November 9, 2000

A YAGOONA woman was repeatedly beaten and force to share a cell with men during an eight-month ordeal in a Chinese prison which ended at the weekend with her return to Australia.

Chinese prison officers allegedly shackled Cui-Ying Zhang's legs together to stop her doing the exercises central to Falun Gong, the physical and spiritual practice for which she alleges she was imprisoned on March 5 this year.

Despite the humiliation and pain she suffered, Ms Zhang, 38 has vowed to continue to lobby the Chinese Government to lift a ban placed on the movement and its followers in early 1999.

This week, Ms Zhang, an Australia citizen, told of maltreatment in prison and her struggle for human rights.

"Sometimes when I did exercises they beat me, poured water on me and pulled my hair," she said through an interpreter.

"Once, when doing the exercises, an officer became very angry and punched me to the ground, kicked me and chained my legs. They asked me to stop the exercises, but I said I would not. The officer said she would sentence me to three years and make my life miserable so that I would rather die than live."

Ms Zhang, a jewellery designer and visual artist, said during her first four months in prison she shared a cell with up to 10 other women, and was never released for exercise.

When she refused to renounce her faith, she was transferred to a cell in the male section of the prison.

For about two months she shared a room with up to 10 men at a time, and used the toilet and bathed in the room without a screen.

Ms Zhang said she was observed by male prison guards on security cameras.

She said she was constantly fearful for her safety.

Her eight month sentence was her third encounter with the Chinese police and prison system in the past year.

On November 31 she was arrested in Beijing and deported from mainland China to Hong Kong, allegedly because of her association with Falun Gong. She returned on January 10 and was arrested in Beijing on January 26 while practicing Falun Gong in a park.

Ms Zhang said she was beaten by police and escaped by climbing out a second-storey window.

She was arrested again on February 4 while dining with her husband George Zhou in a restaurant in Beijing. They were questioned for four days, then released on February 12 and returned to Australia.

On March 5 she was arrested by Chinese customs officers who found Falun Gong literature in her luggage as she attempted to re-enter China.

Ms Zhang said she returned to present a letter asking the Chinese President to lift the ban on Falun Gong.

She said Falun Gong was a force for good and believed it cured her crippling rheumatoid arthritis. She was introduced to the practice by Mr Zhou about 3 years ago.

The Australia Government earlier this year raised concerns about treatment of Falun Gong practitioners claim they have been harassed by Chinese officials in Australia.

The Chinese embassy has denied the claims.

Ms Zhang's greatest concern is she will not be allowed to visit her family in China.