Friday June 14, 2002

Jie Guo of Kitchener holds a picture of her husband Bo Yang demonstrating Falun Gong at a multicultural festival in Windsor two years ago. Yang was part of a group of Falun Gong practitioners barred from entering Iceland on Tuesday. [...]

A Kitchener woman fears for Canadians' freedom of religion when they travel after her husband was barred from entering Iceland on Tuesday.

Jie Guo said her husband Bo Yang was one of about 70 Falun Gong practitioners, including about 10 from Canada, detained overnight because of their spirituality.

"It's unbelievable; it's unreasonable to get detained in a democratic country for spiritual beliefs," she said with the help of interpreter Jinying Yin of Waterloo.

"Today, it's Falun Gong. Maybe tomorrow, it's Christians."

An additional six Canadians were among a group of 36 people prevented from boarding a flight from Copenhagen, Denmark, on Tuesday.

Practitioners of Falun Gong, the meditation and spirituality movement also known as Falun Dafa, were also barred from flights in Boston and Paris.

Icelandic police said they detained the Falun Gong practitioners because there were not enough police to control rallies being planned by adherents protesting a visit by Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

Jiang arrived in the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik yesterday afternoon.

In 1999, China began a violent crackdown on Falun Gong, which emerged as a spiritual and exercise movement in China 10 years ago.

After the government denounced the movement [...], more than 350 practitioners are reported to have died in Chinese labour camps and mental hospitals after being arrested and tortured, say government opponents and human rights advocates.

Guo said she doesn't believe her fellow practitioners posed a danger, so detaining them overnight wasn't warranted.

Previous demonstrations in the United States and Europe, which practitioners prefer to call "appeals to human rights," have been peaceful, she said.

Icelandic authorities released the detainees on Wednesday, including Yang, after volunteers promised to cooperate with police and rally only in designated areas.

Guo said after her husband arrived in Iceland and was quizzed by airport authorities, he was detained in a converted school several kilometres from the airport.

Guo said she hasn't spoken with her husband since he left Canada on Monday, but she is getting e-mail updates from other practitioners.

She has tried calling her husband on his cellphone, but hasn't been able to reach him, Guo said.

The Record's attempts to reach Yang in Iceland also were not successful.

Guo and Yang became landed immigrants in Canada about four years ago after immigrating from Beijing and started practising Falun Gong shortly afterward.

They moved to Kitchener with their three-year-old son about a month ago.

Yang, who works as a design engineer for an auto parts manufacturer in Stratford, is a Chinese citizen and travelled to Iceland with a Chinese passport.

Guo said she didn't worry about his safety because Iceland is a democratic country.

But Guo said she worries that Chinese authorities are flexing their political and economic muscle to clamp down on Falun Gong practitioners beyond their borders and regardless of their citizenship.

Reynald Doiron, a spokesman for the foreign affairs department, said the Canadian government disagrees with Chinese law that outlaws the practice of Falun Gong, calling it a violation of human rights.

"Every time a Canadian citizen who is a Falun Gong practitioner has been rounded up by Chinese police, we have intervened," he said.

But that stance doesn't apply to Iceland, he said.

Iceland can refuse anyone they want from entering the country, he said, and he disagreed with the claim that Iceland was conducting religious profiling.