Falun Gong practitioner in Elmhurst misses family

Flushing Times, Dec. 26, 2002
http://www.zwire.com/
By Tien-Shun Lee 12/26/2002

In her spare time, Amy Lee, a Falun Gong practitioner who fled China three years ago to avoid being put in a labor camp, writes letters and makes phone calls to politicians and law enforcement officials, hoping that her efforts will one day reunite her with her daughter and husband.

Standing in front of a picture drawn by her 7-year-old daughter which is taped to her bedroom door, Lee, 35, who now lives in Elmhurst, says she calls her family every weekend, and her daughter asks her, “How many days before we get together, Mommy? How many days?”

Though Lee’s daughter, Luo Meng Lin, was given approval for a refugee asylum visa in June, she has not been able to leave China because the Chinese government has refused to issue her a passport, Lee said.

After calling the Guangzhou police bureau long-distance many times to ask why her daughter could not get a passport, Lee said one police woman told her that Falun Gong family members would never receive a passport.

    A representative from the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C. said that in Lee’s daughter’s case, it would be up to the local authorities in Guangzhou to issue her a passport.

“It breaks my heart, you know,” said Lee, staring at her daughter’s drawing of a mother and daughter surrounded by fireflies. “So many times I’ve dreamed that we are reunited.”

Lee said she was first arrested in her native Guangzhou in 1999, after the Chinese government began cracking down on the spiritual movement known as Falun Gong, which combines the philosophies derived from Buddhism and Taoism with special exercises.

Hundreds of practitioners, including the founder of the Falun Gong, Li Hongzhi, live in Queens and attend regular practice sessions.

Like most other practitioners, Lee practiced Falun Gong because she believed that it was good for her health and spiritual well-being. When the Chinese government began denouncing Falun Gong, Lee sent a letter to the local government saying that Falun Gong was good.

“They put me on a black list, and then they go to your home to push you to give up Falun Gong,” said Lee.

Lee went to Beijing with many other Falun Gong practitioners to appeal for the right to practice Falun Gong, which the Chinese government has deemed a “cult” that threatens national stability. She was put in jail for 15 days with no bed or other amenities, and tortured, she said.

“Six policemen hit me to unconsciousness. They hit everybody. They grab your hair and run from one room to another room,” Lee said. “I was very shocked. I thought, ‘This is the Chinese government?’ I couldn’t believe that.”

After 15 days, Lee said she was transferred to a prison in Guangzhou, where she was interrogated and asked to write down the names of other fellow practitioners. When her daughter and husband came to visit, she was told she could go home with her family if she answered some questions, but she would be put in jail if she refused.

“I refused. I said, ‘They are good practitioners. Why do you want to arrest them?’ ” Lee said.

From June until July 2001, Lee said she was put into a “brainwash class,” where she was repeatedly shown videos saying that Falun Gong is evil, and that Falun Gong practitioners kill themselves.

After she was released, Lee said she was put under 24-hour police surveillance and warned that if she did not sign a statement saying that she had given up Falun Gong, she would be put in a labor camp for several years.

Luckily, Lee had a passport that allowed her to go abroad which the Chinese police department was not aware of.

“I had my passport before the crackdown because I went on business trips many times,” said Lee, a fashion designer. “They’re different bureaus. The immigration don’t know about Falun Gong, and the policemen don’t know I have a passport.”

With the help of friends, Lee escaped to Hong Kong and then to the United States toward the end of 2001, leaving her daughter in the care of her husband.

After trying to obtain all types of employment, from waitressing to baby-sitting, Lee responded to an advertisement in Women’s Wear Daily fashion newspaper and was hired to be a fashion designer by Haselson International, Inc., whose office is on the 53rd floor of the Empire State Building.

“I’m very lucky. I have a very, very good job,” she said. “I can hardly believe it. I can’t believe that I can get a job in a Western company.”

Lee’s co-workers have helped her to write letters to state senators and congressmen, and the company has paid for her to take English as a Second Language classes.

One of the best things about living in the United States is that she is free to practice Falun Gong whenever and wherever she wants to, she said. These days she usually does exercises with other practitioners of all ethnic backgrounds in a small park near her house from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. each morning.

In addition, Lee said she is happy that she can help publicize the plight of other Falun Gong practitioners who have been forced into labor camps in China.

According to a Falun Gong Web site, about 100 million people practiced Falun Gong in China before it was outlawed in 1999. Since then, thousands, like Lee have been arrested and detained.

“Through my suffering, I always think in Falun Gong, you must go through forbearance,” said Lee, with hand to her heart. “I wish one day I can be reunited with my family — that’s my biggest wish.”

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