It was shortly after 8 a.m. on Feb. 19 when the group of men slipped into Sun Qian's villa. A half-dozen of them barged into the bedroom of the wealthy Chinese businesswoman with a Canadian passport, dressed in plain clothes. They refused to show identification.
Moments after finding Ms. Sun lying in bed, they put her hands behind her back and cuffed her. They kept her that way for the hours they searched her house and then throughout that night, after moving her to a secret location where she felt as if she was locked up in a basement.
It was only the next day at 9 p.m. that Ms. Sun, a passionate recent convert to Falun Gong, was brought to Beijing's No. 1 detention centre and the handcuffs were removed. Ever since, Ms. Sun has been kept in infamous cell 414.
Her incarceration for practising religion in China has seized Ottawa's attention, after her case was raised in Parliament last week, making her the latest person whose treatment raises questions about abuses in the Chinese justice system.
In the past decade, frictions caused by such cases have played an outsized role in defining the relationship between the two countries. "Some of these cases are elevated to a situation where even the leaders will have to deal with them," Canada's ambassador to China, John McCallum, acknowledged in Ottawa last week. That stands to make Ms. Sun's case the latest test for the Trudeau government as it seeks a closer trading relationship with a country whose values and conduct often differ sharply from those in Canada.
Now, in an interview with The Globe and Mail, Ms. Sun's lawyer and sister have described what happened to a woman whose belief in a spiritual practice China calls an "evil cult" appears to have made her vulnerable.
Days after being taken away, police questioned Ms. Sun about her company, her money – and her faith.
From the moment she was handcuffed, Ms. Sun had repeatedly yelled a slogan: "Falun Dafa is good," using another name for the spiritual practice.
"You broke Article 300 of the Criminal Law," one officer told her, according to an account given to her lawyer, Glen Gao.
Article 300 is a Chinese statute that imposes prison sentences of three to seven years on "whoever organizes and utilizes superstitious sects, secret societies, and evil religious organizations or sabotages the implementation of the state's laws and executive regulations by utilizing superstition."
That law has been commonly used to prosecute Falun Gong followers.
Much of Ms. Sun's account is impossible to verify. Her husband, who Ms. Sun suspects may have turned her in, did not answer detailed questions and the Chinese embassy in Canada has declined comment on her specific situation.
The details that emerged from the interview, however, shed new light on how a Canadian citizen came to be arrested for her religious adherence.
Ms. Sun's parents have been Falun Gong adherents since its emergence in the 1990s, when it was initially embraced by the Chinese state before gaining more members than the Communist Party. Beijing dramatically turned against it in 1999, and has since waged a lengthy campaign to suppress its spread and imprison adherents.
Ms. Sun was intimately acquainted with the risks. Her father, a machinery engineer, has been detained more than 10 times, once released only after conducting a 15-day hunger strike that left him gaunt.
She nonetheless converted in 2014 after listening to audio of Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi. She credited the act of listening with curing her of abdominal problems. When she began to actively practice Falun Gong, a series of heart and liver ailments also vanished, her mother Li Yunxiu, a primary school teacher and also a practitioner, wrote in a lengthy account provided to The Globe.
It was not long before Ms. Sun herself ran into trouble. In 2015, she was detained at the Beijing airport for travelling with Falun Gong books and audio materials. She was released less than a week later. The experience did not dissuade her.
Ms. Sun is "a very persistent person," her sister, Sun Zan, said. That trait made her successful in business, but being rich and holding fast to forbidden beliefs may also have made her an easy target.
In the mid-1990s, Ms. Sun founded what is now Beijing Leadman Biochemistry Co., Ltd, a company that raised about $80-million when it went public in 2012. Its current market value exceeds $1.1-billion.
Ms. Sun married Shen Guangqian, who is now the company's CEO and chairman, in 1995. A stock market surge in 2015 briefly made the couple U.S.-dollar billionaires.
Ms. Sun held a 25-per-cent stake in the company, and remained a board member. But earlier this year, a lawyer hired by Ms. Sun's husband had presented a document asking her to transfer him some of her shares, she told Mr. Gao.
Ms. Sun declined. She had not seen her husband for two months prior to her detention in February, Sun Zan, her sister, said.
But on the day she was taken away, Mr. Shen suddenly appeared at her house.
One of the plainclothes officers who detained Ms. Sun then told her he had played golf with her husband, adding that the two men were connected on WeChat, the Chinese social media app.
Ms. Sun was detained Feb. 19. The next day, Beijing Leadman announced it had received Ms. Sun's written resignation, saying she had quit the board for personal reasons. As of Feb. 20, she did not directly hold any company shares, it said – although it's not clear that marked any change, since her ownership had previously come through another company she controlled.
Ms. Sun suspects her husband may have turned her in, her sister said, although it's also possible authorities found her because she was so open with her beliefs. The Globe sent detailed questions to Mr. Shen about his background with the company and involvement in his wife's detention. Through another company employee, he responded that he "does not know about the things you asked."
Ms. Sun was formally arrested on March 28 for violating Article 300.
In detention, she has been allowed weekly meetings with lawyers, and has sat down once with a Canadian consular officer, who was promised that Ms. Sun would be moved out of cell 414, sad Mr. Gao, her lawyer. Number 414 is notorious at the detention centre for having a particularly cruel cell leader. In Chinese jails, an inmate is typically placed in charge of ordering others to do activities like cleaning toilets.
But Ms. Sun has not been moved out of the cell, Mr. Gao said, and her family has begun to feel desperate.
Her treatment is "quite inhumane," said Sun Zan, her sister. "I feel so helpless. I don't know what I can do."