September 11, 2003


Courier-Post Staff

Gang Chen wears a tie now.

He looks healthy, lives with his sister in Marlton and works for an import-export company.

But less than two years ago, he was slowly dying in a labor camp in China, he says. His feet were periodically bound to his neck. At times, he was beaten by more than a dozen other inmates. And he was once forced, by the threat of the fist, to stay awake for 15 straight days.

His crime? Practicing Falun Gong, a set of breathing exercises used for spiritual, mental and physical health.

"It's painful for me to even recall those dark days," Chen said Wednesday morning at a Falun Gong rally in front of City Hall.

A dozen Falun Gong practitioners at Roosevelt Plaza protested the treatment of their group in China, where they say hundreds of believers have been killed by torture and thousands imprisoned.

Chen told his story as others held signs and obtained signatures from passers-by for the release of Falun Gong activist Charles Lee, an American citizen. One man sat on the ground performing Falun Gong exercises as Chinese music played in the background. Camden Mayor Gwendolyn Faison sent a representative to show support.

"People have to be able to defend their rights," said Tony Evans, the mayor's spokesman.

Each Saturday morning, about a dozen local believers practice at Cooper River Park in Pennsauken. Followers claim Falun Gong improves their health, helps them quit bad habits and helps their relationships.


American practitioners regularly stage rallies and lobby politicians to counter this perception and depict China's treatment of the group as a prime example of that country's human rights malfeasance.

Chen, for example, said he was a target of the Chinese government simply because he helped to teach Falun Gong in Beijing. He says his home was ransacked twice, his phone was tapped and he was put in a labor camp for 18 months without trial. After his release, he was under house arrest before coming to the U.S. six weeks ago.

At the labor camp, Chen said he regularly faced beatings and electrical shock treatment. He couldn't walk straight, his hair grayed and his "body and brain weren't functioning."

He refused to give in to pressure to renounce Falun Gong. "Just like forcing a Catholic to renounce Jesus and step on pictures of him and the Bible," he said.

But Falun Gong, followers say, is not a religion and it has no hierarchical structure. An 11-year-old practice based on traditional Chinese practices, it was welcomed in China until deemed illegal in 1999.

Other South Jersey residents, too, were affected by the government's crackdown on the practice. Imprisoned last year was the sister of Dr. Jingduan Yang of Cherry Hill.

"It wasn't any crime," he said at the rally Wednesday. "It was just about her belief."

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