Efforts to obtain full religious freedom in China continue, and the daughter of a Chinese freedom activist is in the United States working to secure her father's freedom.
Many religious groups, including Christians who meet outside the state approved churches in China, face persecution. One group that has been singled out for punishment is Falun Gong.
Atlanta practitioner Robert Lu lectured on Falun Gong and demonstrated the spiritual practice at the Newnan-Coweta Public Library in December 2000.
Chinese media reportedly began attacking Falun Gong in 1996. Efforts by Falun Gong followers to explain the practice two years later were ignored. "In China, they don't allow anyone else to speak out," Lu said.
On April 23, 1999, Falun Gong practitioners were beaten by government forces. A group of 10,000 practitioners subsequently went to Beijing. "They tried to appeal to the government leaders to get this resolved," Lu said, but were not successful.
In 2000, Lu said he believed Falun Gong was chosen to be made an example. "They wanted to use this to stabilize their power," he stated. "Because Falun Gong is a peaceful group, they will not return a fist or even say a bad word back."
Reports from Falun Gong practitioners who have come to the United States indicate the movement continues to grow.
Ti-Anna Wang, 19, is working to secure the release of her father, Dr. Wang Bingzhang, who is currently in his seventh year of a life sentence in a Chinese prison for his lifelong pro-democracy writings.
"The situation with Dr. Wang is particularly heartbreaking," according to Jim Geheran, director of international programs for Initiatives for China.
United Nations documents show Wang and two other people were accosted in the lobby of their hotel in Mongcai, Vietnam on June 27, 2002. A group of approximately 10 men dressed in plain clothes, but claiming to be Vietnamese police officers, demanded three men accompany them to the local police station for questioning.
Wang initially resisted and "was physically assaulted in the lobby," according to the UN documents. "They possessed all the required travel documents, including Vietnamese visas."
An hour earlier, Wang had met with a Chinese activist from Guangxi province about "the labour movement in China, workers' discontent and rising unemployment, the situation of the Falun Gong and its campaign to win religious freedom and the corruption of some Guangxi governmental officials," according to the UN information.
The following year -- in a one-day, closed trial -- Wang was convicted to life in prison on charges of espionage and terrorism.
According to Ti-Anna Wang, her family had been receiving a monthly invitation to visit with her father at Shaoguan Prison in Shaoguan, Guangdong Province, China once a month for 30 minutes. When no invitation was received late last year, Wang's wife began calling the prison. Her calls were answered but then immediately disconnected.
At last report, inquiries by lawyers for Wang to prison authorities had received no response.
Ti-Anna Wang has enlisted some powerful people to help her. She met with U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, to talk about her father's situation. Accompanying her were Bob Fu of China Aid and several Chinese Human Rights lawyers.
Smith pledged his support for advancing Wang Bingzhang's case.
U. S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-West Virginia, and U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas have also pledged their support. On Jan. 26, Brownback, Smith and Wolf, sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. "We urge you to raise this case at the highest levels in the Chinese government. As one of the founders of China's democracy movement, Dr. Wang has dedicated his life to the cause of freedom," the letter stated.
Ti-Anna Wang "is taking the year off before entering college and working with our office in D.C. to help get congressional support for pushing for Dr. Wang's release," Geheran said. "She is a wonderful young lady, but she bears a terrible burden."
In his 2000 interview, Lu said the pacifist stance of Falun Gong made the group attractive to some opportunistic government leaders in China. Rather than seek to squelch a true dissident group, which might respond with terrorism, they chose to attack a peaceful movement without political aims.
Lu said it may be hard for people from a belief system other than Buddhism to focus on Falun Gong, but noted people from many different backgrounds have followed the practice. "Some people believe in Buddha. Some are Christians. It will bring people closer to God," he said.