BEIJING — In the relentless official Chinese suppression of Falun Gong, the outlawed spiritual sect, Sam Lu counts his wife as one tiny but significant victory. After more than three years in a labor camp, Zhou Xuefei was released Tuesday.
“I am very proud of my wife,” Lu said in a statement. “My wife is brave, because she was jailed for standing up to defend the right of the millions of persecuted Falun Gong practitioners in China.”
Lu, a former warehouse manager living in Duluth, campaigned tirelessly for her release, writing countless letters and petitions and attending protests.
Yet Tuesday brought only a measure of relief. He was informed that his wife was home with her mother in Shenzhen, but he couldn’t speak to her. Their home number was changed unexpectedly, and it seemed international calls were blocked.
Lu’s mother-in-law picked up her daughter Tuesday at the Sanshui Women’s Labor Camp outside Guangzhou, accompanied by Shenzhen police. In Shenzhen they were met by members of the local neighborhood committee, the grass-roots Communist Party body that will monitor Lu’s wife.
His wife dropped in to visit Lu’s parents, who also live in Shenzhen, for about half an hour.
“My father said she seemed to be in good spirits,” Lu said.
Lu said the phones of both his parents and his mother-in-law, Zhou Jie, are tapped.
“She is very happy,” Zhou Jie said by telephone. “She has no plans. She’s going to rest. Then we’re going to celebrate the new year.”
The Chinese lunar new year begins January 22.
Falun Gong practitioners are generally not released until they have undergone a “transformation.” The group calls it brainwashing, but the Chinese government says it is freeing members from the yoke of an evil cult.
A spokesman at the Sanshui Women’s Labor Camp said Zhou had “basically” transformed but refused to answer further questions.
Lu, 34, and Zhou, 29, were living together in Shenzhen, where he was a tax auditor, and had been married less than two months when she was detained for handing out Falun Gong pamphlets.
Falun Gong was founded in 1992 by Li Hongzhi, a former government grain clerk now living in the United States. His unorthodox practice mixed Buddhism with slow-motion calisthenics.
The collapse of China’s free medical system and traditional social structures gave a large boost to the group’s popularity as people sought alternative health regimens and spiritual solace. Falun Gong claimed to have attracted 100 million practitioners by the time it was outlawed in 1999.
Although the crackdown on Falun Gong was viewed in the West as an issue of religious freedom, for the Communist Party it was a matter of political control. Falun Gong and other forms of qigong — a form of martial arts based on the concept of internal energy — had long been encouraged. It was only when Falun Gong amassed such a large number of followers that the Communist Party became alarmed. An all-out propaganda war then was unleashed against the “evil cult.”
The group says 860 followers have died as a result of persecution. It says it has documented thousands of cases of physical and mental torture.
The Chinese government says Falun Gong has caused the death of 1,600 people, most of whom it says committed suicide or died after refusing medical care.