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A Chinese-Canadian man released from a labour camp in China last week said he believes he was saved from torture and perhaps even death by the attention his case attracted in Canada.

Zhang Kunlun, was freed abruptly last week from the WanCun labour camp, which he described yesterday as notorious.

On Monday, he fled China to join his daughter, who is a student in Ottawa.

In an interview yesterday, he said that after his arrest for practising the meditation exercises of the banned falun gong movement, he was tortured with electric batons at a police station.

He was later sentenced to three years at the WangCun camp.

"I was expecting to die there because of the very vicious torture," Mr. Zhang said through a translator.

"But when I arrived, it was contrary to my expectations and the way they treated me was different . . . perhaps because of the international pressure here."

He said that other prisoners were dealt with more harshly.

The case of Mr. Zhang, who was sentenced in November to three years in the camp, was threatening to become a diplomatic embarrassment to the Chinese and Canadian governments. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien is planning to lead a trade mission to China next month.

The Chinese government has imprisoned thousands of followers of falun gong, a modern blend of traditional Chinese healing techniques that borrows from the spiritual traditions of Taoism and Buddhism. However, Mr. Zhang, who is a dual citizen, is believed to be the only one to hold to hold foreign nationality.

Yesterday, Mr. Zhang said he was "very grateful" to Canadians, including the government, for efforts on his behalf. However, he also called on the Prime Minister and other Canadian politicians to use next month's trade mission to exert further pressure on the Chinese government. He said their message should be: "You should stop persecuting falun gong and release all the falun gong practitioners in China."

Irwin Cotler, a Liberal MP and prominent human-rights lawyer who had taken up the case, said yesterday that China has signed international agreements guaranteeing freedom of conscience and belief.

"I think there's an opportunity for Canada in the course and conduct of this trade mission to raise the question of the falun gong."

Mr. Zhang said yesterday that the imprisonment of falun gong followers is designed to coerce them into renouncing their beliefs. He described squalid conditions in the camp, and said he was among 18 prisoners who were held in a 20-square-metre room, where they ate, bathed and tended to their personal needs.

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