A Canadian citizen being held against her will in a Beijing detention centre since February was from time to time locked in a small darkened room as punishment early in her incarceration, her lawyer says.
Sun Qian, 51, a follower of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which is banned in mainland China, was taken from her Beijing residence on Feb. 19 by police. Officers searched her house. She is being held on suspicion of "sabotaging law enforcement … using cult organizations," a common charge the Chinese state levies against Falun Gong adherents.
Chinese authorities have persecuted the spiritual movement's members there since 1999.
During the first few weeks of her detention, Ms. Sun was shut in a small darkened room as punishment for repeating Falun Gong slogans, lawyer Guo Haiyue said. He said this practice stopped after the Canadian embassy became involved, but could not say precisely when that was.
Mr. Guo said authorities have tried to question Ms. Sun, but she has resisted, admitting only that she is a Falun Gong follower.
Li Xun, president of the Falun Dafa Association in Canada, said detainees are locked in darkened rooms to intimidate them and make them feel isolated. "Some people cannot sustain that psychologically," he said.
The Trudeau government told the House of Commons on Thursday it is "seized by this particular matter" after the Sun case was raised by Conservative foreign-affairs critic Peter Kent, who had questioned why the Liberals were not speaking out publicly against the detention.
Omar Alghabra, a parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, specializing in consular affairs, told the Commons the Liberal government has not shied away from defending Ms. Sun. "A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian," he said.
A department of Global Affairs spokeswoman added that Canadian consular officials "are in contact with local authorities to gather additional information and closely monitor this case."
Ms. Sun was born in China and obtained Canadian citizenship in 2007. Her mother said she established a biochemical firm based in Beijing called Beijing Leadman Biochemistry Co.
The Chinese embassy in Canada said it was not able to provide any information about Ms. Sun. Spokesman Yang Yundong insisted that "China is a nation with rule of law and China's judicial departments handle cases strictly according to law."
Falun Dafa's Mr. Li disputed that, calling the detention of Ms. Sun illegal.
Ms. Sun's mother, Li Yunxiu, in an open letter provided to The Globe by the detained woman's lawyer, said her daughter was drawn to Falun Gong in 2014 after she returned to her hometown for Chinese New Year.
Earlier this week, the Chinese embassy attacked Falun Gong in a statement when asked about the case, calling it an "evil cult" – a charge that Falun Dafa has likened to hate speech.
Amnesty International Canada spokesman Jacob Kuehn said the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China is of "tremendously grave concern" to human-rights advocates.
"The extraordinary levels of persecution and human-rights violations confronted by practitioners is extensive, including arbitrary detention, unfair trials, torture and execution," Mr. Kuehn said.
"Amnesty International has documented numerous deaths in custody, believed to have been caused by torture and other ill-treatment, as well as cases where practitioners have been afflicted with permanent disability following detention."
Falun Gong emerged in China in the early 1990s as an exercise discipline focusing on meditation. It was soon seen as a threat, prompting a crackdown by the Chinese government. In 1999, authorities harshly suppressed the popular movement when some 10,000 practitioners gathered to protest outside Beijing's elite leadership compound.
Another Chinese-Canadian, billionaire Xiao Jianhua, mysteriously disappeared Jan. 27 from Hong Kong's Four Seasons Hotel and has been detained on the Chinese mainland. Chinese political analysts think Mr. Xiao was wanted by President Xi Jinping and supporters because they believe he possesses incriminating evidence against political enemies of Mr. Xi.