A world apart: Local Amnesty chapters host benefit for persecuted wife of Pitt researcher

The Tartan, Mar. 3, 2003
by Erin Nicole Stock

Carnegie Mellon’s branch of Amnesty International will join with the University of Pittsburgh’s chapter to champion a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh whose wife is a political prisoner in China because of religious beliefs the couple shares.

Cailu Xu and his wife practice Falun Gong, a spiritual discipline that involves meditation and exercise and centers around the three principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. The prayer and meditation exercises are banned in China, and the people who practice them are persecuted.

Xu, a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, has not seen or spoken to his wife of 14 years since she was placed in a female labor camp one and a half years ago.

In an effort to draw attention to his wife’s case, Xu will speak at Carnegie Mellon on March 10 in McConomy Auditorium. The event, hosted by Amnesty International, will follow with a reception where students can speak personally with Xu and write letters calling for Xiaomei Jia’s release. The letters will be sent to the Chinese embassy, U.S. Congressmen, and the labor camp itself.

“It’s an amazing opportunity to show we do have power as students at Carnegie Mellon and as citizens, and it’s an amazing opportunity to help someone who is in need,” said Aseem Garg, a fifth-year senior double-majoring in Social & Decision Sciences and Computer Science, and a member of Amnesty International at Carnegie Mellon.

The communist Chinese government, said Xu, was afraid of the growing popularity of the practice. It is estimated that 70 to 100 million people practiced Falun Gong before the persecutions began. Xu said he and his wife recognized the beginnings of the persecution before President Jiang banned Falun Gong in 1999. Xu said that as early as 1996, government-controlled media began falsely labeling criminals as Falun Gong practitioners and skewing reports. According to Emma Jin, a local practitioner who is assisting Xu in speaking out for his wife, this is the reason so many Chinese people perceive the practice as wickedly cultish and politically deviant.

Many people continued to practice, despite the ban and increasing harassment. Some began to disappear; they were released from their jobs, monitored by police, and their homes were ransacked. Jin said people continued to practice because their feelings toward Falun Gong are so strong.

“Some of them were saved by this practice,” she said. “We think this is the most important thing in our life.”

Xu’s ordeal began in January 2001, when he came home to find his phone line had been cut and his fuse box was gone. Since the ban, Jia had been arrested on three separate occasions, once for admitting she was a practitioner and twice for doing Falun Gong exercises. She was released from her job in August 2001.

On November 5, 2001, she was detained in Beijing for a final time while passing out fliers condemning the persecutions. This time she was not allowed to go home, and was instead sent to a female labor camp.

Xu received a notice of his wife’s imprisonment with no scheduled date of release.

Xu said the only information he receives comes from occasional calls from his sister-in-law, who is allowed to visit Jia. He also gets information from the stories of survivors.

“There are many Falun Gong practitioners there, about a thousand,” said Xu. “Many of them are released after a period of 1 to 2 years, and they’ve reported being tortured.”

According to the Falun Dafa Information Center, an international organization aimed at ending the persecution, survivors reported being tortured by electric batons, beaten repeatedly, and force-fed. Force feedings, Jin said, are common procedures that are meant to torture, not save lives.

If a practitioner goes on a hunger strike and refuses to eat, untrained guards force plastic tubes through their mouth or nose to their stomach, feeding them with highly concentrated salt water that may be mixed with dangerous drugs. Sometimes they miss, puncturing a lung, and sometimes the prisoner dies from the procedure.

The deaths of 578 practitioners by police torture have been confirmed; however, the Falun Dafa Information Center reports that the number is probably twice as large.

“580 people have been confirmed dead,” said Jin, translating for Xu. “[Xu] doesn’t want his wife to be one of them, and he doesn’t know. That’s the worst part.”

Xu has heard that Jia is allowed only 2 or 3 hours of sleep a night after hours of hard physical labor. According to Jin, sleep-deprivation facilitates a form of brainwashing the Chinese government calls a “re-education” process.

“When people cannot think clearly they force them to read and watch propaganda films,” Jin said. “Their courage and their spirit are broken.”

The “re-education process” defames Falun Gong through propaganda in an attempt to force practitioners to renounce the practice, sometimes publicly, said Jin. The Chinese media use interviews with practitioners to further defame the practice.

“In China, people don’t have the opportunity to see the other side. That’s why brainwashing works,” said Jin. “In the U.S., imagine if all TV stations, newspapers, and radio stations are telling you one thing. It’s hard to get the right information.”

Xu said he believes outside efforts will help free his wife. U.S. legislators are currently urging the release of American citizen Charles Li, a Falun Gong practitioner who was arrested upon his arrival in China on January 22. In July 2002, the House of Representatives passed resolution 188 by a vote of 420-0 condemning the persecution of Falun Gong in China.

Xu hopes that letters written on his wife’s behalf will raise even more international awareness and pressure President Jiang to stop the persecutions.

He misses his wife and his 14-year old son who lives in China with an aunt.

“He and his wife and his son had a very happy family and he hopes it can resume here,” she said. “They may have many difficulties, but the most important thing is to have family together here.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday March 4, 2003.
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