10, 2003

By Jeff Diamant

Star-Ledger Staff

For 18 months, Gang Chen said, he lived in constant fear of electric batons, the weapons of choice of his Chinese jailers.

"Sometimes they used the batons to shock (my) metal handcuffs, which passed the high-voltage electricity to all the bones in my body," said Chen, 31, who was in a Beijing labor camp from July 2000 to December 2001 for practicing Falun Gong, a meditation and exercise movement banned in China. "It felt as if my body was on fire or continuously bitten by snakes."

There were other types of torture -- including sleep deprivation, force-feeding and beatings -- to persuade him to renounce Falun Gong, Chen said, but the high-voltage electric batons were the worst.

In July, 1 1/2 years after he was released from the Tuanhe Labor Camp, Chen moved from Beijing to New Jersey so he could be with his family -- his sister has lived in Marlton, Burlington County, for a decade -- and practice Falun Gong openly.

Chen shared his experiences yesterday at a Newark City Hall news conference to raise public awareness of the plight of fellow Falun Gong practitioner Charles Lee of California, a doctor who has been imprisoned in China since January.

The news conference was part of a month long national tour involving Lee's fiancée and other Falun Gong supporters. The tour began in California and ends next week in Washington, D.C.

The Chinese government has charged Lee with intending to [broadcast on] Chinese television on Falun Gong's behalf, said his fiancée, Yeong Ching Foo. Last September, Falun Gong [intercepted] China's top TV satellite system, beaming flashes of their own material across the nation.

Foo said Chen's presence at the news conference comforted her.

"I'm glad to see him strong and still be able to come back here to give a speech," said Foo, who asked that Americans urge U.S. government officials to pressure China to free Lee.

Chen said he empathizes with Lee and Foo.

"I can imagine what Charles Lee is going through. I know ... the suffering," said Chen, a 1994 graduate of Beijing Polytechnic University who recently started work at an exporting and importing company.

Falun Gong, also called Falun Dafa, claims more than 100 million followers. People perform low-motion exercises and study the teachings of their master, Li Hongzhi, [...].

They say that practicing Falun Gong helps cure diseases and promotes a peaceful view of the world.

China banned Falun Gong [...] in July 1999, months after about 10,000 followers [appealed to National Appeal Office near] the main government complex. Human rights organizations say that since then, the government has jailed or placed in labor camps tens of thousands of practitioners, and that many have been killed.

There are about 250 Falun Gong practitioners in New Jersey, said Susan Prager of Montclair, who helped organized yesterday's news conference.