China Acts Against 'Dissident' Living in SA

The Chinese government has demanded that a Durban technikon stop a student from practising and teaching an Asian exercise regimen known as falun gong.

The Chinese state regards falun gong adherents as dissidents.

When the soft-spoken student, Lin Li, 28, came to South Africa in August to study English at the Durban Institute of Technology, she thought she had escaped the clutches of a government that had imprisoned her three times without trial.

But her troubles followed her halfway across the world.

She said this week that intimidation was nothing new to her. The former Beijing accountant said she and her husband, Deng Guoping, 38, were both jailed in 2000.

"I was detained three times without trial. The last time I spent 18 months in a forced labour camp while my husband spent two years [there]."

She said they were subjected to hours of "physical and psychological torture" that included being stripped, having her hair pulled out, being beaten with a pipe and having water hosed down her mouth and nose.

"They had brainwashing classes where we did not sleep and they tried to tell us what we were doing was wrong. But falun gong is not a religious or political organisation. It promotes a good way of living."

She told how inmates of the forced labour camps were used to make clothing, toys, electronic devices and footballs for export around the world.

Lin, who works in Durban as a part-time waitress, said she held falun gong classes "to share a positive philosophy with people".

Followers of falun gong are persecuted in China, with hundreds of reports over the past five years alleging torture and genocide against them.

Thousands of people have also been jailed without trial.

The Durban Institute of Technology's Vice-Chancellor, Professor Dan Ncayiyana, confirmed this week that Chinese Consul-General Zhang Lianyun had made the request during a meeting on campus two weeks ago because falun gong being practised in Durban had the potential to "scandalise China".

"Their position was for us to forbid and stop, not just to discourage, this practice as it is banned in their country. The consul-general further stated that continued practice would be viewed as anti-Chinese."

Ncayiyana said Zhang had informed the technikon that falun gong was viewed by his government as a "cult" that "brainwashes people".

"We, though, did not share that view. We live in a constitutional state with a Bill of Rights that guarantees freedom of expression and thus there was no legal basis for us to intervene."

Ncayiyana, who said this was "definitely the most bizarre" request he has had in his four years at the technikon, also said the consul-general hinted at pulling out the 40 Chinese students studying at the institution.

"My response was that I would regret to see that happen, but that it was a price the Durban Institute of Technology was willing to pay to preserve our constitutional legacy."

A similar case of Chinese officials acting against falun gong practitioners in foreign countries occurred in Canada this year.

A court in Ontario fined Vice-Consul-General Pan Xinchun $1000 after he called a falun gong follower a member of a "sinister cult".

The Chinese government, however, refused to accept the decision and said it had "substantial consequences for relations between Canada and China".

Lin, meanwhile, said: "I'm happy with what [the technikon] did. They really have a democratic spirit that defends human rights."

Zhang refused to speak to the Sunday Times. His assistant, a Mrs Chin, said the consulate had received complaints from some of the Chinese students at the technikon.

She said falun gong was banned because of its followers' "attacks" and attempts to "defame" the Chinese government.

The press officer for the Chinese embassy in Pretoria, Qian Jin, said officials had received a letter from "concerned students" and had therefore approached technikon management.

He said he did not know if an official request had been made via South Africa's Foreign Affairs Department as required by diplomatic protocol.

The Department of Foreign Affairs' deputy director-general for Asia and the Middle East, Dr Anil Sooklal, said he had not received any request from the Chinese as was "normal practice".

"This is no major issue though. We have strong links with the Peoples Republic of China," he added.