Saturday, March 30, 2002

A Canadian woman has returned safely to Canada after apparently being arrested in Beijing for protesting the Chinese ban on the Falun Gong meditation [group].

Christine Loftus of Barrie, Ont., and her American boyfriend, Jason Pomerleau, were seized by several Chinese officers Thursday outside a marketplace, a New York-based organization of Falun Gong supporters said.

Ms. Loftus's family received word late yesterday she had arrived in Vancouver and was en route to Ontario. There was no immediate information on Mr. Pomerleau's whereabouts.

Ms. Loftus, 22, and Mr. Pomerleau, 25, of Boston, had travelled to Beijing to raise awareness about the government's crackdown on Falun Gong, a practice of meditation and exercises with roots in traditional Chinese culture.

In July 1999, the Communist government outlawed the practice, also known as Falun Dafa, which had attracted millions of practitioners. [...]

Supporters say thousands of Falun Gong followers have been detained and hundreds killed. China denies harming practitioners.

Fifteen Chinese police officers hauled Ms. Loftus and Mr. Pomerleau from a busy Beijing street, said the Falun Dafa Information Center, which learned of the arrest from an eyewitness who posted a photo and an account of the incident on the Internet.

The pair were reportedly pulled into a basement behind a nearby building while security officers dispersed onlookers.

Family members began to worry when they had not heard from Ms. Loftus, a second-year child and youth studies major at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont. They then came across the Internet account of the arrest.

Ms. Loftus's twin brother, Jason, knows first-hand the perils of protesting the Chinese position on Falun Gong, having been arrested in February for staging a demonstration in Tiananmen Square.

"I was detained for 27 hours, in which time I was punched, choked -- I had my hair pulled and my arm twisted," the civil engineering student said from Toronto. "I was denied water for a day, and I was kept in a filthy prison cell."

Mr. Pomerleau's younger brother, Daniel, who returned to the U.S. from China yesterday, told of being detained and beaten by authorities after being arrested last Monday while handing out flyers about Falun Gong. Daniel, 20, was expelled from the country Wednesday.

Ms. Loftus and her brother took up Falun Gong after attending a Barrie health show four years ago. Their mother also became intrigued and adopted the practice.