November 22, 2001

In Beijing early Wednesday, John Nania faced his third police interrogator of a long day and night.

"Will you come back to China?" the policewoman asked him, 19 hours after his arrest.

"It depends on conditions," Nania said.

"What conditions?"

"If Falun Gong is made legal again."

"That is impossible."

"Nothing is impossible."

Nania, 43, a self-employed Minneapolis writer and consultant who has taught [Falun Gong exercises] and practiced Falun Gong for three years, was among 35 people from 10 countries arrested Tuesday after they unfurled a banner and meditated in Tiananmen Square.

The banner contained the outlawed spiritual movement's slogan, "Truthfulness, Compassion and Tolerance," in Chinese and English.

"We wanted to call the world's attention to what's happening in China," Nania said Wednesday afternoon at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

"There's a lot of concern in this country right now about the war on terrorism and domestic issues," he said.

"China seems very far away. But we just welcomed them into the World Trade Organization, and the Olympics will be in China in 2008. China cares what the rest of the world thinks," he said.

After detaining them for 19 hours, China expelled six Americans and citizens of Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Sweden, Switzerland and Great Britain. [...]

The action had been planned and organized by e-mail during the past several weeks, Nania said.

He said he flew from San Francisco to China last Thursday and joined three Falun Gong practitioners from Australia at a Beijing hotel. They studied and did their spiritual exercises in their hotel rooms between excursions as tourists.

On Tuesday, they went to Tiananmen Square. "At 2 p.m., the four of us walked to the meeting point near a flag pole," Nania said. "We lined up with the others, with some in the front kneeling, pretending that we were tourists preparing to have our picture taken."

At a signal, the banner was pulled from a knapsack and unfurled, and Nania and the others adopted a symbolic Falun Gong pose, "sending forth righteous thoughts."

Within seconds, Nania heard sirens.

"I kept my eyes closed and recited a verse the whole time," he said. "Some of the people resisted a little, but I didn't. It took three people to carry me to a van, but I wasn't hurt."

Refused dinner

Between interrogations, Nania was taken with other demonstrators to a hotel near the Beijing airport, where they slept a few hours on desks or in chairs. They were offered dinner, he said, but refused when they saw police photographers "preparing to document their gracious treatment of us."

Early Wednesday, Beijing time, the protesters were escorted to their own hotels and allowed to collect their belongings, then returned to the airport. After a final interrogation, police escorted Nania to a plane and told him not to return to China for five years.

Why travel to China and risk imprisonment or deportation for a brief protest?

"Because I could," Nania said. "And because I knew I should."

About 300 Falun Gong followers in China have died from mistreatment in police custody, Nania and others say, and thousands have been imprisoned. The group attracted millions of Chinese followers in the 1990s, prompting an official [repression].

Practitioners believe Falun Gong improves their health and mental outlook and gives accomplished followers supernatural powers. [...]

Nania, who said he had met about half of the other demonstrators at Falun Gong conferences in the United States or Europe, said that he wasn't asked about his association with the movement when he applied for a visa to visit China.

He has taught Falun Gong exercises to "several hundred" people, he said. But because of the movement's lack of formal organization, he could not estimate the number of practitioners in the Twin Cities area.

After a stopover in Tokyo, Nania arrived in the Twin Cities about noon Wednesday. He was met by other Falun Gong practitioners bearing a floral bouquet [...].