Falun Gong practitioner begs Ottawa to abandon deportation order

OTtawa, Canada - On the eve of a visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao, a Falun Gong practitioner made a plea to the federal government not to deport him and his wife back to China.

Fang Yaobin said he fears he and Xiong Fengying will face imprisonment, torture and possibly death if Ottawa follows through on a deportation order made after their refugee claims were rejected.

"The persecution of Falun Gong has been going on for over six years and it is escalating," said Fang. "The methods used in the persecution are getting more ruthless while at the same time they are more hidden from the public.

"The persecution is now more covered up as China tries to escape international condemnation for its crimes."

The couple, who arrived in Vancouver to visit their daughter in 2001, are to be deported by month's end. While in Canada, Fang has been a prominent Falun Gong activist.

Supporters of the spiritual movement presented a petition to Prime Minister Paul Martin last week urging him to press Hu on human rights and the plight of Falun Gong during the Chinese leader's first state visit to Canada.

China outlawed Falun Gong in 1999, calling it a cult that threatens state security.

Observers say Martin is unlikely to make much of the issue during an official itinerary that includes climate change, energy, science and technology, investment, trade and tourism.

Hu also plans to travel to Toronto, Niagara Falls and Vancouver over the next 10 days. Martin made a state visit to China in January.

The Fangs are the most recent Falun Gong practitioners to be ordered deported.

Xiaoping Hu was sent to China on Aug. 5 after a request for a minister's permit to stay in Canada was denied. She has not been heard from since boarding the plane.

Supporters point to another Immigration and Refugee Board ruling that recognized widespread and systemic arrests, torture and imprisonment of Falun Gong practitioners in China.

The Foreign Affairs Department also warns travellers that Falun Gong practitioners are not welcome in China.

"The Falun Gong movement has been banned in China," says the Foreign Affairs website.

"Participants in Falun Gong activities or Falun Gong-related demonstrations are subject to legal action that may include detention, deportation, arrest, and imprisonment."

Yet Immigration's risk assessment in the Fang case said "membership in Falun Gong is not a determinative issue in finding a person at risk."

It said practitioners wouldn't face the risk of persecution, torture, risk to life or risk of cruel and unusual treatment if returned to China.

While refusing to comment on a specific case, Immigration spokesman Greg Scott said there has been no change in policy because no overriding policy exists.

"We don't have policies that pertain to specific groups," he said. "Every case is looked at individually."

"If there are security concerns," Scott said, "we would have to weigh that against the risk to Canadians if they stayed in Canada."

Lucy Zhou, a spokeswoman for the spiritual movement, said there have been false claims to Immigration authorities of involvement in the practice, though she couldn't say how many.

At the very least, Ottawa should be monitoring the treatment of Falun Gong practitioners through the Canadian embassy in Beijing, said Stockwell Day, the Tory foreign affairs critic.