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Jackie Yu of Bridgewater went to China last month in the hope of helping fellow practitioners of a controversial offshoot of Buddhism known as Falun Gong. Instead, she wound up in jail.

On Jan. 23, Yu and several friends were arrested in Tiananmen Square after a demonstration by the outlawed movement, which in recent years has grown in popularity worldwide.

The 44-year-old Yu was released yesterday, but in a brief telephone interview from Beijing she said she remained fearful of another arrest and suspected that her phone was being tapped.

She was unsure whether she and her 14-year-old son, David Wei Cui, who was left alone for more than 10 days after his mother's arrest, would be allowed to return to the United States.

''I'm not home yet," she said. "I can't see my future." Practitioners of the spiritual movement have stepped up acts of defiance in the face of a severe crackdown by the government. In July, the communists banned the movement, labeling it an "evil cult."

Last night, about 100 demonstrators were beaten and arrested in Tiananmen Square after attempting to unfurl Buddhist banners near a popular tourist site.Human rights advocates say the Chinese government has sent 5,000 practitioners to labor camps without trial and sentenced another 300 to lengthy


''This is not a cult," said Lin Jinping, Yu's neighbor in Bridgewater and a fellow practitioner. "Just like Christians have their beliefs, this is a belief. The communists don't like it, because they can't control us."

Falun Gong is the largest of a number of spiritual movements that have sprung up in recent years in China that focus on meditation and exercise to harness the body's qi, or vital forces, and promote spiritual and physical well-being. Followers believe that through qigong, an ancient practice

of self-cultivation that employs a series of stretching exercises, they can ward off disease and gain supernatural energy. Critics in China say followers have died by choosing Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, over traditional medicine.

Last year on April 25, 10,000 followers silently surrounded communist offices, practicing their exercises in a bid for legal recognition and to protest condemnations in government-controlled media. That prompted the severe crackdown that has seen some followers sentenced to lengthy

prison terms.

''It's so pathetic," said Gail Rachlin, a marketing executive from New York who is well- connected in the movement. "We continue to ask for dialogue to resolve the situation peacefully. These people do not want to hurt the government or anyone else."

At least one American was among those arrested last night, according to the Associated Press, and there are several instances of Chinese-Americans being detained in the crackdown.

State Department officials, who have been outspoken against the repression, said their hands are somewhat tied, because detainees from America often are permanent residents rather than U.S. citizens.

''We have repeatedly raised our concerns with the Chinese about their treatment of practitioners," said one official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "We have called on China to release those detained or imprisoned because of religious beliefs or practices or simply

particular expressions of political views."

This spring, the U.S. government will condemn China's human rights record, including the treatment of Falun Gong practitioners, before a United

Nations commission, the spokesman said.

Yu's sister, Kexin, who lives in Boston, said her sibling knew it was dangerous to visit China during the crackdown. She had thought twice

about it, particularly because she is slated to become a U.S. citizen in a matter of months.

''She just couldn't wait," she said. "She just felt that practitioners should stand up and say something to the government, and the earlier

the better. She felt private things, like her residency status, should be put aside."

Fellow practitioners insisted that Yu, a financial consultant whose given Chinese name is Shan, did not participate in the demonstration that got

her locked up. She simply went to the square to take pictures, but when asked by an undercover police, she admitted she was a practitioner.

''We are really worried about her safety," said Li Li, an economics professor from Edison who sometimes practices Falun Gong in group

sessions with Yu. "We want her back as soon as possible."

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