By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
On April 25, 1999, more than 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners peacefully gathered in Beijing outside the State Council Appeals Office, which is located inside China's leadership compound, to express their opinion that Falun Gong has no political intentions and that its practice is beneficial. Linda's brother and sister-in-law were among them. The meeting ended peacefully.
"It looked like everything was going to be positive," Linda says. "But unfortunately, [the government] started to investigate the practitioners."
Three months later, Zemin outlawed Falun Gong. Linda's brother and his wife, along with thousands of other practitioners, returned to Beijing, where they were arrested. Later, Linda's brother was forced to appear on television and lie, publicly denouncing Falun Gong. He was released, but he continued to practice. As a result, he was fired from his job, which like most jobs in China, is controlled by the party.
Still the couple did not quit practicing. Instead, they wrote letters of appeal to the Chinese government. In December, they once again set out for Beijing to appeal. Before they made it out of the suburbs, they were arrested and sent to labor camps, where they remain today.
"My brother has been beaten very badly," Linda says. Her sister-in-law has also been tortured. "They forced her to stand in the ice and snow for 15 days."
Linda, who last spoke with her brother in 1999, says it is nearly impossible to get any information about his current condition. "I once sent my brother a letter, but I got no response."
Ming is similarly concerned about her 68-year-old mother. In May 2000, police officers raided her mother's home in the Hunan Province, seized her Falun Gong literature and sent her to a labor camp. Since then she has been beaten unconscious, deprived of sleep and forced to stand against a wall for days at a time.
"They tell her, if you give up [Falun Gong], you can go free," Ming says.
Ming's mother refuses to do so. Before she started practicing Falun Gong, Ming says she had such severe stomach blockage that she could rarely eat food and, instead, lived on injections and daily medications.
"After she practiced Falun Gong, she has become better and better. She can eat food. She became energetic. [Her] hair had become white. After practicing Falun Gong, her hair became black," Ming says. "My mother says, 'Dafa gives me life. If they order me to give it up, it's like killing me.'"
Ming sets her chin on the back of the seat and sighs.
"So many people suffer and suffer so much," she says. "Because I will not give up Falun Gong, if I go back to China perhaps I will fetch death. I cannot go back, but I so miss my family."
As the tour progresses, Amy Lee is increasingly in demand. At every stop, the local reporters dispatched to cover the tour focus on her because she is the only member of the group who has been personally tortured. As they near Washington, she regularly shushes the group so that she can conduct telephone interviews with national reporters.
Amy Lee gives many of the interviews in Chinese, which are translated for American audiences, but she struggles to speak in English. She only began speaking English last March when she arrived in the United States, smuggled out of China with the help of a Western journalist. She practices by reading her press statement aloud, mouthing the words slowly and repeating them. Occasionally, she asks how to pronounce certain words. They are words like "surveillance," "unconscious" and "comatose."
In China, Amy Lee was a clothing designer and artist. She was also happily married and the mother of Dou Dou, her baby daughter whose name means "pistachio." The story of her trip through China's criminal justice system illustrates the way in which the crackdown targets families as part of its design to completely eradicate the practice of Falun Gong.
Like Linda's brother, Amy Lee went to Beijing on the day Falun Gong was declared illegal. There she was forced onto a bus and driven back to the suburbs. The next day she returned and was again arrested. This time, she was forced to watch an anti-Falun Gong video. After she was bailed out, she went home and proceeded to write letters of appeal to the Chinese government. In response, police arrived at her home and workplace, where she was ultimately fired. They also went to her husband's workplace, where his bosses began accusing him of "promoting Falun Gong."
In May 2000 she went back to Tiananmen Square and erected a banner that said: "Falun Dafa is good." She says seven plainclothes officers wrestled her to the ground, beat her and detained her inside the Tiananmen Police Station. At first she was not allowed to use the bathroom for 12 hours. "Don't you talk about forbearance?" one of the guards asked her. "I'll find out how long you can forbear."
Later, Amy Lee was beaten for an hour. Officers dragged her by the hair, slammed her head into the ground, where she was kicked until she lost consciousness. When she came to, she had been stripped of her clothes, and her body was covered with bruises. An officer accused her of pretending she was dead. Several days later, she was sent to a mental hospital where a team of officers and nurses stuck a tube through her nose and pumped a liquid solution of red pepper and water into her stomach.