Announcer: As China's president Jiang Zemin makes an official trip to Iceland, dozens of American citizens and residents are being barred from flights to Reykjavik. Those denied seats on Icelandair flights are all practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual practice similar to Tai Chi that is outlawed in China. Hundreds in the Falun Gong movement had planned demonstrations in Iceland during Jiang Zemin's visit, but many of those coming from the United States are stranded at US airports. NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports from Baltimore Washington International Airport.

Reporter: About a dozen people are standing outside the international concourse trying to figure out what to do next. Jenny Chang, Tengdu Chou and Jennifer Zhou are among them. On Tuesday they drove the 10-hour trip from Detroit, making it to BWI in time for their overnight flight to Reykjavik. But when they checked in with Icelandair, Jenny Chang says, the desk worker said they were not allowed to board the flight.

Jenny Chang: Initially they didn't give us a reason. Then they said our name was on the list. What do you mean "there's a list?" Who gave you the list? It seems like it was given to them by the Iceland government, saying whoever's name is on the list cannot board the plane.

Reporter: Tengdu Chou is a technology specialist at General Motors in Detroit. He's a US citizen holding a valid passport and a plane ticket. But Chou and the others watched as the manager crossed their names off the passenger list.

Tengdu Chou: I think that as a US citizen, I should be able to board the airplane. I think my right has been violated.

Reporter: But late last night, a State Department official told NPR that Iceland, as a sovereign state, has the right to make immigration decisions within limits of international obligations. Icelandic officials say that the restrictions are a precaution to ensure public order and the safety of China's president during his visit. Jennifer Zhou, a software engineer for General Motors, calls it "harsh discrimination."

Jennifer Zhou: Because I practice Falun Gong, then my name is on their list. We have valid passports; we didn't do anything wrong. Because Jiang Zemin is visiting Iceland, we are not allowed to board the airplane. That's ridiculous!

Reporter: The State Department is asking Iceland for an official explanation of the matter. Earlier this week some 65 Falun Gong practitioners, including 5 US citizens, did make it into Reykjavik. All of them were detained on Tuesday. After a visit from a US Embassy official, the US citizens were released, having agreed to a code of conduct while visiting Iceland. But soon after, Iceland barred all Falun Gong practitioners from entering Iceland at all. That's when Tengdu Chou and the others got stuck here at BWI.

Tengdu Chou: It seems like a well-coordinated and planned event. They tried to prevent us from going into Iceland.

Reporter: Since Tuesday, this group has spent nights on the floor in a nearby Falun Gong practitioner's home. They've come back to BWI every evening, but every night, at 8:40, the plane takes off without them.

Reporter: (to practitioners) So what are you going to do next?

Tengdu Chou: We will continue to patiently wait and peacefully wait until hopefully we can catch our last chance to go over there.

Reporter: Chou and the others believe their last chance to get there before the end of Jiang Zemin's visit, is tonight's plane to Reykjavik. Andrea Seabrook, NPR news, BWI airport.