August 30, 2002
By Howard Mozel
Oakville Beaver Staff

A paper lotus flower might not seem significant to outsiders, but for the representatives from 12 families of 14 loved ones jailed in China for practicing Falun Gong, the symbol of hope and purity means everything.

The activists were at Town Hall Thursday as part of their ongoing campaign to solicit support from political leaders to help pressure the Chinese government to cease its persecution Falun Gong practitioners.

Ann Mulvale's assistant said the mayor will review the material dropped off for her. If she signs on, Mulvale will join hundreds of other North American people of influence who, since 1999, have produced more than 600 proclamations and letters of support - 250 in Canada alone.

Thursday's small and dignified event played out quietly, in stark contrast with the enormity of the brutal retribution waged against Falun Gong practitioners in China, where parents, siblings, loved ones and others are routinely locked up, tortured and killed for their beliefs.

"You can't imagine how brutal the torture is," said activist Hong, who stressed Falun Gong practitioners remain strictly non-violent. "We have to act."

Meanwhile, as these horrors transpire, Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize each of the last three years.

Falun Gong is a meditation and exercise practice with teachings based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion and tolerance - everything the Chinese government does not represent. Since its introduction to China in 1992 it is now practiced by millions of adherents in that country and millions more in 50 other nations around the world.

The peaceful discipline was outlawed in 1999 by Chinese president Jiang Zemin who is "fearful of anything touching the hearts and minds of more citizens than the Communist party," say the activists. The result is a concerted policy of imprisonment, torture and murder that has left relatives in Canada and elsewhere agonizing over the fate of their loved ones.

One of them is Tianying, 29, who fears for her twin sister Tianxiong, who started practicing Falun Gong in 1995 and was forcibly sent away to what is euphemistically called a "transformation class," leaving a baby behind with family.

"Falun Gong brought harmony to my twin sister's life, so she told friends and colleagues that the propaganda defaming Falun Gong is a lie," said Tianying. "She was taken away from her young baby and was sent to a labour camp. I haven't heard from her since."

Also at Town Hall was Wang, who managed to make it to Canada six months ago after enduring a campaign of harassment and imprisonment, which included having her passport revoked. Thanks to the Canadian government, she was allowed into this country anyway even without the usual documentation.

According to Hong, a four-year Falun Gong practitioner, this case is a good example of the power of letter-writing campaigns and the benefits of gaining allies among politicians. In fact, several prisoners have been rescued from their own homeland thanks to political pressure.

Hong also spoke highly of prime minister Jean Chretien, who raised the issue with Chinese leaders during a recent trade mission, and hopes he will do so again. Chretien is not alone in his support and Falun Gong disciples have enlisted backing from American congressmen and Australian MPs to the Foreign Minister of Sweden.

On the flipside, the Chinese government - in addition to outright brutality - has waged its own public opinion war at home and in other countries and exerted pressure on foreign leaders to silence their condemnation, say the activists.

Balanced against all that, a lotus might not seem like much but in the end, Hong and the others believe it will prevail.