China Falun Gong followers appeal for permission to remain in Japan

Chinese followers of the Falun Gong spiritual movement who are seeking asylum in Japan appealed Tuesday for permission to stay here out of fear they will be persecuted in China.

During a news conference in Tokyo, 58-year-old Zhang Minjie said she is certain she will face further detention and torture if she is sent back to China.

"I was kept twice in confinement and once in a mental institute," she said. "On one occasion I was not allowed to go home for over a year. I have difficulties walking and my back is bent due to ill-treatment there. Please let me stay."

Two other women, Li Yuxue, 53, and Zheng Xue Zhen, 63, told the news conference they also have been persecuted by Chinese authorities.

Like Zhang, they alluded to intense surveillance by the Chinese authorities.

All three women managed to flee to relatives living in Japan.

According to Lei Shuhong, a longtime resident of Japan and a Falun Gong follower, 1,020 members of the movement had died as of Monday since the Chinese government began a crackdown in July 1999. Lei is working on behalf of the people seeking asylum here.

Many more are being tortured or have been sentenced to labor re-education centers, she said.

"Even among the 31 (followers of Falun Gong) who are seeking asylum in Japan that we are aware of, 14 have had their case rejected and seven others have been detained," she said.

Of the 14, four have been ordered to turn themselves in to immigration authorities this month.

"There is a very high chance that these people will be detained or sent back to China," Lei said. "Please help us rescue them."