A student from Ontario’s Sheridan College will be leading a protest at the Chinese consulate in Toronto Thursday to bring attention to the plight of her mother whom she says was jailed in China this fall for her Falun Gong beliefs, a spiritualist tradition Beijing regards as a threat to its rule.
Liu Mingyuan is herself a Chinese citizen and only arrived in Canada this past August for her second year of study with Sheridan College’s computer animation program. In May, Ms. Liu, who also uses the first name Lucy, won a school prize, the Tibor Madjar award, for “best overall animation in computer animation.”
Her mother, Liu Yan, was arrested Sept. 30 in the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming and has been detained ever since. The arrest document for her mother, dated Oct. 1, says she was put under criminal detention for “using an evil religious organization to undermine” Chinese law.
It’s not the first time the elder Ms. Liu has been jailed for her beliefs. She was imprisoned for three years starting in 2014, her daughter said.
Sophie Richardson, the Washington-based China director at Human Rights Watch, said the Sheridan College student is brave for standing up to her own government in public, a protest that would not be allowed in China. “I’m in awe of this young women’s bravery. That is a very gutsy thing to do,” Ms. Richardson said.
Ms. Liu, 24, acknowledged this protest might make it hard for her to ever return to China under the Chinese Communist Party’s rule. But she said she has no choice. “I’m in Canada now so I am not afraid,” Ms. Liu said. “She is my mother. I have to do this.”
The Toronto consulate for the People’s Republic of China did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday on Ms. Liu’s detention. Its website includes a page condemning the Falun Gong movement.
Two decades ago, Ms. Liu’s mother, whose area of expertise is the English language, worked at Jilin University-Lambton College in the northeastern Chinese city of Changchun, a job that brought her into contact with a lot of Canadian academics. The institution is a partnership between Jilin University and foreign institutions including Memorial University of Newfoundland.
“Through her role, my mom worked hard building the partnership between Canada and China in education. Many of the Canadian lecturers who taught there became my mother’s close friends,” Ms. Liu said.
She said her mother could face a possible prison term of three to four years.
Ms. Richardson said Falun Gong practitioners in China have faced decades of persecution, a reflection of the Chinese Communist Party’s aversion to any belief or faith-based system “that does not place loyalty to the party at its core.”
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 after 10,000 practitioners gathered in protest outside Beijing’s elite leadership compound.
Freedom House, an American advocacy group for civil liberties, said in a 2017 report that China’s framing of Falun Gong as an “evil cult” runs “counter to internal [Communist] Party documents and the lack of harmful outcomes in other countries where … international scholars have repeatedly concluded that Falun Gong does not have the attributes of a cult.”
Falun Gong adherents are not safe in North America from Chinese government intimidation. In an August, 2021, bulletin, first reported by video surveillance research firm IPVM, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation warned Uyghurs, Tibetans and Falun Gong followers living in the United States that Beijing is using “transnational repression techniques” including physical and electronic harassment designed to “silence dissent, issue instructions, collect information, and compel compliance.”
Threatened consequences for non-compliance routinely include detainment of a target’s family or friends in China, seizure of China-based assets, the bulletin said.
Canadian adherents of Falun Gong have also been jailed by China. In June, 2020, a Chinese court sentenced a woman who held a Canadian passport to eight years in prison for belonging to the Falun Gong movement. Sun Qian also renounced her Canadian citizenship in the process – a move her supporters say she made under duress and torture. Back in 2020, Li Xun, president of the Falun Dafa Association of Canada, said the Canadian was “illegally detained and physically and mentally tortured with reports of her being shackled, handcuffed to a steel chair, pepper-sprayed in the face and under sustained brainwashing and psychological manipulation.”
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