A Chinese airline pilot's claim he will face persecution for his religious beliefs if he returns to his homeland is not unfounded, according to at least one major human rights group.

Sheng Yuan, 39, of Shanghai, announced last week in El Monte he would not be returning to China on his regularly scheduled China Eastern Airlines flight. Yuan, who left a wife and teenage daughter back home, said he was confronted by airport police in Shanghai and nearly detained before his Aug. 8 flight to Los Angeles after a co-worker reported to authorities his criticism of the communist Chinese government and practice of the outlawed Falun Gong religion.

Yuan, now in New York and sheltered by fellow Falun Gong practitioners, has hired lawyers and begun the application process for political asylum through the U.S. government, said Daniel Wang, a Falun Gong adherent from Pasadena who assisted Yuan.

"He has already submitted all the materials, he just needs to sign the paperwork," said Wang, who has been in contact with Yuan.

He said Yuan told him he had spoken to his wife in the past week and she was surrounded at her home by China Eastern Airlines superiors, who tried to assure her Yuan would not be persecuted if he came back. They also offered him his old job back if he returned.

"But Mr. Yuan believes this is just a tactic by the company because they have the task to get him back if there is a chance," Wang said. "Once he gets back, his destiny is not really controlled by company leaders."

The tactic of using company leaders to lure back employees sounded familiar to Mickey Spiegel, senior researcher on China for Human Rights Watch in New York. She said her group has compiled evidence of widespread persecution and prosecution of Falun Gong participants by the Chinese government starting in July 1999, following a massive demonstration of Falun Gong adherents in Beijing.

"We certainly don't know the extent of the persecution or prosecution currently, but we do know that when it started in July 1999 it was very bad and continued to be bad for quite some time," said Spiegel, who put the number of Falun Gong practitioners arrested by the Chinese government in the thousands. [Editor's note: in the past seven years, hundreds of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners have been arrested and detained across China.]

She said there is evidence that the bulk of those detained were put in so-called "re-education" labor camps where authorities tried to convince them to recant their beliefs.

"People were put into re-education camps for three to four years, without judicial input," said Spiegel, who added she could not confirm the specifics of Yuan's story. "We know these things happened, but the exact details are hard to sort out. We also don't know the extent of torture and physical abuse that occurred, though we know that there was plenty and that some people died in custody."


"These people went to Beijing, peacefully did their exercises and meditations, and then were picked up in police sweeps," she said. "Nobody should be persecuted for their beliefs. There have even been reports that family members were told they would lose their jobs if their relatives continued to practice Falun Gong."


Christopher Bentley, a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spokesman, said Yuan has six months from his entry into the country to seek asylum.

"He can file an application and make a claim of credible fear, and the decision of whether he can stay rests with a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services official," said Bentley, who could not say how many Falun Gong asylum applications his department has processed, and whether any were granted.

But Wang, the Falun Gong practitioner from Pasadena, said he knew of at least several Southland Falun Gong adherents granted asylum by the U.S. government based on their claims of persecution by Chinese officials.


Source http://www.sgvtribune.com/news/ci_4207773