The Ottawa Citizen

A University of Ottawa student, her voice cracking and eyes brimming with tears, appealed yesterday to the federal government to help free her father -- a Canadian citizen -- from a detention camp in northern China where he is being held for practising the meditation exercises of Falun Gong.

LingDi Zhang says her 60-year-old father, KunLun Zhang, who lived in Montreal from 1989 to 1996 but now teaches sculpture at the Shangdong University of Arts, "has been severely tortured and sent to a labour camp without trial."

Foreign Affairs spokesman Reynald Doiron said the Canadian embassy in China will "forward a diplomatic note" seeking more details about Mr. Zhang's situation. But he noted that because the professor re-entered his home country using a Chinese passport, authorities in China would typically "not provide any information on his case."

Mr. Doiron added that Mr. Zhang's wife, who was also arrested, but released to care for her elderly mother, was contacted last week but "declined any assistance from the Canadian embassy."

Ms. Zhang said her mother is under house arrest and that all of her telephone calls are being monitored by Chinese police.

She said her parents were among a small group of people performing Falun Gong movements in a public park on July 27 when they were arrested and taken to jail.

Her father "was beaten and tortured with electric shocks," said Ms. Zhang, her hands shaking as she read from a prepared statement during a press conference at the university. "He was forced to watch Chinese government propaganda that defames Falun Gong. He was forced to write a pledge to renounce Falun Gong."

She said that after his release in late August, Mr. Zhang was placed under house arrest, with his wife, until Wednesday. Then he was taken from his home and sentenced, without trial, to a labour camp for three years.

"We are calling for the Canadian government to intervene in this urgent matter," said Ms. Zhang, adding that once her father is moved next week from a detention centre in Jinan City she is "afraid of losing track of him."

Mr. Zhang is apparently the first Canadian citizen caught in the brutal crackdown carried out by China's government since it banned the practice of Falun Gong in July 1999. Chinese officials have painted the activity as a cover for mobilizing opposition to the Communist regime.

But countries around the world, including Canada, have condemned Beijing for human rights violations that Falun Gong officials say have led to 80 torture deaths, the illegal detention of 25,000 people in labour camps, and the arbitrary incarceration of more than 1,000 others in prisons or mental hospitals.

Lucy Zhou, a spokeswoman for Falun Gong practitioners in Canada, says more than 100 million people in 40 countries engage in its "gentle exercises" -- including circular arm movements and cross-legged meditation -- subscribe to its central values of "truth, compassion and tolerance," and strive to rid themselves of bad habits and destructive emotions, such as anger and jealousy.

Introduced to China in 1992, the activity has only recently begun attracting large numbers of practitioners. Ms. Zhou says "it's the popularity of it in China that has caused this reaction and the crackdown. There is no political inspiration in Falun Gong. We just want the Chinese government to leave us alone."

She decried the "behind-closed-doors" diplomacy of Canada and other countries as they address China's crackdown against Falun Gong.

"The Canadian government was the first to condemn this, but since then, it's been very quiet," she said. "The behind-closed-doors policy has proven not to be effective, and we hope our government will stand up and take a stronger stand."

Mr. Doiron said the Canadian government has clearly expressed its concerns to China "any time that it is reported to us there's been suppression of freedom of expression or spiritual practice. We do raise the matter of human rights with Chinese authorities and will continue to do so."

He said Canadian embassy officials in Beijing "have been instructed to get in touch with the Chinese minister of foreign affairs to seek information about Professor Zhang's situation.

"We expect something next week," he added, "but it's up to the Chinese authorities to reply."

Julie Oliver, The Ottawa Citizen / LingDi Zhang pleaded to Canada today at the University of Ottawa for help in getting her father's release from a labour camp in China. He was placed there for practising the 'gentle exercises' common to Falun Gong. The Chinese government has cracked down on the movement, seeing it as a cover for mobilising opposition to the Communist regime.