Falun Gong member files for asylum

Saipan, CNMI - A Chinese woman who is a Falun Gong practitioner is seeking refugee status in the CNMI and has filed her application with the Attorney General's Office last week, according to Vincent Perez, founder of the Falun Dafa Association of Saipan.

The identity of the woman was not disclosed due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Perez, who spoke with reporters shortly after the weekly Saipan Rotary Club meeting yesterday at the Hyatt Regency Saipan, said the refugee status application of the woman was an individual decision.

Perez said the AGO's decision on the matter would be out next month.

He said he does not encourage nor discourage practitioners of Falun Gong on Saipan to file for the status. Perez added that the filing of refugee status must be made by someone who really needs it and the reasons behind it should be legitimate.

"I did help but it wasn't through me," he said, adding that the woman does not speak good English.

Falun Gong, also called Falun Dafa, is an ancient form of qigong, the practice of refining the body and mind through special exercises and meditation. The group's participation in a silent, non-violent protest in 1999 against a renewed effort by the Chinese government to clamp down on spiritual movements caught Beijing's attention, which has since then launched several attempts to stamp out the group.

Perez said one reason why the woman applied for refugee status was probably fear of persecution and torture once she goes back to China.

Perez said that Falun Gong started in China in 1992 but it was only in 1999 that the Chinese government started persecuting and torturing practitioners. As of this date, Perez claims there are more than 100,000 Falung Gong deaths in China but only 1,600 have been documented. Perez said the Chinese government now regards Falun Gong as a movement that seeks to topple the government.

Falun Gong practitioners in the CNMI range from 30 to 40 people but the association does not have exact membership rolls, said Perez. He said that sometime in the 1990s, CNMI practitioners reached about a hundred but when the persecution started in China, some decided to give it up.

Visual artist Xiao Peng, who has an ongoing art exhibit at the CNMI Arts Gallery, said that Falung Gong practitioners on Saipan do not really go out because they are scared to be seen and have the notion that when they go back to China they would be persecuted with their families. Peng said that, once they reveal that they are part of Falun Gong, they would open themselves and their family up to persecution.

Perez said another practitioner told them that her family in China is being harassed, that her telephones lines were being tapped, and before she came to Saipan, the Chinese government approached her several times. She eventually lost her job when the China government allegedly put pressure on her employer to have her fired.

Perez said Peng's ongoing exhibit aims to expose the difficulties Falun Gong practitioners go through by using social realism as a form of art. He said that, through art, they are able to spread the word that persecution and torture is wrong. Peng has seven social realism paintings currently being shown at the gallery on Capitol Hill. The exhibit will run until April 9.