(A professor from DePauw University and her mother met with the BannerGraphic last month to discuss the persecution of practitioners of Falun Gong. Because the mother was persecuted in China and will be returning to that country, neither will be identified by name but referred to as Miss J and Mrs. Y.)
It is hard for westerners to understand the cloud that hangs over Chinese practitioners of Falun Gong, an alluring blend of spiritualism and physical exercise incorporating meditation. Similar in some ways to Tai Chi, Falun Gong embodies three words which its practitioners live by -- truthfulness, compassion and tolerance.
These are not words that are common to most communist beliefs such as those followed in China.
"Throughout my life I have been in a communist environment. I had no spiritual belief. Only material pursuits. Because of this, I sometimes felt life had no meaning. After I began practicing Falun Gong, I started to believe in the existence of God," claims Mrs. Y speaking in her native chinese language.
Believing in the words of truthfulness, compassion and tolerance are the most valuable thing in her mother's life, explained Mrs. Y's daughter, a DePauw professor. And, they are precious enough for her to risk persecution and death in China.
As an 8-year-old child, Mrs. Y was sent to work in the country in China. It was backbreaking labor which haunted her physically into adulthood. After seeing her parents health improve significantly from practicing Falun Gong, Mrs. Y decided to try it.
She claims to have had issues with chronic diseases, many which were a result of her forced childhood labor. They include pulmonary disease, arthritis and malignant tumors. She says she took a number of medications but was able to stop using them in 1998 after becoming a practitioner of Falun Gong.
When Chinese persons practicing Falun Gong began being tortured and killed, Mrs. Y's parents stopped practicing.
"I saw them grow sick and frail," she explained. "I did not want to go back to being sick, so I keep practicing. And, now I have something to believe in and to live for."
She was in a local mall in Shanghai speaking to some friends about how her health improved with the exercises of Falun Gong.
"A mall security officer overheard me and reported it to the police. I was taken from the mall and held in jail for 24 hours."
All public areas in China are monitored for any discussion or activity by Falun Gong members. She was never actually charged with a crime but was body searched, handprinted and interrogated throughout the night.
During the day she was held in a cell with prostitutes, drug dealers and users. At night she was kept awake and interrogated over and over.
Her home was searched for any type of paper with a reference to Falun Gong. If any paper evidence was found she would go to jail for years. None were found.
"It was hidden well," she explained.
She was told she would not be allowed to ever see her only child again.
She was only released a day later after she signed a paper stating she would not continue the practice. Her husband, a government official, was forced to sign a statement that he would monitor his wife's behavior and report any incidence to the police so she could be arrested.
In fact during her meeting with the BannerGraphic, he was taking a nap and unaware that Mrs. Y and her daughter were discussing Falun Gong. "He would not let us come if he knew," she said.
"I was really lucky not to be tortured. So many are," she adds. Looking back now, she claims she is ashamed she was not stronger and did not stand up for her beliefs.
"I was afraid. I knew I would not get out if I did admit I practiced Falun Gong. So many of my friends have been tortured or killed," she revealed. Her home is under constant surveillance. She believes that two things helped her escape persecution. Her husband is a government official and her daughter is in the U.S.
Not all her friends have been as lucky. She speaks with tears in her eyes of a close friend, a bank manager who was taken from his family and tortured by the police for days. The police had no evidence yet he was arrested and sentenced to eight years. He was moved to another city and was eventually paralyzed from the torture. He was transferred to yet another city and his family was forced to pay for his care. Within a year of being incarcerated he died.
"Now, I want the truth revealed to all people that people are being persecuted in China. Falun Gong is good. There is a tremendous number of people in China who really need help from the international community," she pleads.
Mrs. Y's daughter Miss J has been in the United States since 2003 and can stay here as long as she is employed. She is part of the Indiana SOS Car Tour whose aim is to get the word out about the persecution of followers of Falun Gong and particularly of the harvesting of organs from unwilling participants in China.
According to the group, members of Falun Gong in China have been persecuted by the communist party there since 1999 when the government banned the practice.
At that time, between 70 million and 100 million followers of Falun Gong were labeled as criminals in China because of their beliefs.
As of September 2006, there were 2,930 practitioners dead and it is estimated between 100,000-500,000 have been sent to labor camps, prisons and mental hospitals.
Chinese officials have also been accused of harvesting organs from Falun Gong members while they were still alive.
Li Hongzhi, the founder of the movement, estimates that 100 million people perform his exercises and buy his books and audio- and videocassettes around the world. Millions of Chinese are his followers -- so many that the government is visibly concerned. A government survey taken by the Chinese government in 1992 found 70 to 100 million people practicing Falun Gong. The numbers are impossible to verify, but, according to Mrs. Y and Miss J, it's not hard to locate Falun Gong devotees.
The suppression of Falun Gong practitioners has been regarded by some western governments as a major international human rights issue. And, the harvesting and sale of human organs is seen as a violation of human rights.
According to the SOS Car Tour, as of December 2006, 61 lawsuits have been filed in about 30 countries charging Chinese officials with genocide, torture and crimes against humanity for their roles in the treatment of Falun Gong in mainland China.
"Please help by writing or calling your congressmen and senators," Mrs. Y requests.
Falun Gong believes in the act of retribution, and that all good and evil deeds will be paid in return in due time.
Mrs. Y believes that for many of her friends in China little time is left. As she was leaving for the U.S., five more practitioner/friends were arrested. None have returned to their homes.