Wed, July 16, 2003

TORONTO (CP) - Several dozen [practitioners] of the Falun Dafa spiritual movement rallied Wednesday to mark the fourth anniversary of the punishing crackdown in China on the group.

Comparing the campaign to the Nazi persecution of the Jews, they called for an end to the attacks, torture and imprisonment of practitioners in China and to a global propaganda war being waged by Beijing. "The extent of the brutality is shocking," said Li Zhang, whose engineer husband Lizhi He, 38, has been in a Chinese prison for more than two years.

"Knowing I could be kidnapped at any moment, I fled to Canada alone."

Falun Dafa practitioners, based on the 1992 teachings of a Chinese man, Li Hongzi, use meditation and gentle exercises to enhance their well-being. The practice has spread to millions of people in countries around the world including Canada, although the largest group of adherents remains in China.

The Chinese government, however, has branded Falun Dafa - also known as Falun Gong - as a dangerous cult that threatens the country's security.

Four years ago, Jiang Zemin, the Communist leader of the country ordered a crackdown.

Falun Dafa practitioners were jailed. Authorities have been accused of torturing some of the prisoners to death.

Thirteen family members of 10 Canadians were jailed in the crackdown, although eight have been released.

Proponents accuse the Chinese government of exporting its anti-Falun Dafa campaign through its embassies and consulates, including in Canada.

"They have sent hate packages to all government officials, from city level to federal level and have influenced the Chinese community at large to also hate in their hearts," said Joel Chipkar, a Toronto realtor and practitioner.

"Falun Gong practitioners are looked at [with defamatory terms]."

Provincial Liberal George Smitherman said it's important for Canadians to send a message to the Chinese government that the "extraordinary oppression" will not be tolerated.

In the interim, Li waits for her husband to serve out his 3 -year sentence, saying it's impossible for her to return home.

"(They) deprived my husband of his right to continue his work, to take care of his family and to care for his elderly parents," she said.